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Many Hong Kongers have long lamented the seemingly intractable problems plaguing their hometown. The difficulties range from relentless political disruption by anti-Beijing forces to an identity crisis and a growing rich-poor gap, exacerbated by a stalled economy. Yet even pessimists are sensing, with growing conviction, that the misfortunes of China’s leading Special Administrative Region (SAR) may be approaching a turning point.
There are two main factors, one political and one economic. The “Occupy Central” movement of 2014 and Mongkok riots of 2016 may have alienated Hong Kong’s ever-patient silent majority so deeply that the public appetite for the destructive negativity of local pan “democrats” (whose proper designation should be “pan anti-Communists”) has been blunted by indigestion. These faux-democrats have been notably, almost eerily, quiet since the Mongkok violence. The annual July 1 anti-Beijing, anti-HK SAR protest march, a flagship event for them, drew a mere 20,000 participants. That fell far short of the organizers’ expected 100,000 — and was the lowest number ever. When young political hothead Joshua Wong tried to mobilize an “occupation” of symbolic Golden Bauhinia Square a couple of days before, only a handful of protesters showed up. Police took them away without incident.
Also, signs are that Beijing and the new HK government under Chief Executive Carrie Lam will finally act to curb the virtually unchecked depredations of the anti-Communists, which have done so much harm to the territory since its reunification with the mainland two decades ago. During that time, the generous protections of the SAR’s “One Country, Two Systems” dispensation provided cover for their toxic activities, bordering on subversion.
Xi Jinping, in town for his first visit as China’s leader, declared with unprecedented explicitness that “One Country” would take precedence over “Two Systems.” As the chief editor of the top local English daily South China Morning Post notes: “The message comes right from the top and Hong Kong has heard it straight from the horse’s mouth that there is a ‘red line’ when it comes to undermining China’s sovereignty. The pan-democrats and others can no longer dismiss it, as they have similar warnings in the past, as the exaggerated personal views of some hardliners at Beijing’s liaison office here or across the border rather than a reflection of the president’s own thinking.”
Xi also stated that Hong Kong thenceforth must do its part for national security, including providing national education in its schools and enforcing the law strictly. Since the 1997 reunification, the territory’s educational and judicial systems have been dominated by Beijing-phobic forces. The result: a generation of Hong Kong youth deeply indoctrinated against their own nation, and negligible consequences for those who break the law while pursuing “pro-democracy” activities.
The second factor centers on business, Hong Kong’s traditional strength. China’s epic and historic Belt & Road Initiative will provide a couple of generations’ worth of new opportunities for Hong Kong, once the SAR gets its head together and seriously tunes in to the EurAsian megaproject. On-the-ground indications are that this is beginning to happen. And Xi all but pointed the way. Noting that the territory’s traditional economic areas of strength are fading, he suggested that new and sustainable prosperity would depend on Hong Kong fully joining in the nation’s development juggernaut. That is indeed the way forward for the embattled SAR.