As Canada fights to free its citizens still held hostage in China, think again of the 7 million people in Hong Kong — a good many of them also Canadian citizens — fighting for their own democratic freedoms at the same time.
Hong Kong has more Canadian expatriates than anywhere else, a legacy of the 1997 handover of the former British colony to full Chinese sovereignty. Back then, our passports amounted to an insurance policy against misconduct by the new mainland rulers.
Which is why dual citizens in Hong Kong almost never let their passports expire, renewing them more frequently and faithfully than in any other territory. By the hundreds of thousands, those travel documents have served as a perennial hedge against predictable uncertainty.
Especially today. As pitched battles erupt against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s highrise canyons — spreading from the legislative council to luxury shopping centres, from the airport terminal to subway stations — we are witnessing a power struggle unlike any other.
Most democracy protests take place in the developing world, where political and economic institutions are still embryonic. By contrast, the fight for Hong Kong’s future is unfolding in one of the world’s most affluent, educated, urbanized societies.
The territory is still stunted thanks to its unique history and geography — first under British colonial rule, then Chinese Communist hegemony. When London and Beijing negotiated the transition, China agreed to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy for 50 years under the rubric of “One Country, Two Systems.”
It took far less than 50 years for the so-called “Two Systems” to become as one.
For the seven years that I was assigned to the Toronto Star’s Hong Kong bureau, in the aftermath of the handover, I watched that delicate balancing act rapidly lose its equilibrium. I covered peaceful marches by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators objecting to Beijing’s encroachments — security laws that tightened the noose, and voting restrictions that narrowed the franchise.