17th April 2013
<Editorial: Review and Forecast of Hong Kong’s Anti-Communist Ideological>
After Margaret Thatcher passed away, when media (in Hong Kong) wrote about her political career, the focus had always been her role at the Sino-British negotiation. Many people believe that she betrayed the people of Hong Kong by signing the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Emily Lau Wai-Hing, a journalist during that period, asked Thatcher “is it morally right to hand over 5 million Hong Kong people to a communist dictatorship?” at a press conference at the time. Thatcher replied, “I believe the majority of Hong Kong people are pleased to accept this declaration, you, perhaps, are the only exception.” Lau was most certainly not the only exception. In fact, she spoke the true thoughts of the majority of Hong Kong people then.
Since the “1997 problem” surfaced in 1980, the people of Hong Kong have been struggling with the anti-communist ideology in the society. <<The Seventies>> (NOTE: a magazine focused on political issues and later renamed as <<The Nineties>>), which I worked for then as the editor in chief, was the first media that discussed this topic. Since joining the Hong Kong Prospect Institute founded by Dr. Lao Sze-kwang in 1981, I have spared no effort in studying Hong Kong’s anti-communist ideology. I have experienced and observed the change in this ideology over the decades and have recently seen a new trend. At this key moment (in light of Thatcher’s death and the emergence of new trend), I would like to detail some observations, which could be the foundation of some discussions.
In 1979, Crawford Murray MacLehose, then governor of Hong Kong, met with Deng Xiaoping in China. It is believed that MacLehose raised the topic of 1997, and Deng expressed his commitment to take over Hong Kong (after 1997). MacLehose did not inform the people of Hong Kong about Deng’s response, but proposed political reforms, introducing election to the District Council in 1981. Back then, Hong Kong’s economy was booming and the society was becoming more and more civilised. The people of Hong Kong began to develop a sense of independent nationhood, which the introduction of democracy further enhanced. In 1982, Communist China’s intention to take over Hong Kong began to reach the mainstream: strong anti-communist emotion kicked off almost immediately in Hong Kong. The public feared that under Communist China’s regime, instead of the British, the aspiration of Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong would be impossible to realise. Various proposals on extending the British governance appeared, here are a few examples: the British government to hand over sovereignty of Hong Kong in exchange for administration of Hong Kong; Hong Kong to adopt the federal system under Communist China’s sovereignty and join the Commonwealth; to be guaranteed by the international society that Hong Kong would be completely self-governed instead of the semi-autonomy of “Hong Kong people rule Hong Kong”. A left-field proposal was to use Hong Kong’s reserves to purchase an island somewhere in Asia and transfer all Hong Kong citizens to live in this island. Hong Kong independence was widely supported by the Hong Kong students studying in the US and Europe, whilst the majority who live in Hong Kong did not think it was a realistic option. The most popular way the people of Hong Kong expressed their fear of the communists was emigration, some even left for unconventional countries like Dominica and Tonga, where their passports restrict them to living in deserted areas of the country. The desperation shows how afraid the people of Hong Kong were. There were a lot of discussions about Hong Kong’s future, neither mainstream media nor social organisations supported “returning” to Communist China and implementing one-country-two-systems, with the sop of “Hong Kong people to rule Hong Kong”.
Organisations that did not object to the handover, included The Meeting Point, Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union represented by Szeto Wah and pro-China student organisations, all supported a “democratic return of sovereignty”. This means that the essential condition for the handover of sovereignty is democracy. In the letter wrote by Zhao Ziyang, the then Premier of China, in response to Hong Kong University Student Union, Zhao said that “implementing a democratic system in Hong Kong after the handover is a matter of course”. From this we can see that even the Premier weighed in to encourage those who supported “democratic return of sovereignty”. Those who were concerned about Hong Kong’s future monitored the situation in China: Xu Jiatun, former director of the Hong Kong bureau of Xinhua News Agency (NOTE: which served as the de facto embassy of China in Hong Kong as communist China refused to recognise Britain’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, ceded by a previous regime) came to Hong Kong with a mission to “create a united front”. The message he was to deliver in Hong Kong was “asking the people of Hong Kong not to focus only on China’s history, but to look at the gradual opening-up and reform after the Cultural Revolution”. During the time when Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang ruled China, there were some new developments in China. Therefore, under the anti-communist ideology, some Hong Kong people thought the decision was made and no one could stop China from taking over Hong Kong, and they could only put hopes in Communist China’s reform. They also thought that after a decade of reform, Hong Kong being handed over to Communist China might not be completely intolerable. Nevertheless they still harboured doubts.
Prior to the 4th June 1989 (Tiananmen massacre), the core of Hong Kong’s anti-communist ideology did not accept the “one-country-two-systems” and “Hong Kong people to rule Hong Kong” format proposed by Communist China, yet was resigned to the fact that it would not be possible to stop China from taking over Hong Kong. At the same time it was hoped that Communist China’s political reform would allow the country to catch up with the rest of the world on freedoms, rule of law and democracy; and that Hong Kong could fully implement democracy.
Hong Kong’s anti-communist ideology saw fundamental changes after the 1989 incident. The majority of Hong Kong had a lot of sympathy with, and supported, the democratic movement in China because it was closely linked to Hong Kong’s anti-communist ideology. People of Hong Kong were emotionally attached to the movement, believing that the fate of China was the fate of Hong Kong, and only if China had democracy, freedoms, rule of law and human rights, they would continue to be preserved in Hong Kong after 1997. In Hong Kong’s anti-communist ideology gave birth to “Greater China Democrats” (NOTE: supporting the reunion of Hong Kong and Taiwan with China and fighting for China’s democracy, as opposed to Hong Kong’s) which became very popular and dominated the public voice on democratic issues. Those who supported other proposals (remaining as a British colony, joining the commonwealth, etc) gradually disappeared.
(To be continued on Saturday 20th April 2013)
Lee Yee (long term Hong Kong public affair commentator)