Hong Kong: Through our eyes Part I

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

I am in my thirties and I currently live in Amsterdam.* I left Hong Kong around 10 years ago, and I have lived in China, Singapore and London. Even though I do not live in Hong Kong anymore, my family are still there, and the political situation will impact my future. I find the current situation very strange. I now have to think about my safety and that of my family. I never used to think about these things. This really hit me when I was watching the news and the people being interviewed had their faces covered to hide their identity, including those who were saying they would stay in Hong Kong and would not oppose the Chinese government. What is interesting is how quickly the Chinese government implemented this new law. The protests in Hong Kong are not new; they have been taking place over the past year and previously with the umbrella revolution in 2014. The Hong Kong people have two main theories as to why the Chinese government introduced this law now. The first theory is that the West is very pro-democracy and China has not moved quickly as a result of tensions with the West. However, with the coronavirus pandemic, most countries are focusing on themselves and less so on international relations. As a result, China seized the opportunity to tighten its grip over Hong Kong. The other theory is that this is the first year in a while where China has not grown economically, and the Chinese government wants to show the people in mainland China  they are still powerful. China measures success in terms of economic gain, but since this is not present this year, they have used suppression to show success. I think these theories are right, particularly the second one. When you look at Hong Kong’s history, around 10 years ago it was very important economically in terms of skilled workers and a basis for trade. But now Shanghai and Shenzhen have increasingly taken this position and Hong Kong no longer has this unique economic role. This means that Hong Kong can be sacrificed, whereas 10 years ago the Chinese government would not have done so.


I think the new security law is very unfair, but I did see it coming. I am not surprised because years ago, when I left Hong Kong, it was clear to me that Shanghai and Shenzhen were going to replace Hong Kong in terms of its unique economic role. As I mentioned, this has probably paved the way for China to repress Hong Kong to a greater extent. I am also not surprised by the Chinese government’s recent actions because I lived in China for two years and saw how people normalise government control and the suppression of freedom of expression and speech. I have seen what the Chinese government are capable of. Myself and other friends from Hong Kong living abroad knew that China’s hold over Hong Kong would get worse, so we thought it was best to get out early.


I know that I would never agree to live in a suppressed society, so returning to Hong Kong is not an option.


When I lived in Singapore, I attended protests against the Chinese government’s suppression of Hong Kong. But in recent years, I decided I just have to accept the fact that these terrible things are happening in Hong Kong and it is better to put time and energy into finding an individual solution, which is in essence, staying away from Hong Kong. I have a very practical view: I am informed enough to know that Hong Kong is not important enough for China economically, meaning there is no hope for Hong Kong’s future. I also know that I would never agree to live in a suppressed society, so returning to Hong Kong is not an option. I will definitely give up my Hong Kong passport. It will not help any children I have in the future if they are deemed to be Chinese nationals. I would rather have a European or BNO passport. I still think of myself as from Hong Kong, but I need to be practical. I don’t know if I will move to the UK; I am waiting to see what other countries have to offer. I love my life in Amsterdam, so if there is a way that I can stay here that would be preferable to moving to the UK. I still have family living in Hong Kong. To be honest, I have no concerns about my parents because I know they will obey the new rules. My mother, for example, grew up when things weren’t easy and so I think she represents the older generation who value economic stability above everything else. She also has a shop which is based in the city centre and when there have been protests, people do not go to her shop, meaning her business has been negatively impacted. In a way, I know that the laws will give her a false sense of economic security and stability, as there will be less protests happening which in turn might increase her business. This means she will not speak out against the Chinese government.


I know that my sibling is not happy about the law. I am worried about what they will do – will they be afraid to protest? Will they feel comfortable enough to share their views? ...I think the answer to these questions depends on how the new law is executed.


I have a sibling living in Hong Kong who is politically active. In the past, they have protested against the Chinese government; they went to the umbrella revolution and they have slept on the streets in protest. They are a liberal studies teacher, and so it is important for them to be able to fully express themselves. I think it would go against their values if they are prevented from doing so. I worry about them a lot more than my parents. I know that my sibling is not happy about the law. I am worried about what they will do – will they be afraid to protest? Will they feel comfortable enough to share their views? How will they teach? I think the answer to these questions depends on how the new law is executed. If they only prosecute “big names” then I think my sibling will feel less threatened and therefore, more able to speak freely. However, if they prosecute everyone, I think they will feel too afraid to share their views. As a teacher in Hong Kong, my sibling constitutes as a civil servant as they are being paid by the government. We have heard worrying rumours that civil servants in Hong Kong will have to give up their British passport. We believe this is a huge violation of our human rights, but we do not know how true this rumour is. I have heard that the Chinese government has said they will not make civil servants relinquish their BNO passports this year. However, there is a huge level of uncertainty about this. I spoke to my sibling a few days ago and they did say they were going to renew their BNO passport, so they have backup option. If necessary, my sibling will move to the UK -they are eligible for the BNO pathway to citizenship.  My parents would be supportive of them leaving, but I know they would be sad. They would think that my sibling would only live outside of Hong Kong for about six years or so, and then they would come back to Hong Kong. This is in line with what many people did in 1997.


In 1997, when Hong Kong was returned back to China, many of the wealthiest and most educated people moved to the UK or Canada. Those who moved to the UK were often civil servants for the Hong Kong government and so were eligible for a Tier 1 UK passport without any constraints. The second group of people tended to move to Canada. These people were rich enough to move but they usually were not civil servants. At that point in time, Canada was one of the safest and easiest places to go to. There is a big Chinese community in cities like Vancouver and Toronto, so moving there was less of a cultural shock. What a number of people did, like some of my family, was move to Canada for a few years so they were eligible for residency there. Then they moved back to Hong Kong but had the residency in Canada as a backup in case the political situation in Hong Kong got worse. If it got bad again, they could move with their children and grandchildren to Canada. For them, they were sacrificing a few years in Canada so they could guarantee their offspring and grandchildren have the option of living there if they need to. I think that people might think about doing something similar now: people will move to the UK or Australia, both of whom are offering the possibility of residency, and then they will want to move back to Hong Kong after a number of years. However, they will move to these countries to secure their future of their families.


If a lot of people are punished severely for breaking the new law, for example, by being sent to mainland China, this will be the breaking point for people, and they will not want to return to Hong Kong in the future.

Having said this, the political situation in Hong Kong is worse than it has been in the past. It is hard to tell if people who decide to move to another country will eventually go back to Hong Kong. The Chinese have tried to push these sort of laws for 20 years but have not been successful until now. I think whether people will want to return to Hong Kong in the future will depend on how the Chinese government execute the laws. If a lot of people are punished severely for breaking the new law, for example, by being sent to mainland China, this will be the breaking point for people, and they will not want to return to Hong Kong in the future. One thing many people have not thought about is how difficult it is to move to another country like the UK. I have lived in London and I know how difficult it is to move there. In Far-Eastern culture, it is very important to have friends and relatives nearby; community is important. China Town in Toronto is a not a prime location, so it is more affordable. Those who move there can have a good life with a strong community. However, China Town in London is located in an expensive part of the city, so they are less likely to move there. This might result in smaller communities forming in less expensive parts of the city. However, there is uncertainty about where people will move to and whether they will be able to have a strong community, which is fundamental for people from Far-East Asia.

The future for Hong Kong is gloomy.


The practical difficulties of moving abroad have started to become the focus in people’s minds. When the UK government first announced they would offer a pathway to citizenship, there was a day of celebration in Hong Kong. People felt they could finally get out of Hong Kong. But the sentiment soon changed to one of practicality: the news headlines are centring on issues, such as how much it costs to move to the UK. Even today, the biggest headline was on how to get the cheapest postage to send the UK passport application. The future for Hong Kong is gloomy. I think that whoever decides to stay in Hong Kong and complies with the rules, will be fine. They will be able to complain in their own home. But they will not be able to complain outside of it. Next week we will bring you another first-hand perspective in "Hong Kong: Through our Eyes Part II"   If you want to read more about legal implications of the new security law, check out "As controversial national security law comes into force in Hong Kong, the UK “comes to the rescue” by Charlotte Rubin * For the interviewee’s safety, their identity has remained anonymous.