'No cards left': Hong Kong residents sell up and search for way out as China cements grip
Web searches for emigration rose ten-fold after news came through about China’s approaching national security lawsby Verna Yu
As China’s parliament approved controversial national security legislation for Hong Kong, many local residents were selling assets, dumping shares and planning to move abroad while welcoming possible US sanctions.
Many Hong Kongers say they are shocked and overwhelmed with anger and helplessness as they see their freedoms being eroded and fear their city will descend into a police state. But many also say they welcome the US’s response and possible sanctions.
Beijing says widespread anti-government unrest in Hong Kong has made it necessary for it to directly legislate new laws that will tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in the former British colony. The draft decision passed on Thursday paves the way for the laws to be directly enacted in Hong Kong through an annex of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
The move, which would also allow Chinese intelligence to set up agencies in Hong Kong, has however reignited protests in Hong Kong as thousands took to the streets over the past week to oppose the new laws, prompting police to fire pepper pellets in the heart of the city’s financial district to disperse crowds.
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Wednesday that Hong Kong no longer enjoys the autonomy promised by Beijing and indicated the city, which has enjoyed special privileges, may be treated like China on trade and other financial matters. US President Donald Trump is due to announce his response later on Friday.
Elsa Li, 48, a marketing executive and mother of one, said as soon as the news of the national security law came out, she converted most of the family savings into US dollars, sold her Hong Kong and China shares and bought US stocks. She also immediately started filling in forms to apply for emigration.
The number of keyword searches on Google for “emigration” in Chinese surged ten-fold in the hours after news of the national security legislation came out last week.
“I have been feeling depressed,” she said. “The US move won’t change the fact that Hong Kong is doomed. But since we’re doomed anyway, we hope mainland China will suffer through our demise.”
Alan, an architect in his 30s, said American recognition of Hong Kong’s loss of autonomy was “a good direction” because Hong Kong has “no other cards left”.
“If this would kill China, we’re happy to die together,” he said. “If we have no way out, we might as well die with China.”
“This has been a ticking bomb – and it’s a good thing that it has exploded now. It has taken the past 20 years for people to realise that it’s impossible for us to be with China. The earlier the divorce the better,” he said.
‘Perish with your enemy’
A crowdfunding campaign “Stand with Hong Kong, Rise from the Ashes” was launched online by anonymous activists soon after Pompeo’s statement, to fund international advocacy.
Many use the Cantonese expressions “lam chow” – which means to perish with one’s enemies – to describe their sentiment.
“As the Chinese Communist party bulldozes ‘one country, two systems’ to impose a national security law, many Hongkongers are ready for ‘lam chow’ [the fight],” said a statement posted on LIHKG.com, a site popular with protesters.
“‘Lam chow’ holds that you die to be born again … it is only after being cleansed by fire that a phoenix can rise from the ashes,” it said. “It is not revolutionary fervour, romanticism, or nihilism. It is based on a clear-eyed assessment that Communist party’s stranglehold on Hong Kong has grown too tight. Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“We have little illusion about our chance of success … but we simply refuse to let Hong Kong succumb to tyranny. We try anything and everything; we soldier on,” it said.