The tragedy of Hong Kong

A shadow is cast on a Hong Kong flag as Hongkongers gather before a soccer match between Hong Kong and China outside Busan Asiad Stadium in Busan

Traveling home for Christmas was once again an eerily exacerbating experience. On a student budget, Cathay Pacific has been the most affordable airline to use. Their prices have simply been low because most people, traveling in the east, would prefer avoiding Hong Kong these days. The last thing one wants on a trip home for the festive season is to be stuck in a hotel. A previous trip via Hong Kong entailed spending a night in a local hotel because the flight from Beijing had been late. With the current climate in the city that would not be desirable. 

Yet this is not an isolated case of trying to avoid Hong Kong at all costs. For example, during Golden Week this year, 1 to 7 October, the hotel occupancy rate was as low as sixty percent, compared to last year’s figures over 91 percent. Two-thirds of the people occupying hotel beds in Hong Kong, during that week, come from the Mainland while during the national holidays this year half of these visitors stayed away. 

According to a New York Times article, “With No End to Unrest in Sight, Hong Kong Economic Pain Deepens”, sales in the shopping district of Tsim She Tsui have fallen by ninety percent. Retail sales dipped by a quarter and, again, this is largely due to Hong Kong being avoided by tourists from the Mainland. 

Arrivals at Hong Kong International, the report continued, fell by nearly forty percent and the closing of the airport in August worsened the dent in confidence in traveling to or via the city. Major sporting and cultural events such as the Hong Kong Tennis Open or the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival have been cancelled.  With inequality rates as high as they are in Hong Kong, these protests are not doing the economy of the semiautonomous region any good. 

Democratic theory is clear. The rule of law remains a foremost, if not the foremost, procedural characteristic of a democracy. Hong Kong is not under a dictatorship and democracy reigns. The latest local elections and the universal acceptance of their results are evidence that the democratic order in the city is neither under threat nor is it absent. Yet the contradiction lies in the western media labelling riotous, and dare we suggest privileged, university students as being “pro-democracy”.

One cannot break the law, cause chaos and yet still be called “pro-democracy”.  As someone who comes from a country that is said to have the most liberal constitutions in the world, guaranteeing even the socio-economic rights of individuals, one may suggest that with nearly forty percent of South Africa’s population living in abject poverty this Constitution and its Bill of Rights ring hollow. 

In a country such as ours, where freedom is in over drive and citizens have very little understanding of their corresponding responsibilities to their rights, where nearly half of the country’s population is unemployed and many have become despondent then the hard fought for freedom becomes meaningless. Twenty five years into liberation, South Africa’s democratic project is sitting on a time bomb and is under threat. The democratic order of Hong Kong is simply not.

The recently promulgated US Act on Hong Kong certainly proves that China has no friend in the Democrats either. We are naive to think that it is only President Trump who pursues trade wars, pushes for isolationism and protectionism. If anything, the Act once again proves that the US leopard has not changed its spots and that it will continue to interfere in the domestic issues of another country, as it did in Chile, Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, among so many others.

What the West does best is to divide the people of a country, as they are now trying to do in China. The primary aim of US backing and possible funding of the protestors in Hong Kong is not to strengthen democracy nor even to take a swipe at China. The primary aim of the support of the US is to encourage chaos and criminal activities in Hong Kong so as to weaken its economy. The people of Hong Kong, like the people of so many developing countries, would be fooled to think that they have an ally in the United States, under a Democratic or Republic administration.

Hong Kong was once the hub of the far east. It served as a cosmopolitan city that was able to launch people off into various cities and careers. Yet it is fast being overtaken by cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. When the socio-economic realities of these protests finally set in, as they have already begun to, the people of Hong Kong will find that they can only turn to their brothers and sisters in Mainland China to support them. The Americans would have long moved on as they so often do after they have caused destruction and mayhem. 

Wesley Seale taught democratic theory at UWC and Rhodes University. He is now pursuing a PhD in International Relations in Beijing.