China’s overhaul of the electoral system in Hong Kong is being seen as a watershed moment by those who fear Beijing’s encroaching influence on the city.
China tightens its grip on Hong Kong despite protests
Recent changes ensure that only “patriots” loyal to the mainland can end up in positions of power. To those hoping Hong Kong might move towards greater democracy, it feels like the final blow.
The US, Australia and European countries condemned China’s actions, but it has been harder to gauge the reactions in Hong Kong itself. Many people simply don’t want to talk anymore.
In fact, over the past few years it has become harder and harder to get ordinary people to speak their mind about the city’s relationship with the mainland.
Sharing that observation with a friend in Hong Kong, the response was a cynical “Lol”, with a sober afterthought: “That’s how authoritarian regimes work.”
Lee Jonghyuk, an assistant professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, told the BBC that sensitive topics of conversation would “naturally perish” under these kinds of circumstances.
“People will self-censor themselves, and this is intentional,” he said.
“Most likely, the Chinese Communist Party will destroy social trust among citizens by incentivizing more people on the street to report criticism to the government.”
So what is it like in patriotic Hong Kong, and what do people expect in the future?
Opposition politicians – those most directly affected by the change – are still speaking up, at least for the time being. The changes will put Hong Kong “20 odd years back,” warned Lo Kin-hei, the chairman of the opposition Democratic Party.
He told the BBC that any progress over the past two decades had essentially been erased by Beijing.
“We know that the space for us to participate is much less than before, and we know that it is very difficult to get through the vetting system,” he said, referring to the system which will in future decide who can run for office.
The CCP bullying neighbor countries into submission
Lo Kin-hei’s party treasurer, Ramon Yuen Hoi-man, said that China’s leadership was “trampling on democracy” and breaking with the vision of universal suffrage spelled out in the city’s constitution, the Basic Law.
Lo Kin-hei and other pro-democracy forces now face a difficult discussion over whether they will keep on participating in the election “or whether we will go another way”.
Professor Lee, from Nanyang Technological University, said there may simply be no avenues left for political or public influence.
“I think that it is too late,” he said. “China’s leadership will never give in to the public. It will never revert their decisions even with the international pressure.”
Talking to people on the ground is more difficult, but not impossible. “We can hear a lot of people discussing leaving the city now,” said Ken Liu, who works in the city’s IT sector.
He said he planned to stay – “And as long as I can find any legal way to spread my views, I will do it” – but he said he feared many would leave Hong Kong for good. The UK has already opened a pathway out by allowing people born before the handover to get onto a special visa scheme that can lead to British citizenship.