Coming to our senses
Updated: Jun 11, 2020
Smell the future: We are slipping into an authoritarian state
This column was written by Michael Chugani, a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. It was first published in the Hong Kong Economic Journal 21 May 2020. He may be known to some readers as host of the TVB Pearl Television show "Straight Talk".
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It pains me to write this week’s column. But write it I must as a Hong Kong-born. Silence is not an option. I urge readers to share it with as many others as you can in the hope the free world will refocus its eyes on Hong Kong. It pains me to say we are slipping into an authoritarian-style government.
The world watched with awe and admiration during last year’s anti-government protests when mostly young people risked prison fighting to safeguard their freedoms under one country, two systems. Then came the coronavirus. Global attention shifted away from Hong Kong. Our rulers took advantage of this to undermine Hong Kong’s core values.
Two days ago, the government forced RTHK to suspend a Chinese-language satirical TV show, which has been on air for over 30 years, just because an episode mocked the police. Last week was one of Hong Kong’s darkest. Our rulers used authoritarian means to slice off a part of the city’s soul. Be prepared for even darker days. Our very way of life is being methodically dismantled. Today's Hong Kong is no longer the Hong Kong we knew just a year or two ago. Beijing, together with our puppet leader, are re-shaping Hong Kong into a city with so-called Chinese characteristics.
Could any Hongkonger who values freedom have thought possible the government would expel a foreign journalist for hosting a talk by an independence advocate, refuse permission for protests, arrest 15 democracy leaders for joining a peaceful protest, disqualify opposition election candidates on the pretext they support self-rule, admonish an RTHK reporter for asking a World Health Organization official a question about Taiwan, and force reporters covering protests to squat?
All that happened in the past weeks and months. They are the hallmarks of an authoritarian regime. Next year’s Hong Kong will be even more different than today’s already changed Hong Kong. We got a taste of that last week when Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told a Communist Party-controlled newspaper liberal studies poisoned the minds of young people.
She wants to overhaul it. Don’t be surprised if the overhauled version will be more like patriotic education. Last Friday, we had a preview of Hong Kong’s future education when Beijing and the government condemned a DSE university entrance exam question that asked students if Japan did more good than harm to China between 1900 and 1945.
It was a free-thinking question that allowed students to answer either way. History lessons had taught them Japan did some good at first but caused great suffering later by invading China. My guess is most would have answered Japan did more harm than good. Yes, many Hong Kong students nowadays prefer Western than Chinese communist values. But that doesn’t mean they will distort history.
Isn’t it in our government’s interest to know how the 5,200 students who took the exam answered? Their answers can help us understand how students view China. But the government has instead ordered the Examinations Authority to nullify that part of the exam, putting politics above students who took the exam. Lam even threatened to use her dictatorial-like power to nullify the question if the Examinations Authority resisted.
On the same Friday our government and Beijing condemned the DSE question, two other events showed Hong Kong’s slide into authoritarianism. The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) issued its report on last year’s anti-government protests. And Legislative Council President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen fast-tracked the election of a pro-government legislator as chairwoman of a key Legco committee.
Even though the IPCC uses the word “independent”, there is nothing independent about it. Its 26 members, including its chairman, are pro-government. Lam was economical with the truth on Tuesday when she said the members came from all walks of life. The IPCC doesn’t have a single opposition member.
Unsurprisingly, its report sided mostly with the police, failing even to interview people like legislator Lam Cheuk-ting, a victim of white-shirted thugs who attacked protesters and passengers at the Yuen Long MTR last July 21. I have already put the IPCC report in the trash can.
After Legco president Leung replaced opposition legislator Dennis Kwok Wing-hang with a pro-Beijing yes-man to oversee the chairmanship election of the House Committee, pro-Beijing legislator Starry Lee Wai-king was elected with a vote of 40-0. All 40 who voted for her were from the Beijing camp. The opposition deemed the election illegal and refused to vote.
If I were Lee I would be embarrassed. A unanimous vote is common in China’s National People’s Congress. It is called democracy with Chinese characteristics. Wake up and smell the future. This is Hong Kong’s future.
But hope is not lost. Former US President Barack Obama’s campaign slogan was “keep hope alive”. September’s Legco elections provide hope. Hong Kong’s freedoms lie in that election. Voters must break the dominance of the pro-Beijing camp in Legco as they did in the district council elections.
Beijing will use every means to prevent that. But people power is intoxicating. It always wins if used correctly. See you in September.
Pro-democracy activists carry a banner reading "anti-authority, against suppression", during a protest on China's National Day in Hong Kong 2017 (Thomson Reuters)