"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
The 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty is approaching. It's natural to now review the past two decades. Of course, that process will involve the compulsory comparisons to the colonial era. I don't find such comparisons always useful. You are not comparing like with like. Many things have changed. Hong Kong has evolved, whilst China continues on its spectacular transformation. Thus, it's not logical to make direct comparisons. Nor is it helpful to the evolving debate on Hong Kong's future. What happened, happened.
In any discussion on Hong Kong’s current standing its easy to fall into one of the polarised camps. The so-called pro-democratic politicians will say Hong Kong is a mess. Everything is negative, freedoms are gone and Hong Kong has a bleak future. The pro-government types will paint a rosy picture. Hong Kong is booming, freedoms are assured. Whilst, the future is all brightness and opportunity. All things considered, the truth is somewhere between these two positions.
In the past 20 years, China has emerged onto the world stage. A big hitter with economic clout. It has growing military muscle and is not ashamed to make its presence felt. Driving this is a collective memory of China's humiliation by Japan and the West. The Communist Party harnessed that nationalism to get cohesion across the Chinese race. In the process, it has pulled millions out of poverty. Such an achievement has had its costs. Environmental damage, upheavals and pogroms scarred the process. Nonetheless, China's achievements over the past decades cannot be dismissed nor downplayed. History is unlikely to witness again such a relentless enhancement in living standards. Plus, executed over such a short period.
Hong Kong played a part in that process. At first, Hong Kong was China’s window to the world. Then, a source of expertise, financial acumen and hard cash. Hong Kong is also pivotal to the process of restoring national pride. Hong Kong's return to China’s sovereignty was an unequivocal signal. Here was a nation set on course of reunification. Meanwhile, sitting off China’s south-east coast is the big prize … Taiwan. That's proving an altogether different challenge.
So, as far as I’m concerned, the fate of Hong Kong is seen in the context of China's history. Layered on top of that are international power plays and the shifting of the balance of power between nations.
Over the next month, I’ll seek to comment and review how matters are progressing. By its nature, my opinionated analysis won't gain favour with all. I sought to break my commentary into broad areas, such as the economy, crime and education. In reality, all these areas intersect. The shambles in the education system is because of policies flip-flopping. Likewise, economic innovation has stalled due to the stalemate in politics. Thus, each area interacts with the next. It’s a complex matrix of influence that I’ll seek to unravel.
On the wider world stage. China now stands in a position of prominence. Its economic wallop undisputed, whilst on the military front, its power is growing. Beijing has emerged as a confident defender of its territory, status and people. Assertive at times, it will no longer will sit back if its interests are threatened. Some naive politicians in Hong Kong have failed to recognise or understand this. To their shame they have overplayed a weak hand, inviting Beijing to take a suspicious view of Hong Kong.
With the distractions of Brexit and the diminished US under Trump, China's political space has expanded. It has more room for its agenda. Moreover, China is less likely to listen to criticism from these nations. The US needs China to deal with North Korea and the UK needs China for trade. So, bleating about events in Hong Kong will fade.
Even now the fall-out from their ill-conceived Occupy movement is being felt. The pro-democrats have done more damage to Hong Kong's progress than any other group. They have vetoed progress towards democracy, stalled projects, whilst engaging in petty squabbles.
Having lived through 17-years of the colonial era and 20-years of Chinese rule, I'm well placed to observe events. So, let's see how this develops.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.