Brotherly addiction

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2009, 12:00am

We have all got it wrong. The real story is not that Hong Kong kids are doing drugs on the mainland. Sure, we need to deal with worsening youth drug abuse, but there's a larger story here. It is this: how did Hong Kong so quickly kick the fear which once consumed it? Wasn't it not too long ago when fear so hooked us that we demanded a firewall between us and our communist rulers across the border?

But now, Hong Kong kids actually prefer to party on the other side. Why are they not afraid of Big Brother? Their parents certainly were. Besides, aren't we the free-wheeling, fun-loving capitalist city? Didn't we so fear for our lifestyle that we insisted on separating our identity from theirs as part of the handover agreement?

The 1984 agreement gave the mainland 50 years to catch up with us so that we would no longer worry about losing our way of life. Only 12 of those 50 years have been used, but look who's playing catch-up now. We're the ones always demanding their economic largesse. We crave their tourist dollars, their talent, and their investments. We're the ones asking for looser borders, our men marry their women, and weekend Hong Kong hordes invade the other side for shopping, dining, massages, karaoke and cheap sex. Big Brother has become our playground.

Five years ago I wrote here about how the intended 'Hong Kong-isation' of the mainland under the handover agreement had morphed into the 'mainlandisation' of Hong Kong. Who could have guessed the process would pick up such speed? I discussed this recently with a colonial-era official who noted how no one nowadays ever talks about the 'high degree of autonomy' that was once so much part of our political jargon. He's right, of course. When was the last time you heard the post-handover government mention that phrase?

I put that to some current officials, asking if they found it astonishing so many Hong Kong kids now prefer Shenzhen's nightlife. They looked blankly back as if it was silly of me even to ask. It's not just the kids, it's everybody, except the die-hard anti-communists and the handful of dissident politicians whose home-return permits Beijing has confiscated. Their cause requires them to be fear-dependent.

We now dare ask for looser physical borders because we know the psychological border is vanishing. A friend who swore never to cross the border again after being jailed in Mao-era China on trumped-up charges now makes regular shopping trips there. We've been unhooking ourselves from fear quite effortlessly, with the mainland's economic largesse as a soothing withdrawal symptom.

With 'love China, love Hong Kong' as the new rallying cry, officials would think it almost traitorous to add the reminder: 'Yes, but remember we have a high degree of autonomy under 'one country, two systems'.' If you still doubt our vanishing borders, physical and psychological, then simply study what Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said just last week. He envisaged a time, not long from now, when Hongkongers would be commuting from their Guangzhou homes to daily jobs here. He envisaged a border free of immigration controls. He actually encouraged Hongkongers to live on the other side.

Can you imagine a top official saying that in the early years of post-handover Hong Kong? Yet there were no protestations of 'one country, two systems'. As I wrote here five years ago it doesn't even occur to the weekend Hong Kong hordes that they're leaving the safety of our system to risk the pleasures on offer by the other system. And when they return after an affordable game of golf they don't say: 'Whew, thank goodness I'm safely back.'

If Hong Kong people take Mr Tang's advice to live on the mainland and work here - commuting daily from one system to the other - what does that mean for the continued relevance of a high degree of autonomy under one country, two systems?

Michael Chugani is a broadcaster and columnist