Tears in store after Hong Kong chaos

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There's hardly a media outlet around the world not reporting the chaos unfolding in Hong Kong. Details and depth of coverage may vary in quality. But the extent and reach of the chaos are beyond dispute and without precedent in the former British colony.

Protesters dance outside the Hong Kong Space Museum during a demonstration on 8 August 2019. Pro-democracy protesters have continued rallies on the streets of Hong Kong against a controversial extradition bill since 9 June as the city plunged into crisis after waves of demonstrations and several violent clashes. Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam apologised for introducing the bill and declared it 'dead', however protesters have continued to draw large crowds with demands for Lam's resignation and completely withdraw the bill. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

The best barometer to measure confidence about the future is the city's Hang Seng Index, which has been falling along with other stock markets jittery about Hong Kong and President Trump's trade war with China. The fears are well placed, with the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) units massed at the border and ready to step into Hong Kong and take control.

Not since 1967 has Hong Kong seen such political turbulence, when the Great Helmsman of the People, Mao Zedong, unleashed the deadly forces of the Cultural Revolution, which had its agents in Hong Kong creating merry hell even in the independent Crown Colony. This time it's different: it is the forces opposed to Beijing that are on the war path, apparently uncontrollably.

This has been coming for many years. As someone who has lived in or visited Hong Kong for almost 40 years, I often marvelled at how easily the local citizenry accommodated themselves to colonial rule, never seeking much in the way of representative government and remaining satisfied with a form of government where the British ran the show, including who joined the consultative forums of governance.

Everyone believed that what Hong Kong people wanted most was to be left alone to make money, and as long as there was peace and opportunity to exploit Hong Kong's special status economically, that was all the local people wanted. The fact that the Communists over in the PRC could take control of the colony if they wanted to in a matter of hours kept locals well and truly appreciative of the blessings of the British Empire for them.

Even those who resentfully accepted that Hong Kong would revert to the People's Republic of China's full control in 2047 have chafed at the bit as China has progressively taken more and more direct control with the bill to allow China to extradite whomever it wished to being the last straw. Hong Kong citizens have seen the two features that marked it out as being a better place to live than China slowly undermined. The promised 'one country, two systems' has been whittled away, to many locals' annoyance.

And now this!

 

"Dialogue, liberal concessions, an alternative to dictatorship: these aren't in the catechism promoted in Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party will likely see only one way to maintain power: to send in the PLA."

 

The effective rule of law demands that the judiciary be independent. It isn't in China, of course, and is becoming not so in Hong Kong. Complaints about appointments to the judiciary abound.

Banking and finance are two of Hong Kong major industries. But the constraints put on the several big PRC based banks in Hong Kong to counter the extensive money laundering and illegal trading practices of PRC citizens looking to export their wealth to safe havens have had an impact on everyone's transactions and the scrutiny of accounts that previously were as open and accessible as any in Asia.

As a result, everyone that can has developed residency and citizenship in other countries, as is evident all over the world. Many with residency and citizenship elsewhere in the world have, of course, returned to Hong Kong to work and avail themselves of the Special Administrative Region's prosperity. That could be over and permanent exits will accelerate.

The betting among many observers is that the current chaos will end in tears. The massing of troops at the border is one sign. But the biggest thing that suggests that the PLA will march in and declare martial law is that the Chinese Communist Party has what we call 'form'.

Despite the world's media being able to report and record every moment of it until the Chinese close down all digital communication to and from Hong Kong, the PRC remains more of a dictatorship than a Communist Party and dictators always react the same way when their control is challenged. Dialogue, liberal concessions, an alternative to dictatorship: these aren't in the catechism promoted in Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party will likely see only one way to maintain power: to send in the PLA. 

What will or could happen? Here are a number of the possibilities some of which can happen at the same time. First, the Party takes over ruling directly and the Hong Kong economy collapses, slowly or quickly. Secondly, this could trigger more trouble for the Chinese economy trapped in declining growth, over-production, excessive supply of labor and product it can't sell, a trade war with the USA that could spell disaster for China and many other countries, including Australia;

Thirdly, more experience for China of the pariah status that will harm them in trade, technological development, manufacturing but especially in dealings with countries in East Asia (especially Japan) and Southeast Asia where already knives are being sharpened over China's gambits in the South China Sea. And fourthly, the big one for the Chinese, perhaps irreparable damage to their ambitions to unite China with Taiwan, whose citizens of an effectively operating democracy and very prosperous economy along with a powerful military supported by the USA among others will resist with full force any attempts to annex it.

The celebrated Australian journalist and now deceased Richard Hughes wrote a book on Hong Kong in the 1970s. He lived there from the end of WW2 till his death in 1984, and his book was entitled Borrowed Place on Borrowed Time. The time may be just about up.

 

 

writerMichael Kelly SJ lives in Bangkok where he is CEO of UCAN Services Ltd.

Main image: Protesters dance outside the Hong Kong Space Museum during a demonstration on 8 August 2019. Pro-democracy protesters have continued rallies on the streets of Hong Kong against a controversial extradition bill since 9 June as the city plunged into crisis after waves of demonstrations and several violent clashes. Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam apologised for introducing the bill and declared it 'dead', however protesters have continued to draw large crowds with demands for Lam's resignation and completely withdraw the bill. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Michael Kelly, Hong Kong

 

 

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Existing comments

Scary stuff, Mick! I hope the PLA's hardware is poor quality.
john frawley | 08 August 2019


The turmoil in Hong Kong has been beyond sad to witness. Britain has left a footprint in Hong Kong, a democratic footprint even though HK was a British Crown Colony, with a Governor representing the British Crown, advised by an Executive Council. Now, anxiety over HK's political future dominates.
Pam | 08 August 2019


Excellent article, Fr., even as it conveys bitter news, not just for Hong Kong but for all who want to eradicate the scourge of poverty. The story of Hong Kong since the 1950s is one of the glorious moments in the history of mankind, a lifting from poverty to incredible wealth for ordinary folk. Let's not forget that HK 1950s to 1990s was one of the most laissez-faire economies that has ever existed, thanks, ironically, to the unelected overlord U.K. bureaucrat John James Cowperthwaite. Here's Wikipedia on this extraordinary man: "He refused to compile GDP statistics (!) arguing that such data was not useful to managing an economy and would lead to officials meddling in the economy. He was once asked what the key thing that poor countries could do to improve their growth. He replied: “They should abolish the office of national statistics.” "Low taxes, lax employment laws, absence of government debt, and free trade are all pillars of the Hong Kong experience of economic development." And that's why the vicious commies that currently rule China and sympatico leftists worldwide are so determined to crush HK. Students of economics and history a thousand years hence will be struggling to answer the question "Why didn't the world at the time, which seemingly angsted so much about the evils of poverty, realize the miracle of Hong Kong for what it was?" The correct and perennial answer - the amazing benefits of letting people peacefully run their own lives is not something that the state and its lackeys want spread about. Hong Kong R.I.P.
HH | 09 August 2019


Michael, The CCP may not envy the economic prosperity of Hong Kong's citizens as there are 476 billionaires in China and China's total wealth has risen 1,300 percent this century to $51.9 trillion, more than double the rate of any other nation. Rogue president, Xi Jinping , and their ruling self serving Politburo, fear rival ideologies and religions above all else, especially when those ideologies involve a deity or democracy as a cornerstone of the belief system, compared to the self appointed God of the Communist State. Hence the recent smashing of over 3000 Christian churches and the imprisonment of over 1 million Uyghurs in Northern China and subsequent destruction of their mosques. Not since the persecution of the Falangong in 2000 has China experienced such a bitter wind of State ordered repression to curb their muslim minority. The official line is to curtail terrorism, separatism and links to ISIS. Objectively, nonsense of course, but Rogue Xi Jinping, rules with an iron fist, a reincarnation of Mao. Despite HongKong having till 2047 to transition, we already know that Rogue Xi has no respect for HK agreements and will use the PLA to smash dissent. Fledgling democracy is in serious peril.
Francis Armstrong | 09 August 2019


Prague Springs are good if they work but some of the oath-taking antics of the pro-democracy youth elected to the Legislative Council were provocatively puerile. Given that hardly any democracy activist regards independence as realistic, why not accept the withdrawal of the extradition bill as a success and fight something else another day? China gives latitude to HK because HK lays golden eggs. But, just as Christians know to distinguish between what is Caesar’s and what is God’s, the Communist-in-name-only but still very much will-to-power fascists of Beijing also know to distinguish between managing a dangerous democracy cancer that can kill their power and terminating it. A point of Christ telling us that money is tainted (even if it can buy us friends in heaven) is that money can very much be made by the impure. The democrats should realise that all they can do, like ducks apparently languid but paddling furiously below sight, is to keep working the minutiae of managing the impure fascists so they stay outside local affairs. HK booms because it is a free market, not because it is pure. If it wants to be a virtuous free market, it might have to read Rerum Novarum.
roy chen yee | 10 August 2019


Thank you for this article - I have thought for some weeks now that it's only a matter of time before the PRC sends in the troops, minus tanks perhaps, to clean up the protestors in Hong Kong. I fear the protestors will come to believe their efforts have been counter-productive - unless of course the protests begin to spread to the mainland. This shows no sign of happening at present, but in the next few years, who knows? There have been gigantic upheavals in China in the past, and another one may be due.
Rodney Wetherell | 12 August 2019


I agree wholeheartedly with Michael's analysis. In Chinese history there is the concept of the "Mandate of Heaven". When everything is going well and the people prosper, it is thought that the ruler has the Mandate. However in time the rulers become disconnected from the people; the systems that supply prosperity ( dykes and canals ie; infrastructure ) are not maintained and fall into disrepair. Disaster strikes and calamity affects the populace. The Mandate is withdrawn from the ruler, allowing rebellion and civil war until a new ruler gains the Mandate. Then the cycle recommences. I suspect the CCP's Mandate may be reaching a crisis point as the "economic miracle", fuelled by by nepotism, corruption and greed , which has left many millions of rural Chines out of the loop, comes to an end. There may be serious consequences for us all. As Michael observes , a failing dynasty lashes out in its death throes. Hong Kong may be the next in the beginning of the end.
Gavin A. O'Brien | 12 August 2019


The Chinese communists have no time for the wisdom of Lao Tzu: "If I keep from meddling with people, they take care of themselves. If I keep from commanding people, they behave themselves. If I keep from preaching at people, they improve themselves. If I keep from imposing on people, they become themselves." - from the Tao Te Ching
HH | 14 August 2019


Note that most of the protesters are youth and self discipline or regard for law and order is of no interest to them. HK was signed over to China by the British so that was their time to leave. Unfortunately they are determining their future in concentration camps in mainland China unless other nations decide to bail em out by sending in ships to evacuate them but with atolls in the South China Sea already militarised by China that scenario may be wishful thinking.
Erik Dumansk | 17 August 2019


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