Let me begin this post by an introduction and that is I am neither a citizen of the People’s Republic of China nor a resident of Hong Kong. I am, however, an ethnic Chinese that was born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore. I remember the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 as it was the age when I started to read and understand current affairs. At that time, many Hong Kong residents feared that China would convert Hong Kong into a communist enclave and they chose to emigrate, with other Commonwealth nations like Australia and Canada being popular choices. But as we have seen in the last decade or so, China has kept the capitalist role in Hong Kong relatively intact but the country has not chosen to allow its residents full democracy.
Recently, Hong Kong has been back in the global spotlight for all of the wrong reason. The issue right here is that HK residents do not get to choose who gets to run for the office of Chief Executive of the territory, instead all those who wishes to run for that position has to be vetted by a committee (judged to be pro-Beijing). For one, I do not see that with being a major problem, because if I remember correctly, Hong Kong residents under the British rule do not get to elect their Governor directly anyway. When the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong moved to China, a country which has been under the rule of a uni-party system, should there have been any changes other than the flag raised? After all China’s one country, two systems models places an emphasis on one country. That is to say, it is not out of bounds for China to demand that the Chief Executive of a territory it claims as its own to be patriotic to the country or maybe even be loyal to the uni-party rule either.
Granted some of the points mentioned by my Hong Kong friends, the un-democratic rule might mean that residents might not be able to ‘overthrow’ tyranny or incompetent leaders. However, if we look at one of the factors to identify a country’s progress, say Hong Kong’s GDP per capita, it has actually grown from US$27,330 to US$38,124, at a rate of growth that has outpaced global average. This means comparatively, the government is doing pretty good in managing the economy. In other sectors like healthcare infrastructure, public transport and education, Hong Kong is still considered one of the leaders in the region. But all these advantages have been eroded somehow due to the influx of immigrants from China, resulting in crowded living conditions and higher housing costs.
In fact that I believe is the real crux of the matter. The handover of Hong Kong to China in some way mirrors the way East and West Germany reunites. At that time the residents from lower-income East Germany had difficulty gaining employment and adapting to life in West Germany. In a similar manner the influx of Chinese who have been used to the way of life in communist China failed in rationalizing their lives with Hong Kong residents who have been used to the concept and standard of living instilled by the British government. Hong Kong’s holier-than-thou attitude to China and its citizens have become somewhat of a stumbling block as its residents then refuse to acknowledge any person that is ‘vetted’ by China to rule Hong Kong, while China is unlikely to allow any pro-democracy leader any chance of stepping up to run for the office of Chief Executive.
My view is that Hong Kong’s residents protests for universal suffrage also includes the numerous grievances against mainland Chinese who are seen to encroach on their personal space and freedom that they have been used to. With the rapid succession of changes that I have seen after living in Singapore and Vancouver (two cities that have also seen an influx of foreign residents and increase in costs of property ownership), people might tend to wish for the more laid-back style of living. I cannot blame them for thinking that way as sometimes the pressure of earning enough money to pay that downpayment for your first home can really be suffocating.
But is the protest for universal suffrage going to make China change its mind? I do not think so, and for whatever the reason might be, I think it is within China’s right to impose whatever rules and laws on a territory it deems to be under its control. For Hong Kong residents, I seriously think they should consider whether their demands for universal suffrage stems from their despise for mainland Chinese visitors or is it really resulting from the true demand for direct election. If the latter was the case, then I wonder why they did not ask for that in the years they were ruled by the British.