Today is the 20th Anniversary of the Great Betrayal. Hong Kong was transferred from its rightful owners to the Chinese. Thus the great betrayal occurred.
Why does China want to exert control over Hong Kong?
Since the Communist party took power in China in 1949, it has consistently decried the “century of humiliation” that China was subjected to at the hands of western powers and Japan. This included enclaves ceded or leased to foreign countries, usually at the barrel of a gun.
The return of Hong Kong was a point of national pride, and former leader Deng Xiaoping famously threatened to take the city by force in discussions with Margaret Thatcher if a deal could not be reached for a peaceful transition.
Hong Kong was also a key conduit for Chinese businesses as the country slowly transitioned to a more market-based economy, and remains a vital financial hub.
What is the feeling among residents?
Compared to 20 years ago, the mood is decidedly more muted. The years immediately leading up to the handover saw a mix of fear and excitement, and mostly uncertainty with about 1% of residents emigrating every year.
But for the 20th anniversary, Hong Kong people generally know nothing will dramatically change in the near future. Beijing is firmly in control. The recently elected chief executive, the former deputy to the current leader, is China’s preferred candidate and beat out the more popular choice in a highly restricted ballot.
Mass pro-democracy protests in 2014 failed to secure any changes or promises from the government and daily problems such as skyrocketing real estate prices, deteriorating education standards and stagnant wages dominate daily discourse.
Hong Kong holds a special place for me in my heart even though I never lived there. The last time I was in the city was 2012. I am dying to go back there-but my schedule and finances have just not permitted. ( I do a lot of longingly checking of airline fares though.)
But from what I have read, China is not keeping any of the promises it made to Britain.
And that’s what Anson Chan wants the rest of the world to understand. She oversaw the 1997 handover as the city’s chief secretary.
Chan says China has broken the promise it made 20 years ago to allow Hong Kong a degree of autonomy and for the people of the city to vote directly for their chief executive. Instead, China has tightened its political grip over the city, spurring violent protests.
Chan says the U.S., the European Union and anyone else who deals with China on an international stage should study how Beijing has treated Hong Kong as a cautionary tale. “You’re not just talking about the 7.3 million people living in the 1,000 square kilometers called Hong Kong,” says Chan.
“What sort of a China would the rest of the world want to deal with?” she says. “A China that is increasingly autocratic, that takes increasingly repressive measures on its own people? Or a China that moves progressively towards greater political liberalization, embracing a rule based on order and embracing also of universal values?”
Today is not a happy day, it’s a sad one.