I knew very little about Hong Kong before Sophie and I visited last week. I didn’t know the British stayed there until 1997. I didn’t know Hong Kong for 70 percent consists of national parks. I didn’t know the ‘1 country, 2 systems’ policy agreed upon with China expires in 2047. And, finally, I didn’t know Hong Kong has one of the biggest wealth gaps in the world.
I talked to a few young people. Some thought about moving abroad, like so many have done before them. To Japan, for instance, where it’s still relatively easy for them to settle. Others were still studying. I asked them whether they felt free. All said yes, but all noticed a change in the atmosphere. Being free, yes, but not out in the open. China’s watching, is how I interpreted their response.
Five years ago there were mass protests in Hong Kong that lasted for several months. Now most protest leaders are in jail or awaiting sentencing. Hong Kong’s ‘granted’ democracy is increasingly hollowed out. Walking through the city’s maze of skyscrapers you won’t see it. Listening to the engine roars of expensive McLaren and Rolls Royce cars you wouldn’t suspect it. Hong Kong has capitalism – lots of it – but not the Western-style democracy that often comes with it.
We enjoyed the food, the wonderful landscape surrounding the bustling city, and the melting pot of people swarming its streets. But I left wondering what this place will look like thirty years from now. Will Hong Kong become just another Chinese mega city? Or will it retain its uniqueness as the gateway into China, or even Asia?
I hope Hong Kong stays unique. It deserves the chance to discover its identity, not to be just passed on to the next super power.