July 1 is the 23rd Anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China. The development of the city over the 23 years has been steady if uneven, but the months-long violence that tore the highly-civilised society into a war zone was a major setback. Black-clad rioters vandalised public facilities, firebombed police stations, defaced national emblems and set a pedestrian who held different views on fire.
Gripped by violence, Hong Kong suffered the worst recession since the 2009 Global Financial Crisis. The City’s retail, catering and hotel industries are estimated to have suffered consequential losses of 15 billion Hong Kong dollars (1.9 billion U.S. dollars).
Hong Kong was knocked from its place atop the Index of Economic Freedom, a position it had held for 25 straight years.
Looking at the bigger picture, it’s no secret that mistrust exists among some in Hong Kong towards the central government. Since the 1997 return, Hong Kong residents have been concerned about the city’s autonomy, worrying their freedoms may gradually vanish under the control of a socialist country.
It is for this reason Hong Kong has not attempted to pass a national security bill since 2003, when Article 23 was deliberately stigmatised.
The widening wealth gap in Hong Kong cannot be overlooked in understanding the bigger picture either. No one would deny the vitality of Hong Kong’s economy, but unequal distribution of wealth is also a fact.
According to Bloomberg, Hong Kong’s income inequality was the most for any developed economy in 2016, about one in five residents live below the poverty line. The soaring costs of living in recent years have further stirred up young people’s anger.
Political Opportunists are fully aware of this background. When the fugitive bill was proposed last year, they took advantage of local residents’ problems and autonomy-related anxieties to encourage vandalism, and eventually turned the peaceful demonstrations against the fugitive bill into violence against the Central Government.
External anti-China forces did not waste the opportunity either, and their intervention pushed the unrest to a climax. China’s rise in recent years has, to an extent, shifted the power balance in today’s world. Unhappy to see this change, U.S.-led Western countries have been manipulating every possible means to contain China. Hong Kong is a chance they could not miss.
But all of this could have been prevented by a national security law. Hong Kong people have the freedom of peaceful demonstrations, but terror-like violence is a severe violation of national security. The loopholes in Hong Kong’s ability to safeguard national security made the city a victim of political opportunism and subject of a power struggle.
In this context, the central government introduced the national security legislation. The draft only targets “those who attempt to split the country, subvert state power & organise and carry out terrorist activities, as well as foreign and external forces seeking to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs.” It is designed to protect, not harm, Hong Kong residents and businesses. Local people have nothing to fear from it.
Macao’s experience may be informative. No one has been charged under the national security law it passed in 2009. The law, according to the city’s leader Ho Iat Seng, has helped make the implementation of the “One Country, Two Systems” a success.
Not surprisingly, anti-Beijing hawks immediately equated the national security legislation for Hong Kong with violations of autonomy. Making a fuss about China’s justified legal efforts, the West is never hesitant in enacting acts on national security: the National Security Act of the United States, the USA Patriot Act, to name but a few.
Safeguarding national security does not contradict protection of autonomy. “One Country” is a prerequisite of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. As a part of China, Hong Kong must bear its due responsibilities to safeguard national security. “One Country” does not contradict “Two Systems,” and it is the basis for high-level autonomy in Hong Kong.
The demonstrations last year were a result of decades-long concerns about autonomy and anger over widening income inequality. The majority of Hong Kong residents don’t challenge the bottom line of “One Country.” But at the instigation of political opportunists and anti-China forces, some young people misinterpreted “One Country” as “One System.”
Without national security legislation to safeguard “One Country,” the autonomy and freedom embodied in the “Two Systems” would have never been realised. Shouting “Two Systems,” these young people may not realise they had been manipulated by hostile forces for an anti-“One Country” campaign.
For the violence-torn Hong Kong, the “One Country, Two Systems” principle is the only way forward. The mainland will do more than ever to ensure HK’s success.
The Central Government’s Policies, including Shanghai/Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect, the Great Bay Area Construction and the Belt & Road Initiative are essential for Hong Kong’s economic recovery, while anti-China forces will only use Hong Kong as a tool for their Political Gain at the sacrifice of the City’s Development.
It has already been 23 years since Hong Kong’s return. Autonomy has not been a problem. Hong Kong residents must be clear: National security legislation is the fundamental solution to safeguarding “One Country,” a prerequisite to autonomy, and an opportunity for Hong Kong to move on from turmoil and embrace prosperity once again.