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Politics & Security

Remaking Hong Kong: Where Tyranny Reigns, Freedom and Democracy Die

“It may look like Hong Kong has become peaceful, but that’s because there is no way for citizens to vent their frustration. Eventually it will explode.”

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Flowers and images of Goddess of Democracy statue are placed by students at the place where it used to stand, at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, after being removed by school authority, in Hong Kong, China, December 24, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Last of 5 parts

Part 1: Remaking Hong Kong: How Beijing Killed Freedom with Apple Daily’s Shutdown

Part 2: Remaking Hong Kong: Chinese Gov’t Infiltrates Newsrooms with Spies

Part 3: Remaking Hong Kong: The Order from Beijing is to Brainwash Students

Part 4: Remaking Hong Kong: Freed Youth Activists Continue to Live in Fear

HONG KONG — Ninety lawmakers of the Hong Kong Legislative Council swore an oath of allegiance on December, 3, 2021, declaring their loyalty to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. 

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The front wall of the chamber was emblazoned with the national emblem of China instead of the regional emblem of Hong Kong.

Below the emblem, 89 pro-Beijing lawmakers and one centrist lawmaker elected in the 2021 legislative election, which forbade pro-democracy candidates, each read the oath.

Newly elected pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho, left, takes his oath in front of Chief Executive Carrie Lam during the oath-taking ceremony of the legislative council in Hong Kong, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Among those who took the oath was Holden Chow (周浩鼎, Shu Kotei), the 42-year-old vice chairman of the largest pro-Beijing political party in Hong Kong, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). The party’s campaign was led by 35-year-old Rex Mo (巫成鋒, Fu Seihou).

The last time I saw Mo was during the district council elections in November 2019, when he represented DAB but was defeated by a pro-democracy candidate. This time, he was almost unrecognizable with his plump face that brimmed with confidence.

I remember one particular moment from his campaign. 

As widespread pro-democracy protests called for universal suffrage and the true realization of “Hong Kong governed by Hong Kong people,” Mo was handing out flyers on the street. DAB supporters rushed up to him and whispered something in his ear. Mo kept looking around suspiciously, as if they were doing something wrong. 

More than two years later, Mo’s position had not changed. 

Rex Mo (Fu Seiho) stands in the doorway of his office in Hong Kong in 2019. (Photo by Sankei)

“We have a common destiny with the Chinese government. As the state prospers, Hong Kong will also flourish,” he claimed. “When I lost the election, I was bitterly disappointed and became worried about the future. But I couldn’t keep focusing on that because of the spread of the coronavirus, so I devoted myself to local civil services.”

In September 2021, Mo was appointed as one of the 1,500 members of the Election Committee, the function of which is to select the chief executive — the head of the Hong Kong government — and a portion of the Legislative Council members. 

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Tinderbox Waiting to Explode

In late November 2021, I attended the trial of 47 pro-democracy activists charged with violating Hong Kong’s National Security Law.

The national security cases were to be heard by judges appointed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam. I had expected a deathly hush in the courtroom because of the judges’ conspicuously pro-government trial management and decisions thus far, but it was anything but.

At the defense lawyer’s statement, cheers and applause erupted from the defense table and the gallery, which were occupied by 47 pro-democracy activists including 25-year-old Joshua Wong and 57-year-old Benny Tai. Even when the bailiff issued a warning, the clamor did not abate.

In contrast, Hong Kong society has become unnervingly quiet. 

Images of Goddess of Democracy statue are placed by students at the place where the statue used to stand in Hong Kong, China, December 24, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Jeffrey Sin (冼錦豪, Shou Kingo), a 32-year-old former struggling actor, is among the pro-democracy candidates who won the district council election that Mo lost.

Because of the National Security Law’s escalating clampdown on the pro-democracy camp and after much contemplation, Sin decided to resign from his district council seat and study film. He plans on leaving the city because his past record as a pro-democracy district council member can only be a disadvantage in Hong Kong society.

Sin had given special attention to the voices of local residents during the 19 months he was a district council member. He made the following prediction:

“At first glance, it looks like Hong Kong has become peaceful. But that’s because the oppressed citizens have no way to vent their frustration. I don’t know what form it will take, but I suspect it will eventually explode.”

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Mourning the Best of Both Worlds

The downtown area of Hong Kong, where colonial Western-style architecture still stands, is home to a restaurant that became a gathering place for pro-democracy citizens during the 2019 protests, playing a key role in the pro-democracy movement.

The protest slogan “You cannot shoot through our convictions” can still be found in the margin of the restaurant’s menu.

The restaurant is run by a woman in her 30s. Looking back at the good old days of Hong Kong, she said: “Hong Kong used to be a place where the cultures of the East and West mingled. It had the best of both worlds: the Western values of knowing your rights and asserting them, and the Eastern values of keeping the rules.”

Hong Kong people line up to vote in the last free local election (November 24, 2019, Sankei)

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has taken away Hong Kong’s freedom in an attempt to achieve “governance by patriots,” and Chinese despotism is about to overtake the city. 

“Nobody talks about politics in my restaurant anymore. People keep quiet to protect their lives and their livelihood,” the woman said.

But some customers whisper, “Let’s do our best” as they leave the premises. 

What Hong Kong is currently experiencing is the opposite of what happened during the time of the 2019 Hong Kong District Council elections, and it’s not a coincidence. It is the fate of a city that has become the front line of the battle between democracy and despotism.

This is what the sacrifice of the people of Hong Kong taught the world: Western and Eastern cultures can coexist, but democracy and despotism cannot. 

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There is only room for one. Where despotism reigns, freedom and democracy die. 

Final installment. Read the full series here.

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(Read the report in Japanese at this link.)

By Kinya Fujimoto

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