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In this day and age, everyone is opinionated. In politics, it is the great divide. In mainland China, netizens have long had a far outcry for more freedom, transparency, and democracy; but under paramount leader Xi, free speech is not a given. For Hongkongers, whether they still live in the once-famed international city or overseas, the extreme makeover over the last few years has been more than surreal. The month of June has been a month of “remembrance,” both from a social movement and political standpoint.
This June, we just commemorated the 34th year of the Tiananmen massacre—officially, outside of China and Hong Kong—a more democratic China still does not exist. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Xi Jinping’s administration means more concentration of power. With Xi and the politburo having a “wolf warrior” mentality towards Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the rest of the world, and with the “balloon incidence” of Chinese spy balloons flying over Canadian and U.S. soil, the situation between China and the rest of the world is tense. Xi’s claims of a “no limits partnership” with Russia’s Vladimir Putin are worrisome. President Joe Biden of the U.S. recently called Xi Jinping a dictator at a fundraising event, a day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to China.
From a Hong Kong perspective, the outlook is quite negative. We become a bystander and observers of geopolitical events. While inside, the Tiananmen commemoration is now banned just like the rest of China, erasing memories of the past. The sweeping and all-powerful National Security Law (NSL) applied to Hong Kong has been widely abused by the secret police since its enactment in June of 2020. This June 24th also marks the second year after Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was forced to shut down by the Hong Kong and Beijing government. This crackdown by brute force was painful to Hongkongers, a pro-democracy newspaper that had been in circulation for 26 years.
On a personal front, I was a columnist at Apple Daily. I left Hong Kong on June 28th, 2021, four days after Apple Daily was forced to have its final print run, and two days before my English editor was arrested at the Hong Kong International Airport. The shutdown of Apple Daily was quite dramatic, as my editor, plus five other senior management and editorial team members of the newspaper, were arrested for the alleged charge of conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security. All six of them have been detained at least for over 700 days now.
From CEO to editor-in-chief and section heads, the senior management of Apple Daily “pleaded guilty,” hopefully to get a reduced jail time. The founder of Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai, has pleaded “not guilty.” He has been detained for more than 900 days since December 2020. Jimmy Lai is the target “public enemy number one” of Beijing and the communist Hong Kong government, and he has been a strong proponent of free speech and free press, something the CCP just cannot tolerate. If convicted, Jimmy Lai could face life imprisonment. The trial for Lai and Apple Daily related to NSL charges will begin in late September 2023.
From the Tiananmen massacre’s “zero tolerance” of commemoration to Apple Daily’s shutdown two years ago, these “big events” all happened in the month of June. Hongkongers have a lot of painful memories, but do they realize they are living through the major changes of the decade: that freedom has been lost under the totalitarian regime? The aftermath of the 2019 “Anti-Extradition Bill” crisis also triggered HongKongers’ emigration waves to other countries for refuge and hope, and this “exodus process” is still ongoing.
At the most realistic and practical level, Hongkongers have to prepare for the worst that is yet to come. People living in Hong Kong, not just locals, have already felt that they are “being held at gunpoint” under NSL. The vibes are changed completely. Enactment of the National Security Law equates “one country, two systems” comes to an abrupt end, the experiment fails after 23 years of trying, instead of letting it run till 2047. According to Chief Executive of Hong Kong John Lee Ka-chiu, Article 23 will definitely be enacted no later than the end of 2024. One can easily fall into the trap of this landmine: Article 23 would prohibit seven types of offenses: treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government, theft of state secrets, foreign bodies’ conducting political activities in the city, and local bodies establishing ties with foreign bodies.
People with sound minds know that the smell and taste of freedom are gone for Hong Kong. It is time to offload some “hard to sell” assets, remain liquid, and think of alternatives. It is an understatement to say that Hongkongers are alright when you see inquiries of offshore bank account setups still going strong since 2019, and the locals are afraid that the free flow of information will be “at par” with the rest of China. The use of a VPN to connect will become essential but falls into a grey area as it is “technically illegal” now in China. There are already website blockages in Hong Kong, like the pro-democracy website Hong Kong Watch. We will see the latest development of this “great firewall” implementation in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Government, from Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu top-down, has failed to provide any level of confidence for Hongkongers to stay calm and intact. Forget about the propaganda phrase from the Hong Kong Government: “Tell Good Hong Kong Stories” when the city is under suppression by the regime. Everything is under Beijing’s directives now. The NSL is conveniently used to suppress its people, putting Hong Kong’s autonomy at further risk. People from Hong Kong also have witnessed the depreciation in the value of their real estate holdings due to a weakening economy, rising interest rates, and political uncertainty. For those who sell their hard assets and remain liquid, this is just step number one, being on the defensive. After that, Hongkongers have to make a tough decision: either leave for freedom, or stay behind and live under tyranny.
The Hong Kong we know is certainly running out of time. Put it in investment terms categorically: CCP has abruptly issued “a put option with a near-term expiry date to Hong Kong,” and there are no genuine takers of this issuance, buyers or sellers alike. Of course, the CCP and the Hong Kong Government puppets argue there is no breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. In reality, people and assets are fleeing in all directions, wherever there is more assurance of safety.
In the last four years, Hong Kong people’s battle against the Extradition Bill for freedom and democracy, and the subsequent fate of life under the NSL has not been easy. And in between, the strict COVID-19 policy further killed the city. Now, the CCP wants full control of Hong Kong with the National Security Law. The “one country, two systems” draws close to an end faster than anticipated. The “National Security Police” are prominent, while the city is silenced politically.
As we are approaching July 1 in the city, the 26th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China, it is expected the city will be dead quiet. No more legal protests will be approved by the government. On important dates like June 4 or July 1, in the name of national security, the Hong Kong police will ban all forms of demonstrations with the excuse they will turn violent. Say goodbye to free speech and free expression. That said, Hongkongers, don’t give up on rebuilding the good old Hong Kong stories overseas, and let us all vigorously connect with those who decide to stay inside the city or cannot leave. Let the world know about our worsening situation. Hong Kong might not be Hong Kong anymore, but this is just a state of mind. It has evolved into something we are not used to; so we have to move on, rethink and find a new way to tackle it. As for Hongkongers, let us fight very hard to preserve our core values, language, freedoms, and heritage wherever we are.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.