As we all know by now, the extreme makeover of Hong Kong in the realms of civil society, economy and politics imposed by Beijing is reaching completion, and no moral force is big enough to stop it from pressing on. Over the last two years, the crackdown on Hong Kong has been more than surreal. Beijing has given up the pretense of honoring the Joint Declaration that was signed in 1984 between China and the UK. One of the Beijing spokespersons even called what was supposed to be an iron-clad agreement merely a “historical document”, which is tantamount to blatantly telling the whole world that no one should meddle with Hong Kong’s affairs.
Two years have gone by since the outbreak of the anti-extradition movement in 2019, and Hong Hongers have now ultimately and genuinely experienced the mainland-style tyranny. The National Security Law (NSL), a political weapon, has been widely used since it took effect as an excuse to suppress people living in the city. The NSL has also turned Hong Kong into a city of fear, instead of hope. Of course, the culprit is not the NSL, but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which has masterminded this brutal and barbaric transformation.
As a finance person, I am most concerned about the loss of our independent judiciary. In less than 60 and 70 days respectively, Hong Kongers will have experienced for the second time since 2020 the June 4 vigil and the July 1 demonstration banned. The city now looks more like a police state in the Orwellian style, and please prove me wrong that the whole world might see riot police carrying shotguns or weaponries on June 4 and July 1 this year, making a political statement that the totalitarian regime is in charge, and if people resist, they will just use force to hurt its people without hesitation.
Both Hong Kongers and expatriates are getting more and more worried about their safety, especially when our city is now almost 100% transformed into a police state, something not much difference from mainland China. Yes, Beijing is tightening the grip on Hong Kong’s freedoms at supersonic speed. The whole process is extremely ruthless, and the people have lost hope. In the past, I used to tell people how lucky I was to be born in Hong Kong. I had benefited from and ridden on Hong Kong’s economic success and freedoms. Now I wonder how lucky one could be, if one were born in Hong Kong, as Hong Kongers are now living under tyranny.
In recent days, you must have seen billboard advertisements in MTR stations or at Hong Kong International Airport for the National Security Law (NSL) of Hong Kong telling people why they should have no worry but embrace it. In fact, I have recently seen some billboard ads saying April is the NSL month; maybe the government will sooner or later find some pro-Beijing businessmen or famous artistes to endorse the NSL, which has however eroded “the one country, two systems” principle Hong Kong used to uphold.
Ask any banker, trader or businessman engaging in international trade or corporate finance who needs to make stopovers at major airports, or conduct short term assignments in major cities, interestingly, you will find something strange happening in Hong Kong by the time one steps off a plane. I have recently heard stories from travelers, be they Hong Kongers or visitors who recently landed at Hong Kong International Airport. When they came out from the gate, they found that some “plainclothes officials” might come up to travelers and ask them questions. If one is in black clothes, look athletic, and look like he/she is in a hurry while stepping off the plane, he/she might be in trouble̶.
He/She could be questioned by national security police about the purpose of his/her visit to Hong Kong, where he/she has been to quite a number of times over the past few months ̶ this random check is all done before the passenger even reaches the immigration counter. The “plainclothes officials” won’t show any identification, and it is difficult to prove it is legitimate for them to do so, and the whole experience is quite worrying. Christianne Ho, a three-time champion bodybuilder who represented the Hong Kong team, shared with me about her experience of being tactfully questioned by two “plainclothes officials” for a few minutes before she reached the immigration counter. The experience was, and I would put it nicely, more than surreal. Sharing her surreal experience in a radio program we did together a few weeks ago, Christianne suspected they were NSL police officers on duty inside the restricted area at the airport, not immigration officers. (The thumbnail picture of today is Christianne and me). And for the record, Christianne indeed dressed athletically in black, and rightly so, for someone who had been a professional athlete and was taking a long haul flight. And I didn’t even have to remind the audience about the very strict quarantine policies in Hong Kong - the compulsory 21-day stay at a quarantine hotel designated by the government for most inbound travelers, which is quite a nuisance.
On a different note, it is extremely encouraging to see that JP Lee, Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce, stood up against the government’s plan to ban the public from obtaining information from the Companies Registry. Put it directly, restricting access to obtaining information from the Companies Registry could be used as a political weapon to protect or hide certain people from public scrutiny. During the Umbrella Movement of 2014, people from the financial services sector in support of democracy and high-impact governance queried government’s credibility in handling sensitive cases, and rebuked it for granting some people immunity. Who doesn’t want a clean and fair government? And for the case of Hong Kong, the people have lost confidence in the fiduciaries, when the city is administered by incompetent “loyalists and patriots”, who have caused the downfall of the city.
Beijing has now gained total control over the electoral process of Hong Kong. Any candidate or practitioner, whether a high-ranking civil servant, district councillor or lawmaker, has to prove to Beijing that he/she is genuinely patriotic; and for those who want to “join the game”, they will be rigorously vetted by the national security police. Anyone who aspires to run for any office in Hong Kong, yet has participated in a June 4 vigil or joined one of the peaceful protests against the extradition bill in 2019, could be regarded as unpatriotic. The national security police could even drill deeply into some of your “darkest and dirtiest secrets”, so to speak. So why bother?
That said, I am even more concerned about the detainment of the broad spectrum of Hong Kongers who are alleged to have broken the infamous NSL. It is almost a general understanding now that if someone is alleged to have violated the NSL, the authorities could just lock him/her up indefinitely before trial. The fate of Hong Kongers who fight for democracy and freedoms for this city is now not much difference from the dire consequences suffered by mainland activists who fight for their rights. The only “crime” committed by Jimmy Lai, a media tycoon, Benny Tai, a law professor and Joshua Wong, a dynamic young activist, honestly, is to bring hope to the city. Let us not forget all the legislators and district councillors who are unjustly jailed by the totalitarian regime as well. It is just troubling to see Hong Kongers have to deal with baseless charges, such as “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” and “inciting subversion of state power”, just to name a few.
The whole world now should also be on full alert for the suggestion made by loyalists to Beijing of taking away the Hong Kong Bar Association’s (HKBA) self-regulatory rights. These Beijing loyalists with legal background accuse HKBA of being political, while they are executing a Hong Kong version of the Cultural Revolution themselves. If one day Beijing really does so, this could mean “game over” for Hong Kong legal profession. These professionals have to be very careful not to upset Beijing, or else obtaining or renewing their practicing license will be a real concern? This would also speed up the exodus of the business and financial services sectors, and the reason behind is obvious. Is there any prospect of change in Hong Kong for the better? Not really. In fact, anything can happen in Hong Kong now.
(Edward Chin (錢志健) runs a family office. Chin was formerly Country Head of a UK publicly listed hedge fund, the largest of its kind measured by asset under management. Outside the hedge funds space, Chin is Convenor of 2047 Hong Kong Monitor and a Senior Advisor of Reporters Without Borders (RSF, HK & Macau). Chin studied speech communication at the University of Minnesota, and received his MBA from the University of Toronto. Twitter: edwardckchin Youtube: Ed Chin Channel Facebook.com/edckchin Email: email@example.com)
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