BL17 FINAL - Page 19



TABLE TALK
gas fusillades. They march past the
symbols of Hong Kong’s prosperity –
the famous Mandarin Oriental Hotel,
one of the most luxurious in the world;
designer boutiques such as Bulgari,
Valentino, and Fendi – and past the
posh restaurants. All in an atmosphere
of good-natured mass dissent.
Although at this stage of the demo
everything is calm, orderly and polite,
the luxury shops in the Landmark
Atrium shopping mall begin pulling
down their shutters and close for the
rest of the day as a precautionary
measure. In the Mall I come across a
long line of female demonstrators of all
ages, mainly dressed in the regulation
black, queuing politely and patiently
outside the public lavatories. At the
same time I see several protestors
freedoms associated with that – human
rights, freedom of speech and assembly,
and so on,” he says. “But they changed
their mind and now only political
candidates pre-approved by Beijing can
be elected. It was that announcement
that led to the Umbrella Movement.
“I’m afraid these brave young
citizens are doomed,” he says
ominously. “They are up against an
iron-fisted autocracy that is itching to
get involved and teach them a lesson.”
By early evening the iron fist makes
its appearance. Phalanxes of Hong
Kong police in full riot gear confront
the radicals in the demonstrators’
midst and pretty soon tear gas is being
fired, Molotov cocktails are being
thrown and an atmosphere of menace
envelops the streets. Out come water
“I’m afraid these brave young citizens are doomed,”
he says ominously. “They are up against an iron-fisted
autocracy that’s itching to teach them a lesson.”
clearing up litter after the main body
of the demonstration has passed by.
One group hold aloft American flags.
A young woman carrying a sign
imploring President Trump to “liberate
Hong Kong and defend our
constitution” asks me earnestly why
the West has not intervened on their
behalf. I have no answer and my heart
goes out to them. They’re eager to tell
foreign spectators that they’re
protesting at the erosion of personal
liberties being visited on them by the
mainland Chinese government.
Although the trigger for this current
uprising was the unpopular Chief
Executive Carrie Lam’s imposition of
a criminal extradition bill, introduced
without proper consultation,
discontent has been brewing for years.
The “one country, two systems”
principle was supposed to prevail
until 2047. But according to a lawyer
friend who has worked in Hong Kong
for the past 30 years, the Chinese
government is obsessed with
controlling Hong Kong and has been
gradually eroding the freedoms that
were agreed with the British prior to
the 1997 handover.
“They agreed to preserve the law
and the independent judiciary, all the
canons spouting blue dye. So-called
‘raptors’ – Special Tactical Squad
officers – swarm out from police lines,
grabbing protestors, beating them with
truncheons, and hauling them to jail.
“It’s too violent now. Too dangerous,”
a limo driver, who asks not to be
identified, tells me. “I have three kids
and they’re not marching now. Three
months ago my wife was marching. But
I told her she was too fat to run away
from the police and now she’s stopped.”
There is a lot of local resentment
against mainland Chinese, he says.
“After 1997 they came here and bought
all the property and pushed up the
prices. The Chinese authorities want
the Hong Kong schools to have their
lessons in Mandarin but we are
international and we speak English
here. Everything is changing,” he sighs.
The presence of China looms large
– just across the border in Shenzhen
there has been a build up of People’s
Liberation Army troops and armoured
equipment, with The New York Times
reporting that 12,000 police officers,
tanks, helicopters, and amphibious
vehicles are now in place. And the
question is being widely mooted as to
whether many of the Molotov-throwing
provocateurs are, in fact, undercover
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AUTUMN 2019
ISSUE 17
government agents tasked with upping
the stakes and thus allowing Beijing to
bring in the hard-line troops from
across the border.
All of this is doing significant
damage to the Hong Kong economy.
Tourism is down by 40 per cent on last
year, and forward bookings for 2020
look dire. Two of the bespoke tailors
I visit say their orders are down 60 per
cent. And over two days in August,
while the demonstrators were causing
disruption at Hong Kong International
airport, hundreds of flights in and out
had to be cancelled, making a bad
economic situation even worse.
I can’t help but feel great sympathy
for the people of Hong Kong. This is
both a brave expression of their need
for democracy and an economic suicide
note. What the majority of Hong Kong’s
eight million citizens fear is that this
unrest will scupper the economy. The
signs are already there – the tourist
industry is on its knees and hotels are
running at below 50 per cent
occupancy with newly opened hotels
such as the 400-room Rosewood having
single-digit occupancy and the spectre
of having to lay off many of its staff.
It’s all very well for The New York
Times’s mildly absurd correspondent
Nick Kristoff to wander around the
demonstrators wearing a crash helmet,
pontificating about freedom of
expression when he’ll be flying home to
his Manhattan apartment and spending
the following weekend at dinner
parties in the Hamptons, regaling his
admiring companions with tales of
front-line reporting. The way things
are going, the demonstrators and their
families may well be out of work in
a few months time. Then what price
their political freedom?
I leave Hong Kong with a heavy heart
and overwhelming sense of foreboding.
A Ridley Scott movie set it may be, but
this is a story without a happy ending.





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