Fr. Gianni Criveller, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), a renowned sinologist, provides an interesting history of developments in Hong Kong on the Asianews site. Here is a summary.
Xi-Jinping visited the former British colony to show that normalization has become a top priority. On July 1, 1997, President Jiang Zemin and Prince Charles sealed the return of Hong Kong. On July 1 this year, Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China and Secretary of the Communist Party, came to close a 25-year term.
This week's trip to Hong Kong is Xi-Jinping's first outside mainland China since the pandemic began. Authoritarian leaders, obsessed with the fear of getting sick, carefully avoid opportunities that expose them to contagion. Yet for Xi, the normalization of Hong Kong has become a top priority, and he wants to demonstrate it.
The Chinese leader will formally inaugurate the term of John Lee, the new chief executive of Hong Kong’s “Special Administrative Zone,” being chosen on May 8 by 99% of the members of the Election Committee. Mr. Lee was a police officer until he became head of the security department in 2017. It was under his orders that police cracked down heavily on popular protests that began with the Million Citizen March on June 9, 2019.
When the treaty between China and Britain on the future of the colony was signed in 1984, “Deng Xiaoping himself had indicated that for fifty years Hong Kong would continue to maintain its 'special' way of life: ‘The horses will continue to run, the shares in the bank will continue to pay off, and the dancers will continue to dance.’”
With this famous sentence, Deng Xiaoping wanted to reassure the people of the city and the international community about the financial, economic, social, and political future of Hong Kong. “Deng put it in black and white by inventing the highly original ‘one country, two systems’ formula. And the Hong Kong’s exception was to last fifty years. In the meantime, it was also applied to Macao (1999), and in perspective it was supposed to reassure Taiwan as well.”
Many have wondered why 50 years? The best explanation is that, according to Deng, it took China, which was on the fast track of modernization, 50 years to become like Hong Kong. “So not Hong Kong like China, but its opposite, this at least in the intentions of Deng Xiaoping, the second communist emperor after Mao Zedong.”
It is undoubtedly a matter of great disappointment, bitterness, and sorrow for the people to be robbed of this promise of freedom without even having passed the milestone of 25 years. Hong Kong was a free and cosmopolitan city. Now it is not. Many people are leaving it for good.
A major exodus had occurred before 1997, when many citizens did not trust Beijing's promises after the Tiananmen Square massacre. But there were also positive signs: the number of international residents increased considerably when the “one country, two systems” formula seemed to work, to the point that some expatriates returned.
Today, however, this is not the case: expatriates are leaving a city where they no longer feel at home or safe. Even many Chinese citizens, while not wealthy, have already left the city or intend to leave. It is a sad exodus.
25 years ago, Martin Lee spoke from the balcony of Parliament and delivered the famous “July 1 Declaration,” calling for freedom and democracy. After him, lawyer Margareth Ng spoke. The two Democratic leaders were recently arrested and convicted: Margaret Ng is free on bail; Martin Lee had his sentence “suspended.”
Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong recently wrote that life for people and believers in Hong Kong “looks more and more like an existence between the cracks. We used to enjoy a lot of space and freedom of expression.” But, continues the bishop, “the light of God is found in all things, even in the cracks.”
The arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of the diocese and the “conscience of Hong Kong” was a painful reminder that an invisible line that was believed to be impassable has been crossed.