Retired Cardinal Joseph Zen (陳日君) was arrested in Hong Kong on May 11 for “collusion with foreign forces.” That Hong Kong’s national security police would arrest the 90-year-old was seen by many as a harbinger of bad times for the Catholic Church in Hong Kong.
Before the British handed the colony back to China on July 1, 1997, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) had promised them that Beijing would govern the territory under the “one country, two systems” model, and that Hong Kongers would continue to enjoy their freedoms and lifestyle for another 50 years.
Before his arrest, Cardinal Zen wrote to Reuters: “We are at the bottom of the pit... We are becoming like any other city in China.”
Reuters on Tuesday reported that Monsignor Javier Herrera-Corona, the Vatican’s unofficial representative to Hong Kong, had told Catholic missionaries during a series of meetings beginning in October last year that China would continue to impose mainland-style restrictions on religious groups. Even before the National Security Law was imposed in Hong Kong in 2020, he and others had been moving archives overseas for safekeeping.
Diplomats and advocates had been closely watching the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong since the introduction of the security law, saying they viewed the territory’s religious freedoms and traditions as one of the remaining bulwarks of the “one country, two systems” model.
In December last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) spoke of his policy of the Sinicization of religion: Catholic clerics referred to this policy as “Xi-nification.” Like Zen and Herrera-Corona, they knew that Xi could not be trusted to keep Deng’s promise.
Xi spoke of “one country, two systems” in his speech marking the handover’s 25th anniversary in Hong Kong on Friday last week, saying the territory could keep its capitalist system unchanged “for a long time” and enjoy a high degree of autonomy. This is not the same as keeping Hong Kong unchanged for 50 years. Xi does not have the patience for that and is gradually closing the gap between the “two systems.”
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) wrote on Facebook on Friday: “We hope that one day people will not commemorate which administration Hong Kong is returned to, but rather celebrate that Hong Kong is finally free.”
Hong Kongers’ resistance to Beijing has never been about freedom; it is not about independence. The independence movement is a recent development, a result of the realization in 2014 that Beijing was breaking its promises.
Opinion polls show that only a minority, and mostly young, Hong Kongers support independence. Most want to keep the “one country, two systems” model, but they want it in its promised form.
Many Hong Kongers emigrated in the 1980s when it became apparent that the British would hand the colony back to Beijing, fearing life under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This number increased significantly after the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, when many felt this fear was corroborated.
In 2011, more than 65 percent of Hong Kong residents wanted to emigrate. Another increase occurred after the security law was introduced. Popular destinations are Canada, the US and the UK. Many have chosen Taiwan.
However, beyond the moral imperative and the soft power benefit of providing Hong Kongers a new home, Taiwan also perceives security risks in allowing unlimited immigration from a Chinese territory.
Xi has pushed for change too quickly. Few who understand the way the CCP works should be surprised.
“Two systems” might have worked for Hong Kongers, but they now see it is becoming too close to “one country, one system.”
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