China’s review of Hong Kong’s electoral system is seen as a watershed moment from those who fear Beijing’s invasive effects on Hong Kong.
Recent changes have allowed only “patriots” who are loyal to the mainland to take power. It feels like a last blow to those who want Hong Kong to move towards greater democracy.
The United States, Australia and European countries have blamed China’s actions, but it has been more difficult to measure the reaction of Hong Kong itself. Many people just don’t want to talk anymore.
In fact, in the last few years it has become increasingly difficult for the general public to talk about the city’s relationship with the mainland.
“That’s how the authoritarian system works.”
Sharing that observation with a friend in Hong Kong, the reaction was a cynical “laugh” and a cool retrofit: “How it works for an authoritarian regime.”
Lee Jong-hyeok, an assistant professor at the South Sea Institute of Technology in Singapore, told the BBC that the delicate topic of conversation “disappears naturally” in this situation.
“People will self-censor themselves, and this is intentional,” he said.
“Perhaps the Chinese Communist Party will destroy social trust among citizens by motivating more people on the streets to report criticisms to the government.”
So what is it like in patriotic Hong Kong and what do people expect in the future?
“Returning Hong Kong 20 years ago”
Opposition politicians, those most directly affected by change, are still speaking, at least for the foreseeable future. Opposition Democratic Party chairman Lo Kinhei warned that the change would make Hong Kong “20 years ago.”
He told the BBC that progress over the last two decades had been essentially erased by Beijing.
“We know that we have much less space to participate in, and we know it’s very difficult to get through the screening system,” he says. It was.
Ramon Yuen Hoyman, a party treasurer of Lo Kinhei, said China’s leadership was “trampling democracy”, breaking the vision of universal suffrage stipulated in the city’s constitutional basic law. Said.
Lo Kinhei and other democrats are now facing a difficult debate about whether they will continue to participate in elections or whether we will go another way.
Professor Lee of Nanyang Institute of Technology said that there may simply be no way left for political or public influence.
“I think it’s too late,” he said. “Chinese leaders will never give in to the people. International pressure will never undo their decisions.”
Talking to people on earth is more difficult, but not impossible. “I can hear a lot of people talking about leaving the city now,” said Ken Liu, who works in the city’s IT department.
He said he was going to stay-“and as long as I could find a legitimate way to spread my opinion, I would do it”-but he said many would leave Hong Kong forever Said he was afraid. Britain is already paving the way By allowing people born before delivery to participate in a special visa system that may lead to British citizenship.
Still, Professor Lee warned that it was an expensive option for many. For most ordinary Kong Kong residents, it would simply be impossible to uproot and leave. And while many may be dissatisfied with the changes forced by Beijing, “political rights are not essential to life.”
“There is a debate about’political bargains for economic gain’,” he explained, pointing out mainland China, where citizens also made peace to withhold political rights as long as leadership brings economic prosperity. To do.
“Hong Kong prospers”
Finding voices in favor of China’s change is already much easier than finding open dissent.
Penny Sun is an online influencer with thousands of followers on social media. She told the BBC in full support of the change that Hong Kong politicians are “patriots” and should do the same.
She said she now enjoyed more freedom than during the long months of protest in 2019, which she described as a “riot.”
“During the riots, I was worried that I would be attacked to speak my heart. I was afraid that something would happen,” she said.
She said during the protest, supporters of China avoided talking about politics so they wouldn’t run into problems. “As we knew, it wasn’t Hong Kong,” she said.
She said “patriotic” politicians are free to discuss important and much closer to people’s lives, such as the imminent housing problems in cities. “Hong Kong will prosper and our lives will be more stable.”
Others are afraid that this applies only to those who agree with China’s view, not to those who oppose it.
Beijing’s fear of chain reaction
Many people in Hong Kong, as well as observers from abroad, are shocked by the speed of recent dramatic changes. From last year’s introduction of the criticized National Security Act, which criminalizes withdrawal, destruction, and “collusion with foreign troops” and sentenced to life imprisonment, to recent election changes.
Still, Professor Lee said he expected these changes to be even faster. “If we succumbed to Hong Kong, we were quite afraid of the domestic chain reaction,” a Chinese leader said.
“Surprisingly, Beijing relied on the Hong Kong government’s ability to deal with protesters,” he added. “But when the second major protest took place in 2019, CCP leaders went directly to Hong Kong’s problems to eliminate the causes of collective action such as democratic representatives, civil networks and education systems. I have decided to get involved. “
Two years later, statements to Beijing would be illegal and opposition politicians could easily be locked out of parliament.
“There will be no return,” said Professor Lee. “This is certain. Universal suffrage is just an obstacle to the stability of the Communist Party administration.”
Additional report by Jeff Li and Cho Wai Lam.