• Tue
  • Sep 16, 2014
  • Updated: 3:28am
PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 12:56pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 2:55am

Hong Kong feels like pre-1997 all over again, only this time more radicalised

Michael Chugani says today's Hong Kong recalls the fear-filled days leading to the handover, only angrier and more polarised

Doesn't it feel like 2003 all over again, or even 1997? Remember those tumultuous times, the bitter Sino-British clashes over the political future of Hong Kong, which led to a confidence crisis, the collapse of the Hong Kong currency and the subsequent pegging of it to the US dollar.

Remember the fearful flight out of Hong Kong by tens of thousands of families after the 1989 Tiananmen bloodshed? And the barbed exchanges between then governor Chris Patten and mainland officials over democracy for Hong Kong? The so-called post-80s generation is too young to remember, but those panicky days are forever etched in the memories of older Hongkongers.

Things settled down after the handover. Families flooded back and prospered.

But then the 2003 earthquake of Article 23 national security legislation erupted. Half a million people marched in protest, a turnout so huge it forced the government to shelve the legislation, and Beijing to remove Tung Chee-hwa as chief executive.

Calm and prosperity again returned, but distrust of the Communist Party kept the flame of democracy flickering, later to be fanned by poor post-handover leadership, wealth disparity, poverty, unaffordable homes and dismal human rights on the mainland.

Who would have guessed the flame would erupt into the wildfire we have today, fed by rising suspicion that what awaits us in 2017 is fake democracy instead of the true universal suffrage we had expected? That wildfire of democracy has raged in full view of the world as well over 700,000 people have voted in an unofficial referendum on what kind of democracy Hongkongers want.

Hong Kong is today an angry and polarised society. We were never like that even during the fear-filled days after the Tiananmen crackdown that led up to the handover. We never stormed the Legislative Council building. Now we have teenagers posting online advice on how to smash Legco glass doors.

Back then, we applauded the building of new towns to improve housing. Now they spark violent opposition. Legco business is routinely halted by filibusters, all five new MTR lines are facing major delays and the already overpriced West Kowloon Cultural District is swamped by cost overruns and delays. Forget about our past can-do spirit. Ours is now a no-can-do society.

Radical politics is on the rise. A vocal segment plans to paralyse the commercial district if it is denied its version of democracy. Beijing's sharp rebuke to Occupy Central in the form of a white paper making clear it calls the shots in Hong Kong was met with a defiant "go to hell" by the more than 700,000 voters.

Why have we become an angry and polarised society? Why do politicians who hurl missiles at government officials and block even urgently needed landfill extensions draw such public support? Why, nearly 17 years after the handover, is the central government still so clueless about how Hongkongers think that it chose the worst time possible to release the white paper? If Beijing was looking for a fight, it got it. When people ask me nowadays about Hong Kong, I say it's "game over".

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com

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This article is now closed to comments

shouken
Perhaps mainlanders can feel relieved and somewhat complacent that, though vastly poorer, the Mainland is not like Hong Kong. But I fear that radicalism is on the rise everywhere and often under the guise of lofty aims such as freedom (as though anyone can be truly free in social space) and democracy. Scholarism brats may look very different from the Red Guards of the 60s, but alas, deep down they are every bit as ideological and intolerant as them.
scmpgt
"Why, nearly 17 years after the handover, is the central government still so clueless about how Hongkongers think"
Because these gov officials spend all day trying to figure out how to get rich in HK, then immigrate to canada or the US. They are not there to take care of HK.
clc2
The cadres have f***ed things up but good.
535aea67-f740-4042-ae89-35060a320969
You've nailed it in the head !!!
donwoo3838
Mr Chugani's "Game Over" piece is in good juxtaposition with the report on Mr Li Ka Shing's commencement speech at Shantou University "Sleepless in Hong Kong". While Mr Chugani voiced the discontent of many a Hongkongers, he did not attempt to find the causes except to lay blame on Beijing's poor timing on issuing the White Paper. Mr Li pinpoints the root cause of all the popular discontent to the increasing income disparity in HK that radicalizes a segment of society which finds sympathy among the general populace. It is a worldwide phenomenon but HK is such a small place that the contradictions get enlarged under the microscope. Mr Chugani did not suggest any solutions while Mr Li points to the need to regain mutual trust. Is it a coincidence that Mr Li is a tycoon and Mr Chuagani a journalist?
oasis
Mr. Li bemoaning income disparity and polarization is the cat weeping over the fate of the mouse. Weak antitrust laws contributes greatly to income disparity.
pmoisan
Seems intellectually shallow to place Mr LI / any and all tycoons ABOVE Mr Chugani / any & all journalists.
More often than not, Mr Chugani's purpose is to merely to "stir the pot". If you've read him before, you know that this is his predisposition.
You credit Mr Li for his statement which is indeed constructive and IMO relevant. Yet he has stated the obvious, and at no great risk to himself.
I'll reserve my admiration for the people in our community actually make detailed proposals as to how to move forward, at the risk of being analyzed, discredited and ridiculed.
XYZ
Good comment.
johnyuan
(I say “It’s game over.”)
.
True. Hong Kong went through it once at Hong Kong’s handover for the Brits on Hong Kong people.
.
In my assessment of the colonial rule, there are many good things the colonial government had done. But there are much more not good things too. Foremost, the no tax but sell land for government revenue has committed an irreversible property culture in Hong Kong, Hong Kong is a city of parasitic officials, parasitic property developers and parasitic landlords.
.
I say too “It’s game over.” But there is hope if Hong Kong will reform because there should be life after its first “It’s game over”.
lucifer
Yes, but The United Kingdom's interests and the current situation of Hong Kong are totally different. it may well have made sense at the time to do what they did with the economy and its policies turned Hong Kong into a very prosperous city.
The mistake was to keep everything the same, applying the status quo to Hong Kong under Mainland China as if it merely replaced Britain, but all else remained the same. China's interests are vastly different, and Hong Kong's economy has failed to adapt to the changing circumstances in a manner that is suitable for the future prosperity of the population. Hong Kong's leaders should promote Hong Kong's interests first - giving all of our business and manufacturing to China and standing back, unwilling to compete is a mistake and wastes the large and talented pool of educated people we have.
I understand the fear of change, especially in a place where and authoritarian dictatorship looms over the territory - if one small thing is changed, it will promote and avalanche of change, this is the fear.
But if its leaders do not change their attitudes and policies for Hong Kong, this will be its downfall. The primary reason they are frozen and non-responseive is because they are not accountable to the population. Political reforms are the only way out.

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