What next for Hong Kong?

Many fear that the liberties which Patten helped enshrine are eroding fast. And they have ample reason to worry

 

Share

Chris Patten may have made a mess of things at the BBC but in Hong Kong, where he was the last British governor, he is still remembered fondly. “Fatty Pang” to the mainland authorities, he was perhaps the first colonial boss in Hong Kong to stand up to Beijing. Although London had done little to foster democracy in its 145 years of rule, he realised that if Britain were to leave any trace of its liberal political culture before the communists took over, it was now or never.

Seventeen years on, there are still traces of that legacy. Among its judges the Court of Final Appeal has two Chings and a Chan but also a Mason, a Collins, a Bokhary, a Neuberger, even a John Mortimer; and its opinions are sought across the world. The South China Morning Post is still an excellent newspaper. The democracy movement that first took hold in the colony during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and which Patten’s reforms helped to foster, is still a force to be reckoned with.

But many fear that the liberties which Patten helped enshrine are eroding fast. And they have ample reason to worry. Deng Xiaoping sugared the take-over pill by promising that Hong Kong would be allowed to carry on as before. After the negotiations with Mrs Thatcher he said, “We have proposed to solve the Hong Kong problem by allowing two systems to exist in one country.” But Thatcher herself was sceptical from the start. In an interview in 2007 she said, “One country, two systems was developed some years earlier as an approach to the issue of Taiwan. It doesn’t look any more appropriate in that context now than it did then.” And now it seems her fears are justified.

The erosion is taking place slyly, slowly, by inches, taking care not to frighten the horses or stick spanners in the wheels of trade. But it is happening nonetheless. This week a mainland court sentenced a Hong Kong publisher to 10 years’ jail for the apparently rather minor crime of not paying import duty on industrial paint which he had taken from Hong Kong to China in October. But the real offence of Yiu Man-tin was that he was planning to publish a book entitled “China’s Godfather Xi Jinping”. Yiu’s son Edmond Yiu Yung-chin, who in January wrote an open letter to Xi Jinping urging him to stop what he called the ‘political persecution’ of his father and honour Hong Kong’s press freedom, told the South China Morning Post that he believed his father had been set up.

This incident follows the Triad-like street attack in February on Kevin Lau, the ousted editor of a Ming Pao, a Hong Kong daily, which under his leadership had campaigned for greater democracy in Hong Kong and had exposed a number of political scandals. While Mr Lau was recovering in hospital, thousands of his supporters gathered to rally in his support.

But the fight is an unequal one. Mr Lau had already been replaced as Ming Pao’s editor by a Singapore-based Malaysian who had gained the approval of the Beijing authorities when he vocally supported a mainland-inspired proposal for compulsory “national education” classes in the ex-colony’s schools while editing another paper. The biggest demonstrations in Hong Kong since Tiananmen Square forced the authorities to can that idea, which was seen as a cunning mainland plot to kill subversive tendencies at source.

On the subject of Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong has a new tourist attraction: the world’s first and only museum commemorating the pro-democracy protests that took over that huge square in Beijing exactly 25 years ago. The June 4 Memorial Museum opened its doors last week, just in time for the big anniversary. But it’s not easy to find: on the fifth floor of a commercial building in the Tsim Sha Sui area of southern Kowloon, opposite Hong Kong island, there is no sign indicating its presence on the outside of the building; one needs to look closely at the floor directory next to the lift to spot it. Sandwiched between bars and Korean restaurants it is easily missed, but that may be part of its survival strategy: hiding in full sight. But its low profile has not kept people away: two recent visitors, who wrote it up for Index on Censorship, reported queues winding out of the front door as children and adults peered curiously at the books, pamphlets, photos and videos recording an uprising which the communist authorities stigmatise as a counter-revolutionary revolt, and about which most Chinese youth know little or nothing.

Twenty-five years ago, flying from Hong Kong to Shanghai was like going back half a century in time. Hong Kong was much as we know it today, its forest of skyscrapers teetering over the island’s craggy contours. Shanghai, though the People’s Republic’s coolest city, was quaint by comparison, almost sleepy.

Today, thanks to Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, the two cities clearly belong to the same civilisation again. And the people of Hong Kong are courageously clinging to the liberties which the Deng-Thatcher Agreement rather too suavely assured them, and which Beijing is doing its cunning best to dismantle. It is nice to report that the disrespectful biography of Xi Jinping that Mr Yiu was hoping to publish has come out from a different house: Open Books. Needless to say, it’s not on sale in the mainland.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?