Chan Tak-leung marvels at the BBC’s portrayal of a vibrant, bustling HK but decries the forces that seek to undermine it
The BBC made a series of documentaries recently about some of the world’s busiest cities and, as one might have guessed, not only was Hong Kong on the list but it was the first among equals — it was the first to be shown followed by Mexico City, Moscow and Delhi.
The aim of the program, according to the BBC, is to “go behind the scenes to reveal the hidden systems and armies of people running some of the greatest cities on earth”. One waited with much anticipation and without fail the program did exactly what it said on the tin. In this 60-minute program it covered themes on how local people have to live in tiny premises because of high housing costs and limited space, how trade and commerce have continued to flourish after the Hong Kong’s return to the nation in 1997, the Pearl River sea bridge which will be the longest in the world and many other novelty items which Westerners would certainly find fascinating and intriguing, such as bamboo scaffolding and banishing bad spirits with one’s shoe under a flyover while others walk past without flinching an eyelid.
It fully demonstrated how Hong Kong maintains its status as the most dynamic city on earth and a global financial hub 20 years since its return to China under the “one country, two systems” principle. However, it would be uncharacteristic of the BBC if it does not include a spoiler at the end of the program. It conducted an interview with Nathan Law Kwun-chung, the now jailed activist who did not hesitate to profess his personal view on the current political situation as well as his prognosis for the future for Hong Kong. True to form, Law claimed how unjust and undemocratic it was that the chief executive was not elected by universal suffrage. Unbeknown to people who watch the program, Law was previously himself elected secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students with 37 votes out of a constituency of 53. Since gaining this position, he was able to manipulate the HKFS in support of the illegal “Occupy Central” movement in 2014; four universities left the federation as a result.
Hardly a practitioner of democracy and an example of “do as I say and not as I do”.
The commentary went on to state that he recently received a prison sentence “once again”, which obviously was incorrect information and “fake” but nonetheless added momentum to the claim of a lack of democracy and freedom in Hong Kong — without even a word about how he and others caused criminal damage to government property and injuries to law-enforcement officers in the course of his action.
Returning to the program, one of Hong Kong’s favorite pastimes — horse racing at Happy Valley — made the list and the origins of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) was mentioned as well. The vibrancy and diversity of the city was captured by a visit to Chungking Mansions, how domestic workers amass in Central district on their day off, shoe shining, street food, celebration of the Tin Hau Festival as well as an insight into the bustling yet orderly container terminal. The program captured images of a window cleaner from Nepal working on one of Hong Kong’s tallest buildings and a hairdresser who runs his business in a downtown alleyway.
All in all the sum of the images and stories in the program fully demonstrated that Hong Kong is not only one of the world’s busiest cities but it is also one which survives on its multicultural identity, inclusiveness and a tremendous amount of personal commitment, goodwill and perseverance regardless of one’s personal situation. One would draw the conclusion that most people who call Hong Kong their home do share a “can do” ideal and live believing “Be positive. Tomorrow will be a better day”.
Indeed, Hong Kong is a city of contrast but nothing should diminish the fact that it has continued to thrive in the past 20 years after its return to China in 1997. Otherwise it would not be able to offer its visitors, as the BBC program claimed, the “adventure of a lifetime”. It is patently clear that in order to ensure this bustling city will continue to flourish, the principles that safeguard its rights and freedoms must be closely guarded and observed.
Living in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is not like going into a candy store where you can pick what you like and ignore the others. All citizens, without exception, must observe the Basic Law in word and deed. To recognize the SAR is an inalienable part of China, to begin with, would mean people will be breaking this principle if they put up slogans such as “Hong Kong independence” without any legal sanctions. At the same time, powers to exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power does not mean individuals and organizations would also have the right to abuse these powers.
Local residents’ rights and freedoms are safeguarded but it seems there are increasing numbers of malicious, unethical and inhuman abuses of individuals whose human rights have definitely been infringed. It is high time to stop deploying “political”, “democracy” and “freedoms” as fronts to strip others who are equally and legally entitled to their rights. These parallel universes must come together for the common good of the SAR.
The author is the director of the Chinese in Britain Forum. He was the first-ever Chinese British citizen to be elected mayor of the Greater London Borough of Redbridge (2009-10) and served as a member of the city council for over 10 years.