How is homosexuality perceived in Hong Kong

Creeping erosion - Hong Kong's uncertain future

Author: Roland Vogt

In the “Out of order” column, external authors have their say who take a look at current or historical events that are closely related to the research fields of the Hannah Arendt Institute. In this article, Roland Vogt deals with the recent effects of the Chinese security law on the special political status of Hong Kong. Roland Vogt is an expert on political relations between Europe and Asia. He has lived in Hong Kong for many years and works at Hong Kong University as an Associate Professor in the Department of European Studies.

“A borrowed place on borrowed time” - this is how Hong Kong was described during the British colonial period (1841-1997). As an international financial center, Hong Kong has always lived in a hybrid state between two different political and economic systems. The city has been an integral part of the People's Republic of China since it was returned by Great Britain in 1997. But it is also an important pillar of the global financial system, in which the common law introduced by the British continues to apply, there are no capital controls, the freely convertible currency is pegged to the US dollar, information is freely accessible and an open exchange of views is possible without restrictions is. “One country, two systems” is the formula that Great Britain and China agreed on in 1984 to restore Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. It was contractually stipulated that Hong Kong would enjoy a unique wealth of autonomy vis-à-vis (PR) China from 1997 to 2047.

This coexistence between China and the international financial world is currently in jeopardy, which also has far-reaching consequences for European China policy. The protests of 2019 have become a symbol of the financial metropolis' balancing act between two different political and economic worlds. Hong Kong has always managed to be both part of China and a piece of free cosmopolitan city. It did not have to choose between the systems, but rather acted as the financial, commercial and cultural interface between China and the outside world. This has changed since the current geopolitical tensions made Hong Kong an object of a looming systemic conflict - between the state capitalist one-party system of China on the one hand and the liberal capitalist democracies of the West on the other. The way of life in Hong Kong is quite similar to that of Europe. Citizens enjoy constitutionally enshrined fundamental rights and the government leaves the free market plenty of room to develop. Many Hong Kong citizens are striving to have more say and more freedom to shape their political future. The latter, however, is in contrast to Beijing's efforts to embed Hong Kong more strongly in the Chinese system.

The resentment that erupted in the protests is primarily based on concerns about a creeping erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy. Many fear that the civil liberties still in force will give way to the Chinese surveillance state, that the previously independent judicial system will have to be subordinate to the requirements of the party leadership in Beijing, that free access to the Internet and social networks will be impaired and, last but not least, that economic The rules of the game will be changed in favor of the Chinese state-owned companies. There are also numerous social and economic reasons for the unrest, which is fed by the great inequality in income distribution and the social mobility that has been stagnating for years. But the displeasure was sparked by the stubborn and insensitive attitude of the Hong Kong government, which has largely lost touch with the population and which only knows how to react to demonstrations with police measures. Many Hong Kong residents are very angry at the way the police treated the protesters.

The events of 2019 led to an alienation between China and large parts of Hong Kong society. Large sections of the population are frustrated, do not see their concerns represented or heard by their government and feel that their fears are confirmed. In contrast, from the Chinese perspective, Hong Kong is perceived as an unnecessary disruptive factor that damages China's global prestige. In addition, it is important for the Chinese leadership to show strength in a security-relevant precedent and to decide this in their own favor. The Chinese government must prove that it has control of Hong Kong and that its rule has a positive effect on the lives of the city's population. It must also ensure that Hong Kong does not become a pawn in increasingly strained relations with the US. Beijing vehemently forbids any interference by other countries in Hong Kong's affairs. Beijing is also increasingly perceiving the developments in Hong Kong as a security challenge and is responding with appropriate measures.

This also includes extensive, broad-based national security legislation that Beijing introduced in early July 2020. This criminalizes the offenses of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers and orders the establishment of a Chinese state security authority with enforcement powers in Hong Kong. While the protests, which began peacefully and became increasingly radical and violent, are seen from Hong Kong's perspective as a struggle for political freedoms, Beijing sees them as an attack on the state authority and territorial integrity of China. The perceptions could hardly be more different.

The fact that, 23 years after the return of Hong Kong, the leadership in Beijing is now introducing this controversial legislation reveals a crucial weakness in the political system in Hong Kong: a lack of reliable information. Beijing's control over Hong Kong is based on parts of the business elite who earn their money in China and a number of China-loyal interest groups and associations that are significantly embedded in the political decision-making processes in Hong Kong. Since both groups are existentially dependent on a good relationship with the government, they are predestined for loyalty in their political activities. Critical voices are hardly noticed. However, this makes it difficult for the Chinese government to identify new social trends in Hong Kong at an early stage. The state and party leadership are presented with precisely the information they believe they would like to hear. That is why she has a hard time understanding what the worries, hardships and disillusionment of Hong Kong residents are from. This leads to the misjudgments and mistrust with which many Hong Kong residents approach China. This trend could intensify in the future, as opposition legislative councils have now been officially disqualified from their elected office. In response to the disqualification, the entire opposition in the Hong Kong Parliament (Legislative Council) resigned. As a result, the space for critical voices in Parliament is now narrowing at a time when a political solution to the tensions is actually necessary.

So far the government has tried to respond to a basically political problem with police measures. Violent protests, vandalism and political agitation are effectively prevented by the new security law. The immediate stability of Hong Kong has been restored, but business circles in particular fear that this will also curtail Hong Kong's autonomy. In the long term, this strategy does not seem very promising, as it ignores the fact that many Hong Kong people want a greater political say and are still concerned about their freedoms. It can be assumed that many Hong Kongers, who are characterized by a pluralistic and cosmopolitan society, will now identify even less with the political culture of China or even emigrate.

The events in Hong Kong are also important for Europe. They not only stir up doubts about the future of Hong Kong as a global financial and business location that thousands of European companies use as their Asian headquarters. The events are also an indication of the sharper tone and the tougher pace with which China is approaching foreign countries. A realignment of the EU's relationship with China is already taking place. In the future, Europe will not be able to escape the tensions between the USA and China, but will see itself forced to defend its economic and strategic interests in Asia with greater vigor against China.

Post picture: A morning view of Hong Kong skyline from the peak from bady abas to Unsplash