Hong Kong can’t afford to endure further chaos

As the top central government official in charge of Hong Kong and Macao affairs, Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, made important remarks at every juncture of Hong Kong’s transition from chaos to governance in recent years, providing guides for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s governance, like a “working plan” and a “liability statement”. The speech he made on National Security Education Day on Saturday, in particular, was not only informative but also came straight to the point.

Xia made the unequivocal assertion that safeguarding national security means protecting “one country, two systems”, promoting the prosperity and development of Hong Kong, upholding the democracy and freedom of Hong Kong, ensuring the human rights and fundamental well-being of all Hong Kong residents, and defending the interests of all investors in Hong Kong, and that nothing is possible in the absence of security and stability.

He thus pointed out that it is everyone’s responsibility to safeguard national security, and called on the HKSAR government, the patriotic camp, the judicial and legal sector, investors in Hong Kong, the general public and the youth of the city to play their parts.

Xia began his keynote speech by quoting President Xi Jinping’s remarks made on the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland: “Hong Kong is the common home of all its residents, and harmony in a family brings success in everything. … There has been a strong consensus that Hong Kong cannot withstand further chaos, and that Hong Kong cannot afford further delay in socioeconomic development.”

That Hong Kong cannot afford to bear further chaos has become a consensus between the central authorities and the HKSAR government following the 2019 “black-clad” riots, during which anti-China forces from home and abroad went all-out to wreak havoc on the city. The chaos, which started off with the anti-extradition bill movement and later morphed into citywide lawlessness, harmed the city in an unprecedented way. All quarters of society suffered as a result; traffic was disrupted frequently, making it difficult for students to go to class and workers to their workplaces; and anyone who was daring enough to express views different from those of the rioters was subjected to varying degrees of physical harm. Those who called for “freedom”, “democracy” and “rights” ironically deprived others’ freedom from fear. 

Hong Kong suffered huge economic loss due to the riots. The whole city was mired in turmoil and basically was brought to a standstill for months, with endless street violence deterring overseas and mainland visitors from coming and thus dealing a fatal blow to the city’s modern service industry.

Moreover, national interests also suffered collateral damage as Hong Kong’s intermediary role — of assisting mainland enterprises to go global while allowing overseas capital to access the mainland — was compromised. The “black-clad” riots not only disrupted cooperation between the mainland and Hong Kong but also affected foreign-owned enterprises whose local employees were more or less distracted by the citywide insurrection and disorder.

Hong Kong simply cannot afford to be tormented by subversive activities anymore. The compound effect of the riots and COVID-19 pandemic, which lasted for more than three years, has taken its toll on many sectors, especially tourism, catering, retail, hotel, and transportation, causing waves of business closures and bankruptcies. The HKSAR government had to dig into its coffers for relief measures and anti-pandemic resources and measures. Three years of tribulation has nearly exhausted the city’s fiscal reserves.  

Following the promulgation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, it is now generally perceived that Hong Kong has restored order and is back on track to healthy governance and prosperity. Xia, however, cautioned against overoptimism, emphatically saying that there are surging undercurrents despite the semblance of peace.

While no details on what is producing those undercurrents have been revealed for obvious reasons, it is believed that the national security agencies have gathered relevant intelligence, and the central authorities have a full grasp of Hong Kong’s situation.

If Hong Kong wishes to achieve stability and prosperity in the long run, steps must be taken to reinforce the foundation for Hong Kong’s appropriate governance. A lesson from the past few years’ chaos and turmoil is that the central government’s overall jurisdiction over Hong Kong had not been fully embodied in the city’s high degree of autonomy. In other words, the central government’s overall jurisdiction and Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy were not organically combined as originally designed. There was a prevailing misconception in Hong Kong society, including among some members of the traditional pro-establishment camp who mistakenly believed that Hong Kong was on its own except for matters relating to national defense and foreign affairs, and that the city was “given free rein” without constraints from the central authorities. As a result, whenever the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress interpreted the Basic Law, it was regarded as an “infringement” on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. 

Now the central government has set the record straight, and Hong Kong society increasingly appreciates that the central government’s overall jurisdiction comes before Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and it has the power to supervise the HKSAR. The mechanism to supervise, however, has yet to be put fully in place. Therefore, when Xia brought up the need to strengthen the foundation of appropriate governance, it is indeed an objective assessment of Hong Kong’s situation that should be taken seriously by Hong Kong society.

The author is vice-chairman of the Committee on Liaison with Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Overseas Chinese of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.