Sunday, June 18, 2017

Handover

In two weeks’ time, it will be 20 years since Britain returned control over Hong Kong to China. I remember watching the ceremony on TV from Sweden. At the time, I had never been outside Europe and had no physical relation to the rain falling on the Tamar naval site as the ceremony progressed through the evening. At midnight, before boarding the Yacht Britannia, Governor Chris Pattern sent one last telegram to London:

“I have relinquished the administration of this government. God Save the Queen”

In retrospect, neither the worst fears nor the highest hopes have come to pass. Hong Kong remains fundamentally distinct from the Mainland, yet self-censorship seems to be very real throughout society. The other day, South China Morning Post ran an article brimming with doublespeak, explaining how Hong Kong people have not yet opened their hearts to the Chinese People's Liberation Army but that the forces stationed in Hong Kong are “no longer just symbolic”.

To me it seems as if the local government (and, with it, indirectly Beijing) could quite easily strengthen its support, for instance by building lots of affordable housing for young Hong Kong people or by providing free public day care for children. Instead it is now spending a staggering ten billion USD on a new bridge to Zhuhai, all in line with the classic developmental state preference for hard infrastructure. For the democracy movement on the other hand, I think the key is really to build democracy from below and to avoid more high-profile fights with Beijing. Fortunately, the other night at the Broadway Cinematheque in Kowloon there were signs of just that with a photo exhibition about the inclusion of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. Similarly, working to improve government accountability at the local community level is likely to give much better results than challenging Beijing head on. Still, one can of course understand the deep frustration that many Hong Kong people must feel. It is always easy to be smart at a distance.

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