On January 20, Donald Trump will have been the president of the United States for two years. His rule has been so erratic that not only the US but the world is no longer recognisable to his country’s allies and enemies alike. In the six years Xi Jinping has been China’s leader, he, too, has made his country unrecognisable to the outside world.
There’s a toxic fallout from Trump’s tenacious assaults on China’s policies and Xi’s determination not to let the West thwart his country’s rise. This fallout has made Hong Kong unrecognisable, too. We were a city with all the trappings of democracy, minus only the right to directly elect our leader and all members of the legislature.
Our freewheeling media, free speech, and the right to stand for elections made us a beacon in Asia. Now the media dare not interview anyone who even peacefully advocates independence. Our government has added new limits on free speech.
The government has disqualified election candidates for exercising free speech. A political party has been banned. A foreign journalist has been expelled for moderating a speech on independence. And, last week, a Taiwanese heavy metal band led by a Taiwan independence advocate had to cancel its Hong Kong concert after our government refused visas.
A slow death for Hong Kong’s separate identity in China
I no longer recognise Hong Kong even though I was born and raised here. How did this happen? Some has to do with what Beijing believes is Trump’s dogged drive to stifle China’s rise. Beijing has, for some years, been spooked by talk of Hong Kong independence even though it involved a tiny minority of delusional youngsters.
Mainland leaders believed external forces were behind the independence and Occupy movements but avoided openly meddling in our affairs. Then came Trump with “America first”, the trade war, increased freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, demands that China ends state subsidies for hi-tech firms that compete in the global arena, and US pressure on allies to treat China as an adversary out to dominate the world.
Beijing saw this as the West ganging up on China. Mainland leaders had long feared external forces using Hong Kong to threaten national security. That fear became all too real for them when US allies took Trump’s cue to call out China on everything from cyber theft, forced technology transfers, and belt and road debt traps to the mass detention of Xinjiang Muslims.