3 min read
Tuesday, January 26 marks 180 years of cooperation between Hong Kong and Great Britain. Despite a complicated past, the city was built on principles of internationalism, liberal trade and entrepreneurial spirit. It grew into a global financial center and a beacon of freedom and globalization in the East.
Nearly two centuries later, many of these foundations of Hong Kong's identity still resonate with the city's residents. However, it is a way of life that is under threat.
Since March 2019, the city has been ravaged by violent social and political repression. What started out as an overzealous response to peaceful protests quickly escalated into rampant police brutality that caused shock waves around the world.
In the unfolding turmoil, the ruling Communist Party of China began to exert its influence over Hong Kong more heavily than ever before. Heavy-handed police brutality gave way to outright harassment and intimidation of everyone involved in the protest movement. The media was suppressed and academic curricula were censored. One of the most disturbing developments has been Beijing's imposition of the new national security laws, draconian legislation that has been used to permit Hong Kong authorities to intimidate and harass anyone they believe is part of the protest movement.
Then, in what may be the last nail in the coffin of Hong Kong's freedom, four pro-democracy lawmakers were unilaterally removed from the city's legislative council. Their crime? To be unpatriotic. The Beijing-backed authorities in Hong Kong have been so offended by anyone who dares to support freedom that they ensure that anyone standing up for these values, which go to the heart of Hong Kong's historic identity.
While under British rule, Hong Kong became a leading commercial center; a crucial link between East and West and a starting point for many companies looking to expand into Asia. Hong Kong is believed to be a Special Administrative Region of China, with certain freedoms and rights guaranteed under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which are not enjoyed in the People's Republic. But Beijing has begun to insist that the joint statement – the UN-recognized treaty returning Hong Kong to China – is void. This means that Hong Kong is now in all respects a totalitarian state under the full control of the CCP.
All of this, under the shadow of China's increasing influence on the city, means that the global aspect of Hong Kong's historical identity is being lost.
There is little to be optimistic about in the struggle for Hong Kong's future. It has been transformed, possibly irrevocable, and unrecognizable from what it once was. Hope, however, because the ideals and culture on which it is founded lives on – in its citizens. Many thousands of Hong Kongers have opposed this attack and fought for freedom and democracy against a regime that does not respect human rights or the international rule of law.
After 180 years of joint history of Britain and Hong Kong, it is those citizens who need our support now more than ever. As we celebrate this anniversary with mixed feelings, we must ensure that the UK national (overseas) visas opening next week are available to all Hong Kongers who need them. We must also ensure that Magnitsky-style sanctions are imposed on those guilty of human rights violations. Only by protecting and supporting those brave Hong Kongers and standing up against those who want to eradicate their freedom can Hong Kong's historic spirit survive and continue its unique identity.