Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
A disagreeable spat has broken out in Hong Kong. Name calling, threats to kill and celebrations of a suicide. It’s a childish, undignified spectacle, tinged with mutual hatred. With the Occupy movement, a large brick got thrown into the pond of Hong Kong politics. Ripples from that continue to radiate out. Unforeseen consequences tear at our polarised society. A reasoned discussion has halted, replaced by vitriol.
On one side, we have a deluded subset from the failed Occupy movement. They purport to seek independence for Hong Kong. Beyond that rather simple statement, they offer no realistic scenario. How is this to work? Nor do they appear to understand the complexities or realpolitiks of this situation.
As court cases rumble on, those who instigated or drove Occupy are now being held to account. This has resulted in a number getting jail time. It is probable that the current activity is a reaction to that, as the pro-democracy camp lashes out.
In all seriousness, do you expect China, which has sought reunification as a matter of national pride, to give up Hong Kong? Beyond that, is the issue of straightforward municipal matters of water, power and food. Hong Kong is not sustainable as an entity without the largess of the Mainland. One gets the impression the advocates of independence are not in the top percentile of the IQ stakes.
Talking of which, we have the Pro-China groups on the other side. Easy to anger, with unrestrained slogans. They have responded in kind to the provocations. It is obvious, the independence banners and slogans are there to spark a reaction. The Union Flag gets deployed in a similar manner. If you want to get the blood up of the pro-China crowd, that is certain to work.
The locus of the current trouble is the university campuses. This brings into play other factors of significant bearing. Independence calls are being trumpeted as “freedom of speech.” A clever move that ignores deeper issues. In recent years, Hong Kong has seen an influx of accomplished Mainland students. These exceptional students outshine the Hong Kong kids, who now feel threatened. There is little or no mixing between the groups with segregation in dorms.
Local students resent the success of the Mainlanders. With better English skills, a serious work ethic, the Mainlanders leave their local counterparts behind. They sweep up grades and scholarships. As a provocation, this hurts most of all. Hong Kong kids and their parents are obsessed with grades. Getting your butt kicked by a Mainlander is not pleasant. Local students are hurting and marginalised. And, as they can’t compete in the academic arena, adopting other tactics appeals.
But let's not generalize. From what I’m told it is only a small group of Hong Kong students who are agitating. These mainly come from the lesser faculties of social sciences and such. In the hard-nosed science subjects, the kids are focused on their studies with an earnest attitude.
Meanwhile, university governing bodies have got themselves in a spin. As rationalists, they realise independence is a dead-end road. Yet, their liberal sentiments intrude. They can’t bring themselves to deal with this issue in a robust manner. If they saw a child playing with fire, would they hold off? Would they feel it's important to let the child experience the dangers at the risk of burning down the house? They’d intervene. Tough love is sometimes necessary.
Some of the current activity is aimed at garnering international attention. But, again, a fantasy creeps in here. For some reason, the pro-democrats think the rest of humanity cares deeply about Hong Kong. Our “15 minutes of fame” during the handover period played well on the international stage. The whole “moment in history” thing with military bands strutting about made great TV. Next day, the media was gone.
In 2003, SARS generated publicity for all the wrong reasons. It was soon forgotten, although at the time we felt like an abandoned people. Pariahs, ostracised from the world stage. The Occupy movement attained wide coverage as international reporters and TV crews hung round morbidly waiting for a repeat of Tiananmen. When that didn’t happen, they moved on. Occupy left behind a fragmented mess too complicated for them to explain.
So, in short, these days Hong Kong rarely features in the international news. Overseas politicians only take an interest to advance an agenda or garner publicity. The best example of this is Chris Patten, the last Governor. He can’t help himself. In the UK, a much diminished figure over his mishandling of the Jimmy Savile sex scandal at the BBC; the attention he gets in Hong Kong is flattering to his ego. Thus, Hong Kong is a welcome respite.
But I digress. People cling to the idea that international pressure will force Beijing to concessions. They run off to Washington or London to plead their case. Whilst these efforts may get a few column inches, it never sticks. Having said that, the majority of Americans couldn't find Hong Kong on a map. "Doesn't Jackie CHAN come from there? I love Jackie CHAN.” Meanwhile, the Brits are rather tied up with their European divorce predicament.
Step back. Consider the impact that international pressure has had on China’s dealings with North Korea. Minimal. Thus, Hong Kong’s rebel alliance of students and politicians are wasting their breath.
Pragmatism needs to prevail. Those seeking independence are misguided. If they had the best interests of Hong Kong at heart, they’d focus on working to advance this wonderful place.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.