A popular photography spot at the East Coast Park Precinct
I went to the East Coast Park Precinct after dinner last night. The night air was pleasantly cool, supplemented by breezes blowing in from Victoria Harbour. Strolling about in the space, I caught sight of the first full moon of the year in the night sky. Another pleasant sight as far as I was concerned: the space not being all that crowded; something that has been the case the last couple or so times that I've visited. I wonder though whether I will find this to be the case when I next go there.
Here's the thing: starting from tomorrow, the Hong Kong-Mainland China border will fully reopen. "Authorities announced that widespread travel between Hong Kong and mainland China would resume from Sunday, initially allowing about 60,000 people a day to cross in each direction. Those measures are a game-changer for many after the border was effectively sealed for nearly three years during the coronavirus pandemic."
People who have been separated for three years now from loved ones welcome the border reopening. Owners of businesses that are dependent on Mainland Chinese consumers (such as luxury watch shops) also are happy about this development. But many other Hong Kongers are looking at what might ensue from Sunday with some trepidation, if not outright fear and hostility. As the syndicated AFP piece by Xinqi Su and Lily Kuo reported: "Some worry about a potential surge of patients for Hong Kong's already stretched hospitals and competition for medical supplies in one of the world's most densely populated cities. Others are reluctant to bid farewell to a less crowded life."
The fact of the matter is that prior to the pandemic, Hong Kong attracted too many tourists for the liking of many residents. In 2018, some 51 Mainland Chinese visited Hong Kong -- nearly 7 times the population of the territory which is home to some of the more densely populated urban areas in the world. Remember the famous photo featuring the message written out in Chinese which translates into English as "We can't go back to normal because the normal we had was precisely the problem"? To be sure, it referred to Hong Kong's misgovernance by Carrie Lam -- and, truly, that includes its tourism policies along with other, more obviously political ones.
In a Tweet yesterday that arose from the piece she co-authored that I referred to above, Xinqi Su asked: "Is there a “normalcy” for everyone to “return” to? What is it?" My sense is that she reckons that there isn't one for Hong Kong -- and if so, I agree with her.
My own two cents is as follows: Hong Kong has not been "normal" for years. It's not just the pandemic and the govt's unscientific response to it. It's not even the mass protests against the extradition bill and for democracy that the National Security Law stifles. Rather, it's that China never intended "One country, two systems" to last; and it's been effectively dead for a while now. So, as we see more and more, the Hong Kong Special Adminstrative Region was built on a lie.
In recent days, we've been given more examples of how abnormal Hong Kong is. Exhibit A: the announcement yesterday made that Hong Kong will allow the import of hamsters after a year-long Covid ban but "The hamsters must be tested for COVID-19 before they can be sold, the AFCD said. "If the test result is positive, the animal must be quarantined... until the test result is satisfactory.""
And Exhibit B: A young man was sentenced to eight months in prison under the colonial-era sedition law for nothing more than making "social media posts that called for the city’s independence, the use of violence and a boycott of Covid-19 regulations" a few days ago. Think about it: Where else in the world is this done? (Mainland) China, Saudi Arabia, probably also North Korea and Russia and...???
Then there's this: 10 people, aged between 21 and 31 years, being sentenced to 50 to 52 months imprisonment each for "rioting" despite the presiding judge admitting that "there was no evidence showing that the 10 had committed violent acts, and they did not possess any dangerous items or weapons" earlier today. So, no, Hong Kong is most certainly not (back to) normal. As the Scottish Hong Konger who goes by Goose Lee on Twitter was moved to state in the wake of this sad news: "Whenever you hear ‘Hong Kong is back’ remember people are still being jailed on an almost daily basis for just being present at the 2019 pro-democracy protests".
Lastly, consider the case of Jimmy Lai, the media tycoon the Hong Kong police want us to believe is the mastermind behind the 2019 protests. Quoting Timothy McLaughlin's piece about this in The Atlantic and then adding his own comments on the matter, Bloomberg's Matthew Brooker Tweeted the following: ""The decentralized nature of the 2019 movement is still viewed with paranoid disbelief… The authorities “don’t believe that everything came from the ground up,” because they think “that is impossible.”” How could people just spontaneously dislike our communist autocracy? Beijing never understood the first thing about Hong Kong. Who the people are, how they think, what they value. Not the slightest iota. They thought it was just about making money".