The Anaconda of Chinese Communism Slithers into Hong Kong

Patrick McShane


As the rest of the world was distracted this summer by the ongoing tragedies in Gaza, Iraq, and Ukraine and Syria, the anaconda of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has betrayed its pledge made to the people of Hong Kong in the summer of 1997, when the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule. And it is this blatant betrayal by the Chinese government that has brought several hundred thousand protesters- most of them from their teens to their early 30s, into the streets of Hong Kong.

Fifteen years ago, the CCP promised Hong Kong’s people that this celebrated financial center on the South China Sea would be ruled as a “Special Administrative Region” and that there would be “one country, two systems.” China vowed that Hong Kongers would maintain all the rights and liberties that they enjoyed under the old British colonial rule, for 50 more years --  including freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, rights that have never existed anywhere on the Mainland.

What’s more, Beijing promised that by 2017, the 400 sq mile territory would have universal suffrage. Every adult would have the right to vote for the city’s Chief Executive. 

Then this summer, Beijing released an official White Paper, which declared that anyone whom the people of Hong Kong nominated to run for the office of Chief Executive must first be vetted by Beijing. What’s more,  anyone nominated by the people to become a potential political leader in Hong Kong must “love the country” – but what that actually means is that any candidate to be selected must “love the Party.” Then on August 31, the Chinese government further narrowed the qualifications of candidates, saying they must have at least 50 percent of the pro-Beijing nominating committee’s vote.

By vetting nominations, and thus rigging all future elections, the CCP has taken a page right out of the playbook of America’ s notoriously corrupt New York City politician  William “Boss” Marcy Tweed. He infamously said: “I don't care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.” Eventually convicted for bribery and fraud, Tweed died in prison in the 1870s.

The Chinese Communist Party insists that the people of Hong Kong must go along with this. But millions of Hong Kongers are the sons and daughters, or the grandsons or granddaughters, of immigrants who fled communist rule on the mainland in the 1950s. Between 1947 and 1952 alone, some 1.5 million decamped from China. And that flow continued through the 1960s and 1970s – they all wanted a better life for themselves and their families. And the then-British colony of British Hong Kong offered that.

And while few young people inside mainland China know about the June 4th 1989 massacre of the students in Beijing, the Tiananmen Square crackdown sent shockwaves through Hong Kong as people saw how far China's rulers would go to keep their grip on power; and each year on June 4th a candlelight vigil is held for the murdered students in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, and up to 100,000 people attend the moving tribute.

Now, 25 years later, after the release of the White Paper disavowing their 1997 promise, why should the people of Hong Kong trust anything the Party ever says?

But Hong Kong’s distrust of the CCP is broader and runs deeper than just its lies about promised political reform. While it’s true that the communists lifted countless millions of Chinese out of dire poverty,  in its relentless drive for economic growth at all costs, the CCP has poisoned the very air that people breathe (according to a World Bank report 16 out of the 20 most polluted cities on the planet are in China). They have also poisoned the water and the soil, all for profit by a few.  Obviously, poisoned, too, are much of the foods coming out of China  - including everything from cooking oil and baby foods to heart medicines.   

Every year,  about 50 million tourists travel  from mainland China to  see the exotic bright lights of Hong Kong. And while they  buy international brand-name luxury  goods  [which are  often fakes in their own cities)  Chinese tourists also stock up on millions of dollars’ worth of milk powder and medicines in Hong Kong because they simply don’t  trust the foods or medicines  made in China. Worse still, billions of dollars of  ‘hot money’ from China is pouring into Hong Kong and used to buy property in the land-starved city, completely and possibly forever pricing out homes for local people.

Meanwhile, corruption on every level has spread like a wildfire all over the country. Chinese President Xi Jinping is leading a nationwide drive to stamp it out.  But the rot is now rapidly spreading down to Hong Kong. The head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) -- a government body set up by the British colonial government in the 1970s to fight corruption -- is himself now being investigated and the ICAC is now being used not just to fight corruption, but as a political tool against the pro-democrat democracy  Apple Daily Newspaper. 

Meanwhile, a former career Hong Kong civil servant who reached the second highest post in the Hong Kong Civil Service, is currently on trial for taking millions of dollars in bribes “to be the ears and eyes” for a major property developer; the same man admitted accepting a bribe from a mainland Chinese official to pay for his extravagant lifestyle.

While Hong Kongers are worried that corruption is spreading from China into Hong Kong, China’s Communist Party leaders worry that calls for democracy here could spread to the mainland.

And their fears are not unfounded. Both Tibet and Xinjiang Province in China’s far west, would love to become independent territories. Social unrest over official corruption has led to public protests all across China, which are ruthlessly put down.



Smothering a free press

The giant anaconda that is the CCP has been slowly trying to crush out any hope of true democracy in Hong Kong. Media repression, which has led to self-censorship in Hong Kong’s once vibrant press, may soon become the norm.

Virtually all of the city’s main newspapers are now owned by pro-Beijing billionaires. The editor of Hong Kong’s oldest English newspaper, the South China Morning Post, is now edited by- Wang Xiangwei, a former editor with the China Daily, official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.

The chairman of the largest Chinese-language newspaper, the Sing Tao News Corporation is another billionaire, who is also a National Committee Member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The Sing Tao Group owns Hong Kong’s only other English-language paper, The Standard.

Yes, there are newspapers that do excellent independent reporting. One of these is the Ming Pao Daily which, according to  a media credibility survey undertaken by the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2006, is the most credible Chinese language newspaper. However, such papers are coming  under increasing threat. In February of this year, the paper’s chief editor, Kevin Lau was savagely attacked by two men wielding meat cleavers while walking near his office.  Most journalists here believe that that attempted assassination of Lau, 49, was due to his investigative reporting on China.  Soon after the attack, the Hong Kong Journalist Association organized a protest rally that brought 13,000 people into the streets; many carried banners proclaiming: “They can’t kill us all.” Eventually two men, triad gangsters, were arrested in China. Lau, who spent months in the hospital, is still recovering from his severe injuries.

Disclaimer: Don’t expect this report to be dispassionate.   I‘ve lived and worked in Hong Kong, on and off, for 25 years and have come to love this city like no other. I’ve found the people here are the hardest-working, most sensible, most tolerant people on the planet. It takes an immense amount of provocation to make them give up their school and their work, to march publicly in the streets.

For Americans, the concepts of “Freedom of the Press” and “Freedom of Assembly” are taken utterly for granted. But as a journalist, these notions mean more to me than some vague memory from a high school history class. Without these two key freedoms, the foundation of a free society cannot stand. And these two essential pillars are slowly being pulled out from under the people of Hong Kong.

I’m immensely proud of the students and the young people of Hong Kong, and their parents (often blue-collar workers) who have stood up over and over again for their civil rights –  in 1989 and 1997, and 2012 and now 2014.  And I’m more proud than ever of this most recent uber-peaceful pro-democracy demonstration.  Among the hundreds of thousands Hong Kongers standing up and speaking out over eight days, I saw hundreds of teenagers carrying away their trash, distributing cold water to thirsty people in the searing Hong Kong heat, doing their homework, and even helping a “mature” reporter with a bum knee climb over their barricades. 



The anaconda comes in for the kill

Overseas observers may be wondering, why the sudden anger in Hong Kong? But the anger is not sudden. It’s been building for years.  Since the city’s return from British rule to Chinese control in 1997, the CCP has forced the people of Hong Kong to be managed by three third-rate men. The first, a failed shipping magnate, proved so inept that midway through his term, a half-million people here marched for his removal, and he resigned “for health reasons.” Though Tung Chee-hwa is still relentlessly pro-Beijing, all three of his children went to American universities and are US citizens. 

The second Beijing-appointed Chief Executive of the city, Donald Tsang, is now under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption; after nearly 18 months the results of that investigation are not yet in.

The current Chief Executive, CY Leung, almost certainly gave the final OK to the Hong Kong Police to use teargas 87 times against the students on September 28; the effect was not only to have front-page photos in newspapers around the world, but the public fury caused by  teargassing unarmed students led to still greater numbers of protesters the following night. He also likely gave the thumbs-up for the police to detain the young student leader Joshua Wong – who turns 18 this month,  for 40 hours, without justifiable cause (which is against the law in Hong Kong).


Then just a few days ago it was revealed by Australia’s leading newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald that Leung accepted a secret HK$50 million (approximately US$6.1 million) fee from an Australian mining company for past – and possibly - future services. Leung claims that under Hong Kong law he was not required to reveal such fees, but the Australian government is now investigating if the Australian firm has broken possible Australian bribery laws, and the bombshell news clearly calls into question Leung’s moral integrity, of accepting fees from a foreign company while serving as Hong Kong’s chief executive. Hong Kong’s own ICAC may soon also open an investigation. Meanwhile, Beijing has maintained silenced on the issue as the CCP ponders over what to do with their ‘man in Hong Kong.’


The Party’s reaction to Hong Kong’s loss of trust

Soon after the June release of China’s infamous White Paper which put Hong Kongers on notice that all candidates for the future office of Chief Executive would have to be vetted and approved by Beijing, Hong Kong’s summer of discontent began. The Ming Pao Daily bluntly stated: the "one-country two-system" concept has become an "empty shell" and that Hong Kong is likely to turn into an "ordinary Chinese city."

What happened next only made matters worse. Instead of talking directly to the 7.2 million people of Hong Kong, the CCP flew 70 Hong Kong tycoons, most of them the billionaire bosses of major Hong Kong firms, especially property developers, to Beijing. The elite entourage was led by Tung Chee-hwa.

Upon their return to Hong Kong, these hardline capitalists who already virtually control Hong Kong’s entire economy, essentially told the people of Hong Kong that nothing could be changed, that there would be no point in further discussion. The decision had been made.



Can’t fight? Maybe flee?

And now once again, as they did in the run-up to the 1997 return of Hong Kong to China, I hear that the middle class here are talking about fleeing - again -- to Canada, the US, the UK. According to a report by the South China Morning Post, recent public opinion polls found that “one in five locals are seriously considering a permanent move abroad” because of the political uncertainty that now looms over Hong Kong.

As I write this, the protests are almost over, the students are exhausted, under pressure from their schools and the parents to leave. Soon the streets will be cleared.

And now the vilification of the students will begin. They will be painted as spoiled, selfish, lazy and naïve. They are none of these. And the people who will make those claims, in Beijing, and Hong Kong, will never have met any of them. Their scripts were written long before the protests began.  Hired thugs who came to the working class district of Mongkok could not scare the students there. But still, their image in the minds of some Hong Kongers, will probably be tarnished in the Chinese state media.

There are many naysayers here in Hong Kong, and overseas, who believe that even the largest peaceful protests will have no possible effect on the future lives of Hong Kong people - because the Chinese Communist Party will refuse to ever compromise. That would mean too much loss of “face.”

But they are wrong. In December 2002, there was a huge uproar against the infamous Article 23, a proposed piece of legislation designed to protect China’s “national security,” which mirrored a law already in existence in the Mainland. The suggested wording was so vague that it could make virtually any public statement, or act, public or private, a potential crime against the “national security” of China.

Some 70,000 angry Hong Kongers came out to march against it. Then nearly 200,000 people signed petitions against it. Hong Kong’s then pro-Beijing Security Secretary Regina Ip tried hard to press it into law.  But a few months later 600,000 to 700,000 (figures vary) residents marched against it.

What happened? Article 23 was quietly shelved. Ms. Ip resigned. Though she has now returned, hoping to find a place at the table with the other pro-Beijingers. She has defended the use of tear gas by the police against the students.

Then in 2011, Beijing proposed a “Moral and National Education Curriculum” bill, which sparked widespread fears among Hong Kong parents, and teachers, and the media that it would become a form of political brainwashing. There were large scale protests, particularly by students. What happened? The bill’s been shelved.

Personally, as a long-time resident of Hong Kong who loves this city, I’m extremely proud of what the people are doing to make their home a better place, especially the young people. No one said it would be easy. No one thinks it will happen overnight.

But history is on Hong Kong’s side.

Over the years, I have personally seen protests for democracy in South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Soviet Georgia and other places. And despite the many cynics who said it was “a waste of time,”  guess what happened?  Democracy came to those places. And I think that Hong Kong people --  the  most patient and law-abiding people, deserve to have a major say in how they live their own lives.

It will not happen overnight, but if the people of Hong Kong, the young and the not so young, stick together and keep up the pressure, Hong Kong will be able to remain the great city -  free and open, that we who live here all love.

As 55-year-old taxi driver Edward Yeung told a Hong Kong newspaper: “ If today I don't stand up, I will hate myself in future. “


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