By Pierre Haski
July 1st 1997 in Hong Kong… The British flag is lowered for the last time, folded and handed over to Prince Charles in pouring rain. One hundred and fifty five years of colonial history are coming to an end. That same night, the sky is filled with fireworks. The atmosphere is festive.
In 1997, for this concession of Hong Kong to China that Margaret Thatcher negotiated with Deng Xiaoping, the pessimists were wrong. All indications were good. China was committed to respecting Hong Kong’s fifty years of political autonomy under the great slogan “One Country, Two Systems”.
Beijing was on the path to economic reforms that were certain – this was the prevailing view – to lead to a liberalization of its political system. The Financial Times wondered whether Hong Kong would influence China, not the other way around…
July 1, 2022. Chinese President Xi Jinping graces Hong Kong with his presence. For a part of the population, this visit has the character of a post-victory inspection. The promise of autonomy for fifty years was not kept even until the middle of this period. The doctrine of “One country, two systems” became “One country, one system”, or thereabouts.
Who can believe that just three years ago a quarter of Hong Kong’s seven million residents were on the streets to defend their rights? That there used to be a free press, an active and dynamic civil society, a pluralistic political life? Nothing like that exists anymore. Proof, that the head of the executive power in this territory is from July 1 a former police chief selected by Beijing, John Lee.
28-year-old Nathan Lowe, one of the leaders of the opposition, fled to London to avoid being jailed. In a book entitled “Freedom”, he reflects on lost freedoms. And it reminds me of the exiled Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran, who in her book “How to lead a country to its destruction” chronicles how Recep Tayyip Erdogan orchestrated Turkey’s retreat from democracy.
The freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong collapsed like a house of cards the day Beijing decided. The rest of the world was silent, resigned, even though the Sino-British treaty is an international document. Lu Wenfu, a writer who is now dead, once said that revolution needs small pebbles to smooth its way, and he had the misfortune of being one of those “pebbles”. In the face of Chinese power, the people of Hong Kong today feel the same way.
Pierre Haski is a columnist for L’Obs magazine
I am Derek Black, an author of World Stock Market. I have a degree in creative writing and journalism from the University of Central Florida. I have a passion for writing and informing the public. I strive to be accurate and fair in my reporting, and to provide a voice for those who may not otherwise be heard.