Hot on the heels of the American Consul-General Clifford Hart’s food stall and temple-hopping tour, British Foreign Minister Hugo Swire has expressed Her Majesty’s Government’s readiness to “support” Hong Kong in its pursuit of genuine universal suffrage. This rare Anglo-American diplomatic double-shot has stirred up an emotional pandemonium. A nervous Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam was quick to rebuff her former colonial master, saying that Hong Kong “does not need British support.” This was swiftly followed by an identical statement from her immediate superior, Chief Executive CY Leung. The somewhat rigidly orchestrated Leung-Lam line was then flanked by the routine eardrum-perforating sirens of pro-Beijjng editorials, warning the Western imperialists against messing with China’s internal affairs and hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.
I have managed to figure out, with some relief, that the official line cited by Leung and Lam that “Hong Kong does not need British support” was, fortunately, only a specific reference to the chief executive election of 2017. On general terms, while it may be a slight exaggeration to equate British support—which is always standing by—to Hong Kong’s daily bread, that support has, from time-to-time, delivered Hong Kong from evil: even after the 1997 Handover.
Barristers of the Queen’s Counsel have been recruited from London—complete with top fees and first-class flights—by the SAR government and tycoons alike, to work in Hong Kong and settle legal cases with their expertise and English language abilities. Britain is always ready to support Hong Kong’s elite children with her excellent boarding school and tertiary education opportunities; both Leung and Lam’s children are known beneficiaries of the British education system. For tens of thousands of civil servants who have secretly been awarded an under-the-table document conferring upon them full British citizenship (Lam herself could well be one), British support would be most essential if things were to turn sour in Hong Kong and a British passport needed to be procured in a hurry.
Commoners on the streets have a broader perspective. Hong Kong’s democratic reforms and universal suffrage are primarily guaranteed by the Anglo-Chinese Joint Declaration, an international agreement now enshrined in the United Nations, which is the mother to the Basic Law. If the word “democracy” proves too difficult for Beijing, the British Foreign Minister has chosen the theme of money, which must sound easier to Lam and Leung: “The city is home to around 1,000 British businesses, many of which have made Hong Kong their regional hub. The UK therefore has a big economic stake in seeing Hong Kong continue as the prosperous, stable, and energetic center as we see today.”
The British government pledged to lend her “support” for Hong Kong in 2017, an offer angrily turned down by CY and Beijing. But as electorates, Hong Kong people would indeed need British support. We will want to know more about the genuine character of the two or three candidates, who will undoubtedly proclaim their loyalty to China. It would be most helpful
if Britain could let the Hong Kong public know, in that case, whether any of them are hiding any documents granting them British right of abode underneath their pillow at home—a fire exit granted to them after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.