Hong Kong’s ‘new chapter’ under John Lee calls for reflecting on tumultuous past
- Tired of politics and the pandemic, people would welcome a fresh start, but we must acknowledge it has not been an easy journey since 1997
- The changes of recent years, including introduction of the national security law and political reform, have created uncertainty about the future
A popular Hong Kong tourist attraction in the 1970s and 80s was a trip to the Lok Ma Chau border. Visitors were taken to a hillside viewpoint where they could gaze in wonder at communist China across the river.
Hong Kong people, tired of politics and the pandemic, would welcome a fresh start. But there is a need to reflect on the past. We are at the halfway point of the 50 years during which the city’s way of life is guaranteed. It has not been an easy journey.
The joint declaration provided for what one legislator at the time described as an “arranged marriage”. Hong Kong people had little, if any, input. But it was an impressive document, providing an imaginative blueprint for the city’s future under the “one country, two systems” formula. The deal was well received in Hong Kong.
This issue would dominate Hong Kong politics for years to come, with divisions over the pace of democratic reform. It dovetailed with debate about national security laws Hong Kong was required to pass amid concerns about their impact on rights.
Elected by a small committee, they did not enjoy the mandate popular elections would have given them. But the city’s freedoms and rule of law meant they could be challenged by protests, court actions and in the media.
Introducing universal suffrage was seen as a way of improving governance by giving the chief executive a stronger hand and removing a long-standing source of division. By 2007, even the central government seemed to have reached this conclusion.
But Lee’s biggest challenge will be to revive the spirit and values that make Hong Kong a special part of China. It is not a question of whether one country, two systems will survive. It is a matter of what form it will take.
Hong Kong’s way of life remained largely unchanged for longer than many expected in 1997. The changes of recent years have, however, created uncertainty about the future.
While talking tough on national security, Lee has vowed to ensure his Hong Kong will be caring, inclusive, diverse, open and free. He has pledged to inject vibrancy and hope while restoring the city’s connections with the rest of the world. It is to be hoped he succeeds in giving meaning to these words and that Hong Kong once again shows its ability to bounce back from adversity.
Cliff Buddle is the Post’s editor of special projects