Kevin Lau – an ex-editor and renowned journalist of the Ming Pao newspaper in Hong Kong (basically our version of The Guardian) – was recently stabbed in broad daylight. An uproar has exploded in the city since, and Hong Kong citizens from all around the world have joined in the fray.
Before you start to think, Oh god, what a load of boring ball hocks, here’s some context. China and Hong Kong have always had a very tense relationship regarding how much control the former should have over the latter. Nobody wants a reputation as a willing ally of China when you’re as dependent on the Western world as Hong Kong is.
But wait, I hear you say. Isn’t Hong Kong just another city in China? Trust me, if you want to earn brownie points with somebody from Hong Kong, don’t ask that question. Before 1997, Hong Kong was under the control of the British, which explains why the city is so, so, so much more westernised than China and other Asian countries. In 1997, in a treaty called ‘one country, two systems’, Britain handed Hong Kong back over to China, but stated that Hong Kong would be allowed to keep running the way it had been before, rather than changing to fit China’s economic and political system.
That’s why Hong Kong is technically classed as a Special Autonomous Region; that’s what the S.A.R. stands for when Hong Kong is listed in official documents, and not a reference to the 2003 SARS outbreak (which is what I believed up until a few years ago). This means we’re largely self-governing, but China is responsible for our military defences and foreign policy. It means Hong Kong runs a capitalist economy, alongside China’s socialist one. When you think about it, isn’t it amazing that we’ve managed to work out such a strange co-operation?
But the system doesn’t really hold out forever – the agreement between the UK and China only lasts 50 years, and what lies beyond that 50-year threshold is a dark and murky mystery. I often wonder why people aren’t planning ahead for it, but the obvious answer is that a lot can happen over a decade, never mind multiple decades. Still, as of 2014, we only have 33 years of what could be relative heaven left.
Obviously the media have a big part in this; a free-flowing media and information system is one of Hong Kong’s most distinctively anti-China features, and if that gets contaminated, what do we have left with which to identify ourselves as ‘progressive’? Hong Kong media is almost a microcosm of the region itself, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of the city when the media is increasingly being taken over, inch by inch, by mainland Chinese interests. People are scared that this is an evil long-term scheme by China to take over Hong Kong in advance of when the 50-year ‘one country, two systems’ agreement stops.
Examples include the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s newspaper of record, where the encroachment of mainland Chinese politics can be felt when you look at the reshuffling of all the executive staff; the SCMP was owned by News Corp (Rupert Murdoch!!!) up until just before Hong Kong’s handover to China, where it has since been owned by the pro-Beijing Malaysian Kuok family.
Ming Pao, on the other hand, has been relatively independent until recently, when Kevin Lau was dismissed under mysterious circumstances, and another pro-Beijing Malaysian tycoon has stepped into the Ming Pao scene. What is with all these Malaysians, srsly. Ming Pao is the newspaper my parents read from, like most most middle-class families in Hong Kong, and it’s our baby in the sense that it has a reputation for being reliable, and upholding professional journalistic standards. It’s the newspaper I’d read if I could read a word of Chinese.
Needless to say, people are hurt and angry over the whole Ming Pao debacle. For one, stabbings like these occur so very rarely, because the crime rate in Hong Kong is so low, it really comes as a shock when somebody as prestigious and in the spotlight as Kevin Lau gets targeted. It’s clearly a public message, which is being interpreted in many ways. And who is the message from? Who is the message to? There are so many questions waiting to be answered, and how (if?) they’re answered will have a profound implication on Hong Kong-China tensions.
One of my own friends from the London School of Economics has started a campaign (there’s a description in English if you click ‘See more’) with her fellow society members in protest of these recent developments. Great girl. There’s an ongoing social media campaign she’s doing too, and both have been quite successful. I’ve signed it, but to tell the truth I’ve always had mixed feelings about activism (this is the bit where you point at me and go HYPOCRITE, because of the Cardiff University Living Wage campaign I helped out in, amongst others), but that’s a post for another time.
I don’t claim to be an expert on Hong Kong politics – this is all pretty entry-level really – and if I got some things wrong above, then please do correct me. But it’s been a long time coming that I’d consolidate somewhere my own knowledge of the current situation, specifically for people who don’t know it.
Also, stabbings/choppings/cleaver attacks are terrible. Just imagining a stabbing makes me shudder.