THE VANISHING HONG KONG
the world’s second-largest stock exchange and the key gateway to China’s vast market. Some Hongkongers, though, appear to be voting with their feet. A few opposition leaders managed to flee into exile, and as many as 300,000 eligible former British subjects are expected to take up an offer from the British government to relocate to the United Kingdom to escape the crackdown. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. should similarly offer safe haven to Hongkongers trying to flee the repression. Could this have been avoided? And is there any way to reverse the changes and take Hong Kong back to a place we all recognize? China’s extreme makeover is now nearly complete. Almost every prominent pro-democracy figure is either in jail or in exile. Dissent has been crushed, and the opposition largely decimated. The first answer is yes. Hong Kong reached this bleak state through intransigence – by a stubborn chief executive who refused to back down from her wildly unpopular extradition bill even when more than 1 million people marched in the streets. And there was intransigence, too, by the pro- democracy opposition camp, which over the years repeatedly refused to accept compromise offers of limited democracy “with Chinese characteristics” and continued to insist on universal suffrage, which Beijing would never
allow. The pro-democracy activists were also reluctant to vocally condemn the violence by the more radical protesters among their ranks who attacked police and damaged businesses. And to the second question of could Hong Kong get back to how it was before... the answer is no. China’s extreme makeover is now nearly complete. Almost every prominent pro-democracy figure is either in jail or in exile. Dissent has been crushed, and the opposition largely decimated. The electoral changes ensure there will be no dissenting voices in government, and the NSL – and the heightened police response – means that Hongkongers’ tradition of street protest has essentially ended. And foreign governments, including the United States, seem unable and unlikely to do much beyond the normal verbal protestations. In other words, the Hong Kong we once knew is now gone forever. Sadly, it’s never coming back. And Hongkongers themselves must share part of the blame. Keith B. Richburg is Director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong. He spent 33 years with the Washington Post , serving as Foreign Editor and Bureau Chief in Manila, Nairobi, Hong Kong, Paris, Beijing, and Shanghai, and covered the Hong Kong handover in 1997. He is the author of Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa , published in 1997.
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