Hong Kong's Eroding Sense of Autonomy
As chief secretary of Hong Kong from 1993 to 2001, Anson Chan was intimately involved with the territory's 1997 handover from the U.K. to China. In exchange for regaining sovereignty, Beijing agreed not to interfere with economic and legal life in Hong Kong until 2047 — an arrangement christened as "One Country, Two Systems." Two decades later, though, Chan argues that China hasn't held up its end of the bargain.
"If you measure One Country, Two Systems by the usual yardsticks — the rule of law, freedom of the press, assembly, and religion, and the independence of the judiciary — I am sorry to say that all of these are under pressure at the moment."
Chan's pessimism derives, in part, from a series of events during the past five years. Pro-democracy protests formed in response to a restrictive electoral law passed roiled the territory in 2014 but did not lead, as protesters hoped, to more suffrage for Hong Kong citizens. Individual freedoms, too, have eroded. Once ranked 18th in the world in press freedom, Hong Kong slipped to 72nd by 2013.
"We’ve seen editors and reporters who don’t toe the line suddenly being removed from office, and in recent years there have been at least two vicious attacks against journalists," she said.
In addition, the abduction of five separate independent booksellers in Hong Kong known for selling works critical of Chinese leadership in 2015 has done more than just chill free speech in the territory — it has also, Chan noted, shattered the belief that Hong Kongers were "safe in their own bed."
The Chinese government has dismissed criticism of its involvement in Hong Kong as interference in China's domestic affairs. But this, Chan argued, "is nothing of the sort."
"The Joint Declaration signed by the United Kingdom and China, as the name implies, is a joint declaration," she said. "It's not a Chinese declaration. It was solemnly signed by the United Kingdom and China and the U.K. has a moral obligation to make sure China stands by its end of the bargain."
Beijing's strategy for Hong Kong is to allow differences between the mainland and its "special administrative region" to erode so much that, in time, Hong Kong will become fully Chinese. But Chan noted that the territory's population has yet to fully embrace its Chinese identity.
"[The younger generation] regards themselves as being from Hong Kong. That doesn’t mean they’re not patriotic; it doesn’t mean they don’t accept that Hong Kong is a part of China. What that means is that Hong Kong was promised a separate system."
Watch the complete video of Chan's remarks: