Being an exchange student is not just an opportunity to experience a new culture and lifestyle, you also witness the social and political transitions a different country is going through. Anyone would notice that there is a matter Hong Kong citizens cannot let go. I tried hard to win the discretion of my local roommate to discover more about what is actually going on here: the main topics discussed these days, the problems the country is facing and I was especially curious about the relationship between the special administration of Hong Kong and Mainland China.
We all know that Hong Kong used to be a British colony until 1997, when China resumed the exercise of its sovereignty over the city, establishing anyway what is called the “One Country, Two System” political formula. However, what does it mean? Is Hong Kong under China’s government or not?
What Hong Kong people have at heart is their independence; they usually even look at their colleagues and classmates coming from Mainland China in a different way. They feel different, they feel closer to the British culture and this is especially something they do not want to give up.
Therefore, the “One country, Two system” formula seemed the only way to a pacific union. It seems to be working very well, as also the new European Union envoy in Hong Kong, Carmen Cano said when she assumed her role just this September. It consists in maintaining unchanged the social and economic systems in Hong Kong: its status of free port, financial center and international trade center remained untouched, and so its power of establishing economic relations with other countries. The “two systems” refer to the socialist (Mainland) and the capitalist one (HK). Hong Kong has its own government and its Basic law, even though the Chinese regime actually controls it from behind the scenes and even designs the executive officer. Democracy is at the center of the debate these days.
As the last speech held by the outgoing European union chief in Hong Kong Vincent Picket stated, EU relationship with Hong Kong is one of the good things Europe is living right now, especially economically speaking. The Union remains the second largest trade partner with Hong Kong, after mainland China.
Yet, the big fall down of this year is also pointed out: five booksellers went missing from Hong Kong last autumn after passing the border. Two of them held European citizenship. After six months, they returned and, soon or later, they told what happened: kidnapping and mental torture are included in the story. They were accused of delivering across the border several banned books, critical of the Chinese Communist party. Consequentially, the EU issued a highly critical report, attacking Beijing for its role concerning the case and doubting the “One country, Two system” for the first time, as the event represents a serious challenge for it. Human rights respect was at the center of the discussion. As a response, EU was told that Hong Kong affairs are totally China internal affairs and no foreign country has any right to interfere in them.
Of course, The European union had to stand for a cause which completely violated its values, its mission, and China’s commitment with international human rights obligations. This point was also raised by both the European Union and the USA during the last G20 held in Hangzhou this September. But other than bilateral dialogues and occasional public expressions of concern, is not clear what they will actually do. They just state the painful truth. The UK even encouraged Hong Kong to accept the undemocratic electoral reform simply because “something is better than nothing”. If those organizations are seriously willing to improve the human rights situation in China, other than benefit from strong trade and political relationship, they should pressure on other points, for example considering that also China needs the rest of the World.
In the end the Chinese government has subtle ways to penetrate Hong Kong, so that in forty years this special administration will not exist anymore. They are already changing the city’s educational programs, so that they can adjust it in favor of socialism and build slowly another slice of subservient population. As a response, a spontaneous pro-democracy political movement, called the Umbrella Movement, was born last year to protest. But then again these protesters, as wells as my roommate, my professors and the European Union itself will observe these forty years as bystanders, fully conscious of what the future holds.