Twenty years ago to the day, something funny happened on the tarmac of Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak airport, located on the Kowloon side of the then-British colony. When the big Air China Boeing 747, with the entire Chinese leadership on board, landed on a single landing track, the new, returned patrons of Hong Kong were greeted by the mainland crowd with Chinese flags and little kids handing flowers to the communist leaders. But this was not the reason why Jiang Zemin and Li Peng and others came down to the former colony. The rulers of then-rural China came down to Hong Kong to claim back the territory that British rule turned into the most brightly shining jewel of Asia.
Instead of being able to admire the beautiful skyline–second only to Manhattan– the entire Chinese Politburo remained silent. They could not clap their hands together self-righteously, or see anything at all because all of Hong Kong bay was covered by fog. There was no Hong Kong to admire. They landed in the wrong place; they might’ve thought. One can only imagine what went through the mind of the Chinese leaders, hoping at that very moment to be proudly congratulating each other, saying “Look what we’ve got.”
It must have been on that day that Hong Kong’s destiny was decided. The Chinese got their colony back, but with bad omens. A few hours after the midnight handover, when the Chinese flag could finally be seen across the bay, and the Chinese military in their brand new SUV’s began to roll into the New Territories, the rain started pouring down like hell. None of these ominous events were ever reported by the world media. But to me these episodes had relevance, not least because I know how superstitious the Chinese are, and how only two years later they hired about a thousand meteorologists and scientists to guaranteed sunny weather during the massive parade on 1 October 1999, when the People’s Republic of China celebrated its 50th anniversary. I know that they never forgot what happened in Hong Kong on day one.
As far as the 20th anniversary of the “liberation” of Hong Kong is concerned, the territory is now “healthy.” A couple of months ago, Yonder published an account of the encounter between generations of opposition leaders in Washington D.C. Two of them, Martin Lee and Joshua Wong, yesterday published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post, explaining once again the purpose of their fight for democracy in Hong Kong. (The publication Quartz offers a simple chronology of the events in Hong Kong during the last 20 years.)
Unfortunately the prospect of democracy in Hong Kong–to be respected as part of the 1984 Basic Law under the principle One Country, Two System–looks very grim. Chinese leader Xi Jinping this time landed in Hong Kong with no doubt in his mind. The first thing he did was visit the Chinese PLA garrison that is continually expanding. The loyal soldiers, who one day hope to greet their commander on the main avenues of a once-military British colony, yesterday staged a military parade that was a replica of the one seen in Beijing, in Tiananmen Square. What is left is the humor and cynicism of the local media, quite differently from the military that greeted the Xi Jinping with Xi Dada (习大大) the Great Uncle, coming for a visit from Beijing.