Hong Kong’s handover can evoke hearty cheers only when the schism within is healed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 3:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 9:59pm

We have just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong. When I asked my students about their feelings about the handover, nonchalance seemed to prevail.

Most of them had heard about the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, but few really understood the meaning of “one country, two systems”.

On the promises of the rule of law, separation of powers, an independent judiciary, freedom of speech, a fully elected legislature and a directly elected chief executive, most Hong Kong people keenly anticipated the handover 20 years ago.

On the afternoon of June 30, 1997, I walked from my office at Pacific Place to Hong Kong Park.

Euphoria dominated the entire park – adults dancing and playing on drums, kids taking pictures with the white dolphin statue, and people drinking and partying on the lawn. Most of the people earnestly believed that Hong Kong would continue the way it had been for at least 50 more years.

After the handover ceremony, a honeymoon period seemed to have set in. The popularity rating of chief executive Tung Chee-hwa was at an all-time high. The central government appeared to be more tolerant of criticisms, allowing dissidents like Liu Xiaobo ( 劉曉波) to publish his ideas and travel abroad, and Hong Kong people’s sentiment towards China was generally positive. We all hoped that China would evolve into a more democratic country under Hong Kong’s influence.

Such a view has proved to be ingenuous after the publication of the white paper on “one country, two systems” in June 2014 and the decision made by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress the following August, which directly triggered the Occupy movement in September and resulted in even more polarised views and splits within society.

Instead of becoming more tolerant of our differences, our society seemed to have been poisoned by hatred and an “enemy mentality” – spearheaded by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who seemed determined to clamp down on opposing voices.

It is therefore not difficult to understand why most Hong Kong people greeted the handover anniversary with indifference. I sincerely hope new Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will be able to mend the schism within society as she has pledged, and be more receptive of opposing voices.

Until then, I can hardly see many people heartily celebrating the handover anniversary.

Clive Chan, headmaster, E-Smart Learning Centre