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Published: 17:27, August 12, 2021 | Updated: 18:40, August 12, 2021
National Security Law ushers in new future for Hong Kong
By Pana Janviroj / Asia News Network
Published:17:27, August 12, 2021 Updated:18:40, August 12, 2021 By Pana Janviroj / Asia News Network

The screenshot shows the participants of last week's webinar on “The Future of Hong Kong & Division of China-US Lenses” organized by Asia News Network. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

HONG KONG – More than 13 months after the introduction of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, which brought an end to street protests, Hong Kong people have more than “soul-searching” to do as they ponder their future.

Hong Kong youth who were at the epicenter of the then often violent protests that erupted across the city for over a year, starting in 2019, seemed to have shied away from political discussions after the national security law was implemented. They have escaped the intricacies of politics to the comfort of music, gaming, movies and trivial chats.

Cyril Ip is a 22-year-old journalist, who took part in last week’s webinar on “The Future of Hong Kong & Division of China-US Lenses” organized by Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 media organizations in 20 Asian countries and regions. He said Hong Kong has “entered a new era of political sensitivity”.

“(While) some people are concerned about the future of Hong Kong, we also have to acknowledge that an equal number of people appreciate Beijing assuming control over the city. This opinion and diversity are rarely acknowledged,” he said.

We need to reform to strengthen the China component. There will be opportunities for students to travel to the mainland, to understand the nation as it is, its challenges and problems.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, member of the Executive Council and the Legislative Council

Keybros, two 21-year-old YouTubers, voiced guarded optimism for Hong Kong's future and called for dialogue between different age groups and social backgrounds to work toward compromises that can reflect the “true crux” of the “one country, two systems” path, which they see as a “good balance between the West and the East”.

They believe Hong Kong youths need to be more open-minded, end their isolation and branch out to the Chinese mainland, Southeast Asia and the world to broaden their minds.

The seven webinar panelists, all Hong Kong residents, were unanimous in their opinion that the central government’s overall jurisdiction of the city was not up for debate, and any expectation that Hong Kong could exist as a self-sufficient region was “illogical”.

Enze Han from the University of Hong Kong said people unable to adjust to the new environment have a choice of leaving the city.

Cyril added that those who don’t have the option to move away or move to countries they feel are more democratic would have to maneuver and readjust.

"Especially now that we have the security law, Hong Kong doesn’t have the space for people to discriminate based on nationality.”

Christopher Williams, founding partner at Howse Williams law firm, said Hong Kong people were pragmatic and would resolve the issues. Opportunities for the city abound, ranging from integration into the Greater Bay Area to deepening business ties with Southeast Asia, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and as a gateway to the Chinese mainland

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a member of the Executive Council and the Legislative Council, argued that there were numerous instances when the Chinese mainland had extended a helping hand to Hong Kong, both pre- and post-1997. “It’s hard to find any plausible reason for their anger and antipathy for China.”

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But she acknowledged that Hong Kong is overdue for a reset of policies. “I think we have reached a turning point.” The next government is expected to correct mistakes in education, economy, inequality, and on land and housing. Hong Kong has for years been known as one of the most expensive places to live in the world.

Education reform tops her priorities. Ip said the central government was very concerned about confusion regarding identity among Hong Kong's youth.

“We need to reform to strengthen the China component. There will be opportunities for students to travel to the mainland, to understand the nation as it is, its challenges and problems,” she said.

“The more radical-minded will be deterred, be reminded of legal consequences. Over time, the less radical ones, the ones who didn’t know what they were doing – like waving US or British flags – over time they will come to grips with reality. It will take a while but the process is underway,” she added.

Cyril doesn’t think the youth are very open to conversation – “not even with fellow-youngsters having opposing views, let alone the authorities”. He said there was more that could be done to increase engagement and address their concerns in meaningful terms.

In his assessment, much of the failure could be blamed on the weak “decolonization process” after 1997. “The authorities can’t escape responsibility. I think the main reason for the overwhelming anti-China feeling is the pro-colonial sentiment among the youth.”

Richard Weixing Hu from the University of Macau reiterated that, since Hong Kong’s return, there have been problems with the education system, which had led to disillusionment among the young people about their “belonging”.

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“It’s not a sovereign city, but basically a financial center or economic entity,” he said. He added that the future of Hong Kong lies in integration with the (Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao) Greater Bay Area.

Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Group, said Hong Kong will continue to be an international city with an independent judiciary and a common law system

Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Group, noted that many countries have their own national security laws.

“One hundred and twenty out of 200 countries have security laws … must have guidance on how to lead your life. This is the real 1997,”  said Zeman, who has lived in Hong Kong for more than 50 years and has obtained Chinese citizenship.

Zeman said Hong Kong will continue to be an international city with an independent judiciary and a common law system. “Things will change; ‘one country’ first and then ‘two systems’, not as in the past when some people thought it was two systems first and then one country.”

Christopher Williams, founding partner at Howse Williams law firm, said Hong Kong people were pragmatic and would resolve the issues. Opportunities for the city abound, ranging from integration into the Greater Bay Area to deepening business ties with Southeast Asia, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and as a gateway to the Chinese mainland.

READ MORE: Security chief: Power of HK's security law obvious to all

He highlighted the need to deal with the increasing wealth disparity and restrictive social mobility. “We must reignite the feeling of passion for Hong Kong. We must maintain a laissez-faire approach and adapt to encourage investment.”

Asked what would be his advice to investors or companies wanting to come to Hong Kong, he said: "Naturally, you are coming to a country where you have to abide by the laws whether or not you agree with them. So, when people are coming to HK, they need to be aware of the cultural sensitivity and be open-minded particularly when dealing with sensitive issues and take into account everybody else’s views on these things, and accept the rules and abide by them.”

The webinar was co-moderated by Pana Janviroj and Panrawee Penny Meesupya from Bangkok.

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