Hong Kong’s security law: a year later, a city remade
HONG KONG – With each passing day, the border between Hong Kong and the rest of China is blurring faster.
The Chinese Communist Party is remaking this city, imbuing its once vibrant and irreverent character with increasingly clear signs of its authoritarian will. The very texture of everyday life is under attack as Beijing transforms Hong Kong into something more familiar, more docile.
Residents are now swarming police hotlines with reports of disloyal neighbors or colleagues. Teachers were asked to imbue students with a patriotic fervor through 48-volume book sets called “My Home is in China.” Public libraries have removed dozens of books from circulation, including one on Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Hong Kong has always been an improbability. It was a thriving metropolis on an inhospitable tongue of land, an oasis of civil liberties under an iron reign. A former British colony that returned to China in 1997, the city was promised freedoms of speech, assembly and the press unimaginable on the mainland, in an arrangement Beijing called “one country, two systems.”
But under Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, the Communist Party grew weary of Hong Kong’s dueling identities. For the party, they made the city unpredictable, even bringing it to the brink of rebellion in 2019, when anti-government protests erupted.
Now, armed with the sweeping national security law it imposed on the city a year ago, Beijing is pushing to turn Hong Kong into another of its mainland mega-cities: economic engines where dissent is immediately stifled.
“People from all walks of life in Hong Kong have further realized that ‘one country’ is the prerequisite and foundation for ‘two systems’,” Luo Huining, Beijing’s top Hong Kong official, said this month. Kong.
Hong Kong is now a montage of unknown and, for many, disturbing scenes. The police were trained on a goose step in Chinese military fashion, replacing decades of British marches. City leaders regularly denounce “external elements” determined to undermine the stability of the country.
Senior officials in Hong Kong have gathered with their right hands raised to pledge allegiance to the country, just as mainland bureaucrats are regularly called to “biao tai” in Mandarin to “declare your position.”
When the government ordered base workers to sign a written version of the oath, HW Li, a seven-year-old civil servant, resigned.
The new demands do not only require professions of allegiance; they also caution against termination or other vague consequences for breach. Mr. Li had heard supervisors harassing his co-workers to fill out the form right away, he said, and employees competing to say how quickly they complied.
“The rules that should protect everyone – as employees and also as citizens – are weakened,” Li said.
In some corners of society the rules have been completely rewritten. But Beijing denies that it is reneging on its promises to Hong Kong, insisting it is strengthening them.
When China overhauled Hong Kong’s electoral system to purge candidates it deemed disloyal, Beijing called the change “perfecting Hong Kong’s electoral system.” When Apple Daily, a major pro-democracy newspaper, was forced to shut down after police arrested its top leaders, the party said the publication had abused “so-called press freedom”. , the Chinese authorities accused them of subversion and arrested them.
China’s power is now so pervasive that Chan Tat Ching, once a hero of Hong Kong’s democratic movement, spent the past year urging his friends not to challenge Beijing.
Three decades ago, after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, Mr. Chan, a Hong Kong businessman, helped run an operation that smuggled students and academics out of the mainland.
But Beijing is more sophisticated now than in 1989, Chan said. He had intimidated Hong Kong even without sending troops; that demanded respect.
He admitted that the security law had been enforced too harshly, but said there was little anyone could do.
“Some young people don’t understand. They think the Communist Party is a paper tiger, ”he said. “The Communist Party is a real tiger.
China’s new power has also made its mark in Hong Kong’s business world. For decades, the mainland’s economy has rushed to catch up with that of Hong Kong, the financial center so proud of its global identity that its government has called it “Asia’s global city.”
Today, the Chinese economy is booming and officials increasingly tend Hong Kong’s global identity to that country alone.
Chinese state-owned companies are moving into offices recently vacated by foreign banks in iconic Hong Kong skyscrapers. In November, Meituan, a Chinese food delivery giant, pulled Swire, a British conglomerate, out of the city’s main stock index. Financial analysts have called it the end of the era.
The continent’s money rush brought new conditions.
After Beijing ruled this spring that only “patriots” could apply to Hong Kong, Bank of China International – a public institution – posted a job offer for a director’s position that said candidates should “like the country “.
The central government is trying to convince Hong Kong people that compromises are worthwhile in exchange for the mainland’s promise of prosperity. Authorities are encouraging young Hong Kong people to study and work in southern Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, saying those who do not go may miss out on opportunities.
Growing up in Hong Kong, Toby Wong, 23, had never considered working on the mainland. Her mother had come from the mainland decades earlier to work. The wages there were considerably lower.
But recently, Ms. Wong saw an advertisement on the subway promoting openings in Shenzhen, with the Hong Kong government promising to subsidize nearly $ 1,300 out of a monthly salary of $ 2,300, more than that of many jobs in the city. first rung at home. A high-speed train between the two cities allowed her to return on weekends to see her mother, whom Ms. Wong must support financially.
Ms. Wong applied to two Chinese technology companies.
“It’s not a political issue. It’s a practical matter, ”she said.
Ultimately, the government hopes to restore political motivation. At the heart of the Beijing campaign is a drive to uplift future generations who will never think of separating party interests from theirs.
- Behind the Hong Kong takeover: A year ago, the city’s freedoms were reduced at breakneck speed. But the crackdown lasted for years and many signals were missed.
- Charting China’s post-Covid path: Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, seeks to balance confidence and caution as his country progresses while other countries continue to fight the pandemic.
- A challenge for the global leadership of the United States: As President Biden predicts a struggle between democracies and their opponents, Beijing is eager to defend the other side.
- “Red tourism” flourishes: New and improved attractions dedicated to the history of the Communist Party, or a sanitized version of it, draw crowds ahead of the party’s centenary.
The Hong Kong government has released hundreds of pages of new curriculum guidelines designed to instill “affection in the Chinese people.” Geography lessons must assert China’s control over the disputed areas of the South China Sea. Pupils from the age of 6 will learn about breaches of the safety law.
Lo Kit Ling, who teaches a civics class in high school, is now careful to say only positive things about China in the classroom. While she has always tried to offer multiple perspectives on any topic, she said, she is concerned that a critical perspective could be taken out of context by a student or parent.
Ms. Lo’s subject is particularly heavy – city leaders have accused her of poisoning Hong Kong’s youth. The course had encouraged students to analyze China critically, teaching the country’s economic successes as well as topics such as the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Authorities have ordered that the subject be replaced with a truncated version that emphasizes the positive.
“It’s not teaching. It’s just like sort of brainwashing, ”Ms. Lo said. Instead, she will be teaching an elective course in Hospitality Studies.
Schoolchildren aren’t the only ones being asked to watch for dissent. In November, Hong Kong police opened a hotline to report alleged security law violations. “#YouCanHelp #SaveHK”, the font wrote on Twitter. An official recently applauded residents for leaving more than 100,000 messages in six months.
Constant surveillance through informant quarters is one of the Communist Party’s most effective tools of social control on the mainland. It is designed to dissuade people like Johnny Yui Siu Lau, a radio host in Hong Kong, from being so free in his criticism of China.
Mr Lau said a producer recently told him that a listener reported him to the broadcasting authority.
“It will be a competition or a struggle, how the people of Hong Kong can protect freedom of expression,” Lau said.
Other freedoms once at the heart of Hong Kong’s identity are disappearing. The government has announced that it will censor films deemed dangerous to national security. Some officials have demanded that works of art by dissidents like Ai Weiwei be banned from entering museums.
Yet Hong Kong is not yet just another mainland metropolis. Residents have been fiercely unwilling to give up freedom, and some have rushed to preserve the totem poles of a low-key Hong Kong identity.
Masks marked “made in Hong Kong” have grown in popularity. A local boy group, Mirror, has become a source of hope and pride amid renewed interest in Canto-pop.
Last summer, Herbert Chow, owner of Chickeeduck, a children’s clothing chain, installed a seven-foot figure of a protester – a woman wearing a gas mask and waving a protest flag – and other works of protest art in its stores.
But Mr Chow, 57, has come under pressure from his landlords, several of whom have refused to renew his leases. There were 13 Chickeeduck stores in Hong Kong last year; now there are five. He said he didn’t know how long his city could continue to resist Beijing’s incursions.
“Fear – it can make you stronger because you don’t want to live in fear,” he said. Or “it can kill your desire to fight.”
Joy Dong contributed research.