We almost sympathize with Paul Chan Mo-po, who writes a letter to the editor nearby. The Hong Kong Financial Secretary is upset that the Heritage Foundation has dropped Hong Kong from its annual Index of Economic Freedom after years at the top of the list.
Mr. Chan has the impossible task of denying what everyone can plainly see: China’s Communist Party is remaking Hong Kong in its own Mainland image. That was the point of Heritage’s Ed Feulner in his explanation on these pages last week. Until Singapore took the top spot on the index, Hong Kong had reigned as No. 1 for 25 years. As the preface to the 2019 Index noted, “The Hong Kong government has taken out full-page ads to tout its number-one ranking.” But China’s aggressive assimilation of Hong Kong, Mr. Feulner wrote, is turning it into merely one more Chinese city.
Mr. Chan disagrees, invoking “the principle of One Country, Two Systems.” This was the promise of autonomy for Hong Kong embodied in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that set out the terms of the former British colony’s return to China. What Mr. Chan does not say is that Beijing has made clear the Joint Declaration is a dead letter.
In 2017 Lu Kang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, called the Joint Declaration “a historical document that no longer has any realistic meaning.” Hong Kongers have every reason to believe him after watching China ram through an unpopular national-security law whose provisions include allowing Beijing to take some Hong Kong cases to China for trial.
Mr. Chan wants readers to believe that economic freedom continues no matter the political repression. But China is not Singapore. In China dissenters simply disappear. Foreign businessmen can be arrested and held as diplomatic hostages, as two innocent Canadians now are to pressure Ottawa not to extradite a Huawei executive to the U.S.
Economic freedom? Tell that to Apple Daily publisher Jimmy Lai, who remains in jail because the government has invoked the national-security law, overturning the presumption of bail in the common law that supposedly governs Hong Kong. Xia Baolong —Beijing’s top official for Hong Kong—says that only true “patriots” are fit for the city’s “administrative, legislative, and judicial bodies.”
China is also dictating to corporate boardrooms. Two years ago, the Civil Aviation Administration of China demanded that Cathay Pacific Airways ban any employee who’d participated in “illegal protests” from flights into mainland airspace China, and begin submitting information about all crew before any flight to China would be approved—driving down its share price. Last May the former chief executive for Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, called for a boycott of London-based HSBC bank because it had not forthrightly endorsed the national-security law. Its top executive soon signed a petition supporting the law.
Our advice to Mr. Chan is to stop trying to convince the world that Hong Kong is what it was and accept that he’s now flacking for the man who really runs Hong Kong: Chinese President Xi Jinping.
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Appeared in the March 11, 2021, print edition.