Hong Kong’s protests are touted as a freedom movement by the activists there and by the West media fanning the fire with biased reporting and news coverage. The violence and criminal activities (generally occurring during and after a peaceful demonstration) were suppressed and the freedom demands were highlighted. Of course, in today’s advanced network world, fake news or distorted news reporting can not fool all the people all the time. Now with ample real-time real street videos, we see the real situation of Hong Kong protests turning into riots almost like movies, well planned and directed, with weapons, gas bombs, masks readily made available to the few violent activists at each peaceful demonstration or directly to an unauthorized demonstration orchestrated for violence. The Hong Kong Government seemed to be powerless letting the police to be clobbered by the masked rioters. Finally, Hong Kong is considering a law to forbid wearing mask (and combat mask) in public place.
The ignition point of the three months long Hong Kong unrest was originated from protest against an extension of criminal extradition law (Hong Kong already has with many countries) to include Taiwan and Mainland China. The need of extension was triggered by a murder case that a Hong Kong citizen murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan and fled back to Hong Kong to avoid prosecution. Why this extension was opposed is actually very simple because Hong Kong is a center of international spies who obviously are afraid of extradition law extended to China. It is ridiculous that Hong Kong as a part of China has criminal, mind you capital offense criminal, extradition with many countries but not with mainland China. Of course, this is the result of British colonial rule of Hong Kong. What is wrong with this extradition law modification? How did it affect young students as young as fourteen? Could we imagine that happening in the U.S.?
Sure, Hong Kong has been a free port enjoying plenty of freedom in trade and finance during the British rule but not political freedom. There was no democracy, no election, not voting for the governor of Hong Kong. By 1997, when Hong Kong was forced (by expiration of a war treaty) to return Hong Kong to China, British strengthened the Hong Kong Basic Law, thus Justice System was tenured with British citizens, city government was established with an elected council. British cleverly made the Chinese government to accept and maintain the then “current” status of Hong Kong for fifty years in the name of “peaceful transition and protection of Hong Kong People’s rights. China agreed. Thus today Hong Kong is ruled by Hong Kong People, its executive leader is elected by the Hong Kong Council System. You would ask why Hong Kong people are protesting? Actually, the reasons can be summarized in three points.
First, the most crucial point is that the wealth gap in Hong Kong is the greatest in the world. 93% of Hong Kong’s land is owned by four family enterprises, enterprises that would make Trump look like a inconsequential property developer. Hong Kong housing expense is highest in the world; millions of people cramped in small apartments, some sharing in day and night shifts. With China rising in economic development and Hong Kong’s neighbor Shenzhen and Canton prospering, it makes the proud Hong Kong people depressed with unemployment problem and oblique future. This is the hidden element in Hong Kong unrest and the unrest is manipulated by internal (wealthy) and external (political) forces to release the anger on “freedom fight”.
Second, a strange point is that Hong Kong people have too much freedom but not getting any practical benefit. Hong Kong protesters enjoyed more protest freedom than any other place and protected by an extremely lenient justice. (British judges) Hong Kong people have the greatest financial freedom in terms of investment and doing businesses but the majority of Hong Kong citizens are struggling seeing their living standard used to be miles better than their relatives on the mainland China across the Hong Kong Bay deteriorating daily. The tourists from mainland China are notorious in their spending making Hong Kong people jealous unless they were traders making tons of money off the tourists. Hong Kong has freedom to use and teach the Hong Kong dialect in schools and use their colonial textbooks (English not Mandarin). (It would never be permitted in the U.S.) Hence the children are taught with a confused world knowledge making the young people totally confused with an obsolete pride as a colonial citizen facing the giant wave of Mandarin power. Hong Kong used to be the Hollywood in Chinese movies (Cantonese) but now it is taken over by Mandarin movies produced by Mainland China. Some smart Hong Kong people learned Mandarin but those being taught by the legacy school and teachers are lost and worried for their future. China should have legislated laws to reform the Hong Kong school systems. Perhaps it is not too late to do that. Just imaging, in the U.S. if we would allow schools to teach everything in Spanish or Arabic-Islamic language, what would it do to our society?
Third point, mostly used by the anti-China foreign countries is that China is an authoritarian system not suited for Hong Kong. Funny thing is that China was too rigid in keeping her words of letting Hong Kong people to rule Hong Kong and let them to evolve (a guarantee of Hong Kong self-rule under China’s constitution of “one country multiple systems”. The problem is that Hong Kong is a small island prospering under a condition not because of its resources or people but because China was cut off from the world and only had Hong Kong as her lifeline to the world economy. The West decided to open to China for her huge market and labor dividend. Then things were changed; China embraced capitalism with some control. China rose rapidly, making Hong Kong gradually losing its influence and value. China actually tried to protect Hong Kong from Shanghai and Shenzhen overtaking Hong Kong as a world financial and trade center. However, competition is part of freedom, all human societies desire to have competition in various degree. Freedom to compete does not just belong to the society already enjoying it. So China’s Rise should not be perceived as a threat to Hong Kong, but it is just like it is to the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan.
If Hong Kong people, especially youth, understood the above three points, the solution should not be violence nor independence (as unrealistic as San Francisco or Manhattan wanted to declare independence) but embracing the rise of China to be a real Chinese to get on the freedom train which is accelerating. It does not take a historian to notice that Chinese people were always freedom seekers (especially the Cantonese, most Hong Kong People’s ancestry; Chinese immigrants to California and other parts of the world are examples). Now China had shed her two century of disgrace, invasion by foreign powers. China established a republic growing and reviving gingerly with her thousands years of culture and lessons learned from modern history. History will tell that Chinese people will seek freedom in her own way not by any color revolution instigated by a foreign country. The Chinese are too smart now to fall in a trap to split China into pieces, rather they will propose projects like the Belt and Road Initiative to benefit the world and themselves, leading the world to peace, prosperity and harmony.
Ifay Chang. Ph.D., Inventor, Author, TV Game Show Host and Columnist (www.us-chinaforum.org) as well as serving as Trustee, Somers Central School District.