My family love Hong Kong and we had the privilege to live and work there for over two decades. From one of the top floors of Peninsula Hotel, we watched a spectacular firework show in celebration of the 1997 handover of Britain’s Crown Colony to China. Hong Kong was the economic powerhouse back then, but as the size of its economy shrinks relative to China from 20% in 1997 to only 3% today, so did Hong Kong’s leverage to hold on to its democratic freedom. As Hong Kong becomes economically less important to the overall Chinese economy, what is the way forward and who will decide on the future for Hong Kong in a country with two systems?
The principle of “one country, two systems” was first proposed by Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s as a way to reconcile the communist mainland with historically Chinese territories‒Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau‒that had capitalist economies. In 1984 the concept was included in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, in which the two countries agreed that Britain would hand over sovereignty to China. It is also in Hong Kong’s constitution, the Basic Law.
The controversy over the extradition bill sparked large-scale protests since June, but by the time Chief Executive Carrie Lam declared the bill ’dead’, it has morphed into protests over democracy, alleged police brutality and other community grievances. But the problem goes deeper than this and young Hong Kong citizens cite the following problems: The inflation rate is high and many live in cramped residences and cannot afford their own homes. There is a huge gap between the wealthy and everyone else. There is a crisis of identity and people cannot call themselves Hong Kongers … only Chinese. There is no self autonomy, full democracy and freedom. 60% say they are not happy and want to emigrate.
In the last 19 weeks, the escalating protests had the feel of a slow motion car collision as protestors who believe that democratic freedom is a human right continue to risk their lives to march and fight for it. Hopefully, there will be a compromise that ‘save face’ on both sides and promote a sustainable level of development that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.