• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 10:54pm
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


Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. Aside from being a South China Morning Post columnist he also hosts ATV’s Newsline show, a radio show and writes for two Chinese-language publications. He has published a number of books on politics which contain English and Chinese versions.

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

"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.
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.
Beijing didn't look for a fight, but radical politicians look for it.
Actually, Beijing just wants to keep HK's prosperity and has done everything for it.
But HK media and politicians always challenge on government policies and Beijing.
Northeastern Development Plan is for the benefit of Hongkongers and relieve the pressure of housing problem. Hong Kong now is stuck in the housing problem that the government can't have landfill or develop the undeveloped area. If the radical politicians or protesters rebuke the government policy, please raise up other plans for solving the housing problem so as to keep the prosperity of HK.
Regular rioting? Have you ever been to London and Paris, or New York? The verbal abuse of Hong Kong demonstrators could have got themselves maced, handcuffed, taken to police precincts and charged at the minimum with disorderly conduct.
After reading this column today, it is pretty clear all blame and crisis of confidence in HK can be squarely placed on the "leadership" of the CCP whether directly or behind the scenes.
Typical comment of someone who wants democracy but hasn't actually lived in a democracy. Get over it, the radicalism is part and parcel of it. HK has it in pretty mild doses compared to the regular rioting that goes on in say London or Paris.
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.
"If its 'game over' then please kindly resign your position at the SCMP and ATV, book your flight back to the US and let the rest of us get on with fighting/arguing for what we want/believe in."

I agree! Chugani is really being a first class A hole lately. He really seems to hate Chinese people, and LOVES feeling sorry for himself. If HK sucks so bad for you Michael, go back to the US.

I guess with the way the US treats Americans abroad, Mr Chugani is really used to being a servant ready to serve his master. Don't forget to consent with all the HK banks you bank with so that they can release your bank account details to the IRS! Even if you refuse consent, the IRS will grab that info in a matter of time since a tax sharing agreement was signed between HK and the US.

Michael Chugani: Forever somebody's stooge.
If its 'game over' then please kindly resign your position at the SCMP and ATV, book your flight back to the US and let the rest of us get on with fighting/arguing for what we want/believe in. Honestly, whether a pan-dem or a CCP hardliner I think most of us would not want a quitter who has no confidence or interest in Hong Kong's future to be still with us. Jowla - Go away Mr. Chugani.
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?




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