Tuesday, 5 April 2022

What’s happened to “Asia’s glittering jewel”?

Jason Wordie in the Weekend Post Magazine, quoting Madeleine Albright speaking at the handover of Hong Kong to Beijing on 1 July 1997 (as Jing and I sat in a Wanchai bar, out of the pouring rain):

 “Hong Kong is the glittering jewel in Asia’s economic emergence. But it owes its success not to the glitter of gold but to the gold of principle. The ability of journalists to tell it like it is, of legislators to raise their voices in dissent, of businesspeople to know that their agreements will be honoured and of residents to know that the courts are fair and the civil service accountable to all, not just a handful of powers that be.” 

Much has altered in the past quarter of a century. That reassuring pre-handover mantra – “fifty years, no change” – was unrealistic to begin with; no place or people survive being glazed over with history’s aspic, or having the key pillars of their former success white-anted out.
The four pillars of Hong Kong’s resounding international success that Albright identified – free flow of information; loyal dissent among popularly elected legislators; justified respect for the courts; a first-class civil service – have all come under pressure with the passage of time.

Jason Wordie lives up to his name, kind of: not too many words, but finely hewed ones. He goes on:

For now, Hong Kong’s veneer of cosmopolitanism remains, burnished from time to time by those who desperately want to believe – against all evidence – that the timber underneath remains solid. But as with so much seemingly solid civic furniture, the safest option – now – is not to lean one’s weight too heavily against it.

And I wonder, am I one of those who ‘desperately want to believe”?  I hope not. In these posts I’ve been critical of our own and mainland’s government. But for some things, endless criticism will only make things worse. The demos and riots in 2019 are case in point. To extend Jason’s metaphor, it’s like everyone got up on a table-- a strong table made of sturdy wood, the colonial table of freedom of speech -- and jumped up and down on it until it cracked under their weight. Yes, I blame them. The rioters in the name of freedom of speech and assembly. Rioting, trashing the city, calling mainlanders “evil cockroaches”, demanding Independence, and worse. And then being surprised that a tyrant — that they know is a tyrant — acts like a tyrant. For now we continue to have our “free speech table”, crooked, bent legs and all. Let’s keep it. Let’s keep what we have. Let’s not “lean our weight too heavily on it”.

When Madeleine Albright called Hong Kong ‘Asia’s glittering jewel’ in 1997; what would she think if she were alive today? “ — Jason Wordie

ADDED: I realise the above sounds like a counsel of despair. To kowtow to the tyrant. I’d argue it’s 
practical: to keep what we have, which remains substantial by world standards. Our seven freedoms. Try to be happy with what you’ve got, for fear of losing even that. 

And so, these remaining freedoms, substantial, give us criticism of fundamental policies of our government, in our local South China Morning Post by Peter Kammerer, long-term resident, who bemoans: 'Hong Kong’s worrying turn from a city that once welcomed foreigners with open arms."