Western media has failed on Hong Kong

Black and white reportage of the conflict does not reflect the reality on the ground

[This article was originally written in 2020; more recent changes may not be reflected by the text, or events not included/updated — editor’s note]

As a native of Hong Kong – both born and living my formative years there – I would like to discuss how its majority feel about China, local democracy and the passing of that National Security Law. After reading numerous articles and opinion pieces in western media, with their interpretations and translations of sentiments from a select number of interviewees, I feel somewhat dissatisfied. I question their biases.

In order to understand the present situation in Hong Kong, we must put into perspective both its long and its recent history. Hong Kong has never been political. As a trading city, it has always been a place for opportunities and wealth creation foremost. We were a British colony, following the orders and commands of the empire. In 1984, the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in anticipation of Britain’s 99-year lease ending. 

By 1997, when the lease concluded and Hong Kong returned to China, there was a sense of insecurity as many of the Hong Kong Chinese were indeed refugees from the community government. Once again, people fled and migrated to Canada, and various parts of the world. Britain, in order to secure the stability of Hong Kong, had worked with its politicians to establish the Basic Law. This constitution barred mainland Chinese from entering the region. Barriers to both tourism and trade were put up – it was more difficult for Chinese people to get a travel visa to Hong Kong than to the USA.

Everything changed in 2004. Hong Kong was in financial turmoil after the 1998 Asian financial crisis, the 2000 technology cresis, and finally the SARS epidemic in 2003. Hong Kong desperately needed business and financial support. In our arrogance we had not committed to a favourable financial climate, and we lost the whole of Asia’s private banking industry to Singapore between 1997 and the early 2000s. Hong Kong’s position as the Asian financial centre was under threat. 

In 2003, during the height of SARS, the economy was at a standstill and foreign investment had dried up. The main objective of Tung and Legco (Hong Kong’s parliament) was to jumpstart the economy and increase employment.. The region experienced a brain drain of talented individuals and experienced middle-management due to companies closing down and going bankrupt. These employees were now experiencing negative asset appreciation in their recently-purchased homes, as the property market collapsed around them. Interestingly, many emigrated to China for better opportunities. 

At this time our Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee-hwa, decided to relax the barriers between China and Hong Kong so the latter could benefit from mainland Chinese tourism, investment, and spending. Mainlanders started buying local property, boosting the real-estate market to one of the highest – if not the highest – in the world. Chinese IPO listings on the stock exchange did the economy wonders to no end, and provided local employment opportunities and stability. At this point, Hong Kongers celebrated Tung’s decision as it provided so many benefits. Daily immigration of mainlanders began: from numbers of about 150 per day, after 20 years we have more than 1 million Chinese residents. They brought with them their values, weakening and changing the local culture of Hong Kong – which can be seen as both positive and negative.

From 2004, Hong Kong has been dependent on China financially – which also means that the region is gradually being integrated. However, what has made Hong Kong different from other Chinese cities is that it had an independent jurisdiction, a legacy left by the British. This is based on common law rather than statutory law, as on the mainland, which is deemed impartial and fair. Many foreign investors and companies have trust in the rule of law and that it would protect their interests. Hong Kong also has a separate financial system, including its own currency (HKD, which is pegged to USD) which is exchangeable internationally. The stock exchange has a reputation for being rigorous and incorrupt. Our entire financial system is protected by our transparent jurisdiction. It is these factors that have prompted the success of Hong Kong and the continued means to ensure the security of foreign investment.

In accordance with Basic Law, Hong Kong was supposed to have a democratic election for the chief executive in 2007. However, Tung had delayed the whole process until 2017 – a decision which Hu Jintao, the then General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, agreed with. The reasoning for this was that Hong Kong was not in a position to have a general election, due to concerns about its financial survival. Under such duress, the people of Hong Kong were more focused on their livelihoods than political debate or direct election

None could have foretold that when Xi Jiping took leadership of China, he would also retract the promise of a general election. This was the underlying cause of the Umbrella movement and the subsequent marches and protests, although the direct trigger was the China-Hong Kong extradition treaty. 

The saddest thing is that politics in Hong Kong is at the level of a kindergarten. There is a lack of big dreams or far-reaching plans. I supported the protests when they were peaceful marches. The message was strong, and it was clear for the whole world to hear. When there is financial security, we desire political security to ensure our liberty and freedom. However, the bad seeds of the protestors wanted only revolution, to ensure the collapse of the economy – and to what ends? For what purpose? Some protestors have explained, in televised interviews, that their aim was to get the world’s attention. There is no concrete plan as to how the liberty and prosperity of Hong Kong can be protected – without relying wholly on China.

We are a city of people who once lived under the rule of British colonialism, followed by the control of China. We are not used, and have not been educated, to have an independence of thought and attitude. Unfortunately, the protestors are pawns: they fight in the name of democracy with no understanding of what it means. Have you talked to the demonstrators? It’s all very well shouting slogans, and chanting demands, but what of the future? When asked to truly consider how they want Hong Kong to progress into the future, they have no answer.

Money flowed indiscriminately (mainly from the USA and Taiwan according to hearsay) in support of the protestors who want to destroy Hong Kong’s economic – and therefore civic – stability. I cannot see how this is good for Hong Kong. I doubt that this is what the grassroots of Hong Kong’s society want for their future. All across the city, in each of its districts, there are more and more boarded up shops and premises. I’m certain their owners did not want to lose their livelihoods. 

There is yet to be a full and clear explanation about the bountiful source of funds these protestors have had access to. Yes, there was crowd-funing; that cannot explain the enormous sums that have been spent supplying gas masks, so often discarded carelessly after a single use, or the plentiful stock of equipment and dangerous bombs. 

I was terribly shocked to see our universities become war zones and training grounds for violent protests. Here they manufactured petrol bombs, and other such weapons designed to maim and kill with maximum impact. Our universities were a source of national pride in their adherence to the highest academic standards, supported by the exchange of international students from elite universities around the world. Now our campuses have been ruined, and their reputation severely damaged. Foreign students and tutors, who advocate calm and reason, were told to go home – or worse, experienced physical and material harm. The government has had to pay billions in USD to repair campuses, and much of our public infrastructure – at the expense of hard-working taxpayers.

The majority of the Hong Kong people are unhappy. They want peace and they want normality. They want to be employed, and to offer employment. They want the freedom to debate without being set on fire or suffer head wounds. In short, they want to return to the city as it was before 2019. They are tired of these aimless protests, and they are tired of COVID-19.

So why would the West be in disbelief that the majority of the Hong Kong people support the National Security Law? Even if we dare not openly voice our support, why is there no in-depth research or reportage? Strangely, the democratic West disallows this sentiment; if one does voice their opinion, it is under threat of sanction or opprobrium by the democratic leaders of Britain and America. Talk about democracy and free speech.

Many have also stayed silent for fear of retribution by the protestors, who would wantonly destroy our businesses as they have so many others. Or they fear even worse: to be doxxed and physically abused, to have our extended families threatened, or even to be burned alive. Why? Simply because they do not share their point of view or their methods.

I wonder whether many in the West would still consider these atrocious acts as democratic if they happened to their businesses, property, or loved ones. Or would it be anarchy then? I question why the media has not covered these abusive acts, but continually lend their support to such behaviour with selective footage and editorial. Why is the foreign press not giving objective analysis on the sentiments and frustrations of the majority in their moment of plight?

In truth, the people of Hong Kong wish for a return to normality. Is it so wrong for us to be pragmatic and refuse to be the sacrifice of unrealistic ideals? There is no political utopia – just good compromises, as with everything else. So why are we being condemned for choosing Hong Kong’s prosperity over their dreams?

Note that the National Security Law has mostly been triggered by the uncontrollable and violent protests themselves, which have brought huge losses to Hong Kong’s economic standing in the world. I, and many others, disagree with China’s imposition of the National Security Law. Yet we accept it as the lesser of two evils.

I am a native of Hong Kong who is objective and neutral. Naturally I wish for democracy to protect my liberties, and freedom to express and share my opinions. This violence is not democratic. Our leaders meet with foreign governments and the United Nations to discuss the principles of human rights and democracy – perhaps they should be doing so with the protestors.

They do not represent me, my family, or the vast majority of my fellow citizens. That is what the western media should be reporting on. Yet it seems more interested in discussing Hong Kong in the context of US-China relations. To give time, in print and on the airwaves, to a small group of activists with their own agendas. It is to the detriment of their audience, who cannot understand either the protests or the realities of life in Hong Kong. That is why I felt the need to write on this matter – to clarify the real sentiments of the public – despite the risk I feel to myself.