Lest we forget: it's currently a holiday season!
Earlier this week, the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) released the results of its 2023 review and 2024 forecast survey. Earlier in the month, PORI had interviewed 501 Hong Kong residents aged 18 or above, asking them to evaluate whether they felt satisfied about the city’s development in the past year and for their projections for 2024, as well as assessing their happiness and prospects.
The result, as reported by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), was that "Hongkongers have a net optimism rate of zero percentage points for the city’s development in the year ahead". More specifically, "while 40 per cent of respondents were optimistic about the city’s development in 2024, 40 per cent said they were pessimistic, giving a net optimism rate of 0 percentage points". Lest it not be obvious: "“The very simple picture is that people are very pessimistic about the future of Hong Kong in 2024, on the whole,” Robert Chung, president and CEO of PORI, said in response to a question from HKFP."
Interestingly, however, "respondents had a “less pessimistic” assessment of their personal prospects, with 47 per cent saying they expected personal development to improve next year, versus 22 per cent who expected a setback. “When you ask them about how they feel about themselves, how they cope with [the outlook], they seem to be less pessimistic,” Chung added." How to account for this?
The way veteran journalist and political commentator Johnny Lau sees it, "While many people found the city’s prospect to be pessimistic, they were able to adjust their mood and feel happy for themselves" Somehow, "while the external environment was uncontrollable, people demonstrated resilience by adjusting their personal feelings".
I wonder if people living outside of Hong Kong will find this strange and even hard to believe. But I must say that I can understand this -- and even have this kind of experience and perspective myself. Take as an example my mood and situation this week: on the one hand, I've had good times by way of doing such as having had Christmas dinner with family members and spent time doing such as going on enjoyable hikes and walk this week, and also viewing a really excellent film in Abang Adik (Malaysia-Taiwan, 2023) at the cinema; but on the other, I'm also all too aware that this has been yet another week of political repression in Hong Kong.
Among the lowlights: Veteran activist Koo Sze-yiu was denied bail for a third time on Monday (i.e., Christmas!) morning over a protest he had planned -- yes, PLANNED (as opposed to carry out) -- against the overhauled District Council "elections" that took place on December 10th (with just 27.5% of registered voters electing to turn up for it!). A reminder: Mr Koo is 77 years old AND has been diagnosed with Stage 4 rectal cancer; so it can seem mean, if not rather mad, to treat him like he poses a genuine threat to national security.
And yesterday saw three students jailed for up to six years over their involvement in a foiled 2021 plot to bomb court buildings and government offices. Cheung Ho-yeung, Ho Yu-wang and Kwok Man-hei are currently 23, 20 and 21 years old. Which means that they were 21, 18 and 19 when they were arrested and charged with taking part in a “conspiracy to commit terrorism” under the national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020.
Of the trio, Ho Yu-wang was singled out as "the plot mastermind who planned to manufacture explosives and target court buildings in 2021". A reminder: the youngest of the trio, Ho was 19 years old at the time of their arrest and supposed plotting to "commit terrorism". At the same time though, "no bombs were [actually] made and no casualties occurred". Call me naive but... could the authorities have taken these young people too seriously as threats to national security?!
Meanwhile, this morning saw lots of news reports about another young Hong Kong activist having gone into exile. One of the youngest pro-democracy activists to have been sentenced in Hong Kong under a national security law, Tony Chung is still only 22 years of age but already an ex-convict -- having completed his prison sentence in June of this year. But, as he's now made public, he was still not completely free -- with his being required to not post or say "anything that would harm Hong Kong’s national security — a wide-ranging and unclear restriction — and not speaking publicly".
Oh, and, as further detailed in a Washington Post piece: "Since Chung’s release, officials from Hong Kong’s Correctional Services Department have requested meetings every two to four weeks, summoning him to random locations and then transporting him to undisclosed places in a seven-seater van, its curtains drawn shut. Chung said that during those encounters, he was interrogated about his activities over the previous weeks, asked to provide the names of elementary school classmates as well as “detailed information about his visits to restaurants and bars, along with contents of [his] conversations.”"
"The “deep surveillance and immense pressure” he experienced after being released from prison “disturbed my life, and I couldn’t withstand such torture, both physically and mentally. So I felt that I had to leave Hong Kong,” Chung told the Guardian, hours after arriving in the UK." Honestly, his decision is understandable for many people. (And just to be clear: one need not agree with his politics to do that.)
Oh, and this afternoon saw news that the parents of Agnes Chow, another young Hong Kong activist who's gone into exile, were questioned at Tai Po Police Station this morning. (Agnes Chow lived in Tai Po before she was sent to jail and then moved to Canada.) As the Hong Kong Free Press reported: "Chow’s mother was invited to assist police investigation as the guarantor of her daughter’s bail, sources told local media on Friday". And while it may sound innocous enough, the fact of the matter is that what we have now in Hong Kong is the employment of tactics previously associated only with Mainland China and involving using family ties to exert emotional pressure on people.
Writing about the treatment that Tony Chung's outlined that he has received post coming out of jail, Bloomberg's Matthew Brooker Tweeted that "The term "police state" gets thrown about a bit, but hard to see how HK doesn't meet the definition on this basis: police state [n.] a totalitarian state characterized by the use of police, esp. secret police, to suppress dissent and exert repressive control over its citizens". And I'm sure he thinks this too about the treatment meted out to Agnes Chow, her parents, Ho Yu-wang and Co, and Koo Sze-yiu.
A darker thought: this week's not over yet. What other bad developments are in store this weekend... and in the year to come? And how much more must Hong Kong and its -- thus far, often unexpectedly resilient -- people endure?!