Hong Kong

Is Hong Kong a world city?

To some people, this question is obvious. Hong Kong is one of the world’s greatest cities, almost on par with New York and London, basically “Asia’s World City,” according to them. But they are wrong. While this may have been true a long time ago, maybe even up to 15 years ago, despite what some people profess, Hong Kong is not and is actually moving further and further away from being a world city every single day. There are experts who have made this claim and they look at macro-political, economic and governance factors, but I think just looking at society tells its story.

Now Hong Kong is a top financial hub. It is also unique as a city-state that has its own flag, currency, administration, police, educational system, and legal system. But it is not a city that can call London and New York its peers.
First, a great city is strong in more than one area. If you look at New York, it is the US center of gravity for arts, media, advertising, business, finance, tourism and so on. London can claim a similar status for business, arts, media, education, and political power. In Hong Kong- finance, yes, but nothing else. Going through key areas, the situation is bleak. In sports, there is the Hong Kong rugby sevens annual tournament which is certainly well-known, but no other major events. Its entertainment industry used to be well-known regionally, back in the 80s and 90s, but its singers and movie stars are no longer famous outside of Hong Kong. It may be a financial hub and boast some incredibly rich tycoons, such as Li Ka-shing, one of Asia’s richest men, yet none of its companies dominate banking or finance. HSBC is not a Hong Kong company despite its name, while AIA may be one of the world’s biggest insurance companies, but it is headed by a Westerner and was spun off from AIG. Customer service is alright at best, often dismal and sometimes downright rude. You can easily find better service in Taipei, Tokyo, and Seoul. And Hong Kong doesn’t produce or develop much of anything, so there isn’t anything here that you can’t buy elsewhere.
Also, a great city should be the most important city in its own country, for example, London in the UK, Paris in France, Toronto in Canada etc. Hong Kong, however, isn’t even the most important city in China, or even the second.

Second, a great city should be multicultural. One might say Hong Kong has loads of expats, as well as Westerners and Indians who’ve lived in Hong Kong for generations, as well as a multitude of Southeast Asian helpers. But Hong Kong is still overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese (almost 95%) and its government and institutions are all run by ethnic Chinese with a thin layer of Westerners holding senior positions. Meanwhile, all those Southeast Asian helpers are temporary workers who fulfill an important role but who are not exactly part of regular society (they are not eligible to apply for permanent residency and are bound to live in their employers’ homes). Longtime Westerners may be doing alright as do some Indian business families, but a lot of South Asians who grew up here still struggle to get proper education, jobs and representation. Unlike Singapore, no non-white minority holds or has held a top governing or administrative post and there are hardly any minority faces in entertainment. On the contrary, it is common to see white expats hold positions of power in administration as well as business and education. Not that they are all unqualified, but this is both a reflection of colonial heritage and a lack of local leadership talent. Of course, by this same rationale of multiculturalism, regional metropolises like Tokyo, Seoul, and even Shanghai fall short and for the same reason, they are not really great world cities.

Third, some folks try to label Hong Kong as the perfect example of East meets West. However, the result is not so much a dynamic, unique blend, but a watered down mixture. That doesn’t mean there aren’t talented and quality people, because there are, but it’s that the society and culture does not create anything spectacular. The reason is probably due to a mix of factors like cramped buildings and streets, sky-high living expenses, animosity towards China’s growing control, and so on. There is a lot of negativity in Hong Kong between people, and I don’t mean my little rant here. The strong notorious anti-mainland Chinese sentiment still exists but I’m not just talking about that. A lot of Hong Kongers are trying to emigrate, even young people, which says something about how they perceive their future here. And to be honest, a lot of people, especially locals, some expats, and even the SE Asian helpers, don’t like it here and don’t like each other.

By being unable to be great at anything except as a business/finance hub and by failing to become truly liveable and truly integrate non-Chinese minorities, Hong Kong is not able to break out from its box. In a sense, it is already special, but more as a fading star still living on past glories.

This issue has perplexed a lot of people, including those who are more intelligent and informed than me. But in short, a city cannot be great if its only purpose is as a finance hub and that is pretty much all Hong Kong has got going for it.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong not always so modern

Hong Kong might look really sleek and modern, especially with all those tall skyscrapers in the Central business district, and fun, but underneath the facade, it is not easy. It’s a fast-paced, business-oriented city and it’s crowded with people and packed with buildings. Yes, Asia has a ton of people, but Hong Kong is much more cramped than Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and a lot of other cities in the region.

But there are less obvious reasons why Hong Kong can be tough, and that is because in some ways it is backwards in terms of daily living.

But wait, surely that can’t be because as an international financial center and wealthy city state, Hong Kong is part of the first world right? Not exactly, judging by housing. A huge number of people, especially in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, live in tiny spaces. Some of the poorest people even live in “cages,” which is atrocious. In addition, there are subdivided homes where an apartment is divided into compartments, each one for a tenant, which in some cases are families or couples. It’s not only limited to poor or working-class areas. There are apartments in middle-class areas where bedrooms are so small only a bed can fit into them or say, toilets are located right next to kitchens. I know from first-hand experience when I was apartment-hunting last year. And these are the poor ethnic Chinese Hong Kongers. If one looks at minorities like South Asians, there are problems with unemployment, poverty and street gangs.

Moving on, banking also comes to mind, which is surprising because Hong Kong is a financial center. Regular banking service is relatively efficient, but the problem is with certain tasks. For example, to change my address a while ago, I had to download a form from the website and mail it in. I waited a long time and eventually I found out they mailed a letter to my old address (by my relatives) saying the address change form had a problem and I had to come in to a bank branch to do it. Imagine if I hadn’t had been able to go back to my old address. To do a lot of things actually, you have to do that. Another example is that transferring money from the ATM to an account in another bank is not possible. That means you either have to withdraw cash and personally go to the ATM of another bank, or you can fill out a check but still go to another bank. In Taiwan, I could transfer money at the ATM from my account to dozens of other banks just like that.
But it’s a good thing I’m not an entrepreneur trying to start up a business because even opening a corporate banking account is almost an impossibility for some. It’s such a big problem that my workplace even had to organize an entire seminar strictly on the problem of opening bank accounts.

Another example is supermarkets, specifically checkout counters. Hong Kong is the only place in the world where supermarkets have small horizontal counters (think of a bank counter and imagine placing your basket of groceries on it). I mean, convenience stores have small counters because people usually buy one or a few items. However, when you’re in a supermarket and you’ve got a basketfull of items, your basket occupies the whole counter and the cashier is grabbing items from it, scanning them and then putting them back. I may be the only person in Hong Kong who thinks this is weird, but I’ve been to supermarkets from Trinidad to Sri Lanka to China and they all have proper counters, as in vertical and with conveyor belts and space at the back that let you pack things after they’ve been scanned by the cashier. Yes, space is limited, even in supermarkets, but it’s no reason somebody can’t modify checkout designs so that it is somewhat in the 21st century.

While these are issues at the ground level, Hong Kong also has major issues at higher levels that prevent it from being “Asia’s World City,” according to its self-proclaimed slogan. That will be another post for another day.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong hiking- Braemar Hill


Hong Kong is covered with hills, and Hong Kong Island, where the main business and government offices are, is no different. It makes a very striking contrast when you have forested hills and skyscrapers juxtaposed with each other. Previously, I’ve posted about the Peak Lugard Road hike which provides the best urban sight from above in the world. Well, Braemar Hill, near North Point on the other side of the island, also provides fine urban views.
More specifically, these fine views can be seen atop a pile of boulders that form a vantage point called “hong xianglu feng” (紅香爐峰) in Chinese (according to Google Maps). What you see is on your left, Wan Chai and its distinctive Hong Kong Convention Center by the waterfront, and on your right, Kowloon. Further to the left or behind you are lush forested hills that make up Tai Tam Country Park. It was a bit hazy on the day I went there, so the views would be even better on a fine day. The dirt path to the boulders lies just off the main trail which is a concrete path.
The hike itself is not very hard, taking less than one and a half hours walking from the ground, though there are several trails that extend further south and towards higher hills. I headed up to Braemar Hill from Mount Parker Road which is several minutes’ walk west of Tai Koo MTR Station. There is an alternate route (I did it the opposite way from east to west).


It almost seems like skyscrapers grow on hills in HK

Nice view of a cruise ships and sailboats with Eastern Kowloon in the back

Black kite, Hong Kong’s most common bird of prey

Some kind of sailboat race or procession was going on 
   

The boulders from where you get the best views

The dirt path in the center, which is just off the main trail, leads to the boulders in the photo above.


It’s like you’re never far from a jungle of towers wherever you go in Hong Kong. This is at the beginning of the trail. 

 

Books · Hong Kong

The Expatriates- book review

The title alone should provide a strong clue that The Expatriates may be set in Hong Kong but isn’t exactly about Hong Kong. But in keeping with Hong Kong, the expats in question aren’t your regular entrepreneur, copy editor or English teacher as in many other Asian countries but the ones on fancy expat packages, living a charmed life in mansions with Filipino maids/nannies/cooks, and high-end dining and yacht/junk jaunts. On the one hand, it is about privileged Western (mostly white), American expats living it up in Hong Kong, but on the other, it is a story with more substance than you’d expect.

When it begins, we are introduced to the three protagonists, two of whom mask a tragic secret which surprisingly is soon revealed. Consequently, the plot drags a little in the middle, but it does pick up towards the end and builds towards what could have been a predictable ending, but instead turns into a surprising finale.

The three main characters are American women at different stages of their lives whose fate is tied together by very unfortunate circumstances. One is a young, Korean-American, Columbia grad, another is a mom of young kids, and the third is a childless wife whose marriage seems to lack more than just children. At times, the details of the pampered lives of these well-to-do expats seem obscene, being something that is miles away from our lives, not to mention the poor and working class in Hong Kong. But rather than glorify the lives of those expats, it actually almost makes us feel a little sorry, but just a little. There is a very self-aware tone throughout the narrative about feeling as if one is putting your real life on hold and not being in reality, which is true when one has a 24-hour maid who caters for your every whim. But of course, this also reflects a major disparity between the lives of the characters in this book and  the more common expat life, which is that of putting up with greater challenges and hardships than you would face at home.

The funny thing about Hong Kong is that, as tiny as it is, it can sometimes seem like it comprises two very distinct worlds. This book is only about one of them, and even then, only a small segment of this world, specifically the highest-paid expats, the ones who could live in houses and actually not even have to pay for them. Add in the fact that pretty much most of the main characters are American expats, with nary an Englishman or Australian in sight, and one could wonder how much of this actually bears any relevance to most people living in Hong Kong. But yet, somehow the story is interesting enough, the details dramatic and the plot intriguing for the most part. It is a credit to the author, a Korean-American who was born and grew up in Hong Kong.

Books · Hong Kong

Hong Kong Future Perfect- book review

Every year, the Hong Kong Writers Circle puts out an anthology of stories set in or about Hong Kong written by its members. Hong Kong Future Perfect- One City, Twenty Visions of What Is to Come is their most recent, released at the end of 2016. From the name, the theme is about the future and 20 writers have given their take on what Hong Kong will be like.

While this ensures 20 sets of different characters, settings and themes, most of them, or almost all actually, share a similar mood of a bleak, dystopian future Hong Kong, which to be fair reflects the current pessimism prevalent in Hong Kong. Whether due to an economic crash, environmental disaster  or Chinese invasion, the stories feature a future Hong Kong that is repressed, unstable, unsafe, and sterile.

The collection was quite decent in general, but a few stories really stood out. “Twenty-three” echoes the worst fears about the present by following a guy whose girlfriend goes missing after attending a rally and searches for her. In “Pearlania,” a travel reporter comes to Hong Kong on a trip arranged by a local authority, but finds that things are just too perfect, but he can’t figure out exactly how. “Island Oasis” takes the opposite view of most of the other stories as an American expat comes to Hong Kong for a better life in a future where the US is a shell of what it used to be and China is the new superpower.

Sci-fi dominates the collection, and there are some really creative ones with compelling scenarios for Hong Kong. But as you can tell from the ones I highlighted above, political stories really stood out for me. Meanwhile there were one or two that were just plain scary without any dystopian themes like the one about the girl on a first date in a restaurant where either something strange seems to be happening around her or she has gone crazy. Jason Ng pitches in with a pair of stories that center on a family during Hong Kong’s handover in 1997 and over 30 years in the future. Repression and despair dominate the stories but resistance is also a key element in a few stories. Obviously this book isn’t something you read to cheer yourself up, but what it does is to make you think a little more deeply and hope that the future doesn’t turn out anywhere as it does in these stories.

Hong Kong

Indecency at the top a reflection of society?

As we get deeper into 2017, I’ve struggled recently to focus too much on politics. It’s not that I’m unaware of major issues like Trump’s presidency, Brexit and Hong Kong’s upcoming Chief Executive election. With the US slowly descending into a political comedy, as Trump picks fights or causes controversy almost every time he opens his mouth or meets with somebody, Europe struggling, and China trying to be assertive, it’s not hard to feel that the world is going to crap. Actually it’s not, but it’s hard to think it’s getting better either. The truth is that I didn’t seem to care too much to even feel pessimistic or complain anymore. But I think I really need to shake that feeling because apathy and ignorance are probably worse than pessimism or cynicism.

A lot of people were shocked, dismayed or even revolted by the idea of Donald Trump winning the US presidency (I was quite shocked as well). Likewise, the Brexit referendum result had a similar impact on a lot of people. It’s almost as if somehow, it became alright, even laudable to be openly nasty and spout sexist, racist, and simple-minded nonsense. And it’s not just Trump. Closer to Hong Kong, you can look at the Philippines and their president who boasts of killing people and acts like a clownish tough guy, but more seriously has launched a state campaign by encouraging police and vigilantes to execute “drug dealers” in the streets. Besides the UK, far-right politicians are making headway across Europe, invoking closed borders, violence against minorities and immigrants, and extreme nationalism verging on racism. Even in Hong Kong, the localist movement (I admit a bit of sympathy) at times express stances at times that contain traces of racism and hate.

It seems like suddenly, we’ve reached the point where democratically elected leaders of countries are people championing discrimination, isolation, belligerence and misogyny. Added to this, we also have the surge of far-right movements, open hatred and violence against immigrants, and “alternative facts” – false or manipulated news that is accepted as true by many.

But honestly, I think the real danger is this is a reflection of society. There is a lot of casual racism, malice and dishonest behavior that happens all around us. Back when I used to live in China, I used to rail a lot about negative behavior, but it is apparent that callous and malicious behavior happens a lot all over. Hate crimes, for instance, seem to be on the rise in the US and Britain. Just the other day, a white American shot two Indians in a Kansas bar because he thought they were Muslims (even if they had been, it still would not be right). People seem to be indulging in the most casually obscene ways to kill others, like driving trucks into crowds of people out on the street having a good time. Cyber-bullying can become so vicious that kids commit suicide due to online taunts or extortion or their reputation tainted by being involved in unseemly incidents, even when they are the victims, which is exacerbated by social media.

Ironically, technology appears to be a big reason why there is so much ignorance and hate in society. Rather than being something to broaden our knowledge and awareness of issues and people around us, for some, technology is a tool to foster more hate and ignorance. Fake news, alternative facts, and social media all play a role in disseminating false information that ramp up hate and intolerance, and not to mention stupidity. It would be silly and amusing if it weren’t so tragic at times, like the aforementioned American who shot and killed people because of mistaken ethnic identity. While it might be faintly amusing to think the US, the world’s only superpower and supposed leader of the free world, has plunged to such depths, it’s not amusing when one thinks of the worse things that happen in the developing world, especially Asia. The governor of Jakarta, capital of Southeast Asia’s largest nation Indonesia, supposedly one of the top emerging economies, was put on trial in December for blasphemy. Remind me again what century we are living in?

I am not saying every single ignorant and racist person is a Trump or Brexit supporter, because that would be too simplistic and too lazy an explanation. Besides, it also allows us to wallow in moral complacency. In actuality, I think there were probably Obama or Hillary supporters who were not exactly good guys too. Likewise not all Brexit Leave voters are monsters or Remain voters angels. But more importantly, let’s not pretend there aren’t people in regular life spouting racist or sexist garbage or flaunting their arrogance.

Maybe I’m not expressing myself clearly – I tend to think about different things and see common strands but am unable to  tie it together well enough. But we are living in a sorry period of history, when despite widespread impressive technology and wealth and knowledge, there are a lot of people who don’t know right from wrong, who don’t know real from fake. This applies to knowledge, this applies to morals, and it applies to behavior.

Hong Kong

Looking back at 2016 and hoping for a better 2017

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With just hours to go (in Taiwan, that is), 2017 is almost upon us and I think most of us will be glad this year is almost over, because we can’t handle any more shocks, tragedies and turbulence that blighted the world in 2016. While it is obvious that a lot of people are enduring tough times worldwide, due to a bad economy and wars and conflicts, the result of the US Presidential Election in November really caused a deeply profound shock even to the most cynical among us. That something which many people, including myself, take for granted, which is that the US is the world’s superpower that is stable and stands for ideals that is an example to the world, can be destabilized by someone like Donald Trump winning its highest office.

The joke stopped being funny and come January 20 it will be reality, but what is more disturbing is what his win meant. If even tens of millions of citizens in the world’s mightiest nation and largest economy can be so disillusioned or enraged or ignorant to vote for such an absurd and callow candidate as Trump to be president, what does it mean about the rest of us. In Hong Kong, this disillusionment also exists as can be seen by the rise of anti-establishment localist parties and their strong support, which saw them win seats in September’s legislative elections. A lot of other countries, such as the UK whose populace voted for Brexit in June, another deeply shocking result, France, Turkey and of course, the Philippines, who voted in an inane president themselves, have seen a rise in nationalism which has been reflected in their politics (Brexit, Duterte etc). And let’s not exclude China, where Xi Jinping has continued his strongman act domestically while engaging in provocative actions overseas in the South China, and puerile talk about how offended and hurt they are everytime Taiwan does something.

For me, 2016 was memorable because I finally moved to Hong Kong to work. Though that was my aim at the beginning of the year, after leaving China in 2015, I still find it surprising how fast the months have passed since I came to HK, that I’ve been working here for three-quarters of a year. It wasn’t easy getting accustomed to how different it is working and living here compared to just visiting, as the crowds, high costs of rent and food, and fast pace of life wear on you a bit. Also, it was challenging starting a new job with several main responsibilities, but that is going along better now.

In terms of travel, I went to Sri Lanka in January and then went back to Taiwan for the end of December. In between, I went back to China for the first time in over a year in September to neighboring Guangdong, then crossed over to visit Guangzhou and Guangxi, both of which was my first time.

All that said, I hope things will improve in 2017 and that the world doesn’t become significantly worse. I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and a great 2017!
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Took a very decent trip to Sri Lanka back at the start of the year, amid the job-hunting. Was a good omen because I would soon get a job within weeks after returning.
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Hong Kong is fantastic to look at from afar, but close up, as you can see below, things don’t seem quite as sunny.
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Spent Christmas in Guangxi, China, where I enjoyed the fine karst scenery despite some fog and rain 

Books · China · Hong Kong

Beijing’s international literary scene takes a hit

Back in Beijing, one of the events I really looked forward to were the annual literary festivals, specifically the Bookworm and Capital M. The Bookworm, located in a compound on a corner of the main intersection in Sanlitun, is regarded as an institution in the local literary scene, with sister branches in Suzhou and Chengdu. So it’s a little sad to read about how they had to suspend their literary festival for 2017 due to a lack of funds. Coupled with Capital M’s cancellation of its literary festival in 2015 and Shanghai M’s downsizing of its 2016 festival, things seem kind of bleak. These festivals brought in a lot of Western, Asian and Chinese writers and it was where I saw writers like Evan Osnos and Xiaolu Guo. As they would run for two weeks and hold events every day, you can imagine the variety and diversity of the programs.

In related developments, City Weekend Beijing recently announced it would stop publishing which is a blow to the city’s English-language expat magazine scene. I actually helped out and contributed a couple of articles to the magazine but that is not the reason I’m concerned (I readily admit That’s Beijing and TimeOut were always more interesting and fun to read). The most likely reason is financial because print publishing is certainly not a very profitable venture, especially when it caters to a small market like expats in China.

Obviously it affects Beijing expats, which some people might just dismiss as not a big deal, but it makes the city less vibrant and international. Losing major literary festivals and expat magazines makes the city less international in terms of the literary scene, not to mention the arts in general. Coupled with the crackdowns on clubs and concerts in Beijing, the increased climate of censorship and repression that has afflicted almost all of Chinese society has certainly hit the arts and cultural scene hard.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, which held its own literary festival a couple of weeks ago, the local chapter of PEN was re-launched on the final day of the festival. Led by local writer Jason Ng, who has been outspoken and written a lot about local politics including the Umbrella Movement, the PEN chapter will advocate for the right of writers and journalists to express themselves and resist censorship, specifically that brought on by the giant neighbor next door. At the panel, Ng and four other writers spoke about why PEN is needed and the increased censorship in China and Hong Kong. One of the panelists, a local poet and academic, spoke about the danger of self-censorship by telling a story of a friend warning her not to publish a Facebook photo which had a caption critical of a local university for refusing to let a student graduate because he carried a yellow umbrella to the grad ceremont. The panelist’s friend thought that someone could see that photo and use it to get her fired from her job (she didn’t take down the photo and she ended up getting her contract renewed).
Unlike its predecessor, it will also aim to become bilingual and trying to bridge the English and Chinese writing community. At a time like this in Hong Kong, this is a welcome development.

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Hong Kong

When the unthinkable happens

Well, what many of us didn’t think was possible turned out to be possible and I think we all know what I’m talking about. The next US president will be a callous, racist, contemptuous billionaire who has denigrated women and Muslims and Mexicans and has no experience in public office. What is scary is that not only did he win this election despite his despicable conduct, such as being accused by many women of molesting them, being heavily reported on, but he won it with a sizable margin winning even previously staunchly Democrat states. One day after, I still can’t believe this happened, and when this man is actually sworn in in January, it will be a dark period for the world.

After Trump’s victory, I can’t help thinking about the Brexit referendum in the UK in June, when “Leave” actually won, to the consternation of a huge segment of the population, the media and pundits. Not just only because of the shock of the result, but the fact that the more supposedly unpopular and disingenuous campaign won – Leave with their scare tactics and exaggerated, false promises, and Trump with his racist and vile comments against women and minorities, not to mention his boasts about not paying taxes. Yet it would be foolish to casually dismiss, as tempting as it seems, Trump voters as ignorant, uneducated fools. His victory probably says a lot about the true state of society in the US, there are many people who are caught up in poverty, unemployment or other difficult circumstances, and/or sick of socioeconomic inequality and corporate dominance (monopolies, closure of small businesses, huge gap between executives and workers pay).

Now, the US will have to face up to an immediate future where it voted for a president who purposely antagonizes women and minorities, has simplistic views towards foreign policy and will likely push forward domestic laws that will make America a more closed and less global-looking nation. George W Bush also comes to mind, and it’s stunning to think he seems like a reasonable president compared to Trump.

A lot of American folks and the media will have to come to grips and try to understand why so much voters supported Trump. Is it because of desperation, an urge to rebel against “the system,” ignorance, or just plain nastiness? While Trump handily won more states and electoral votes than Clinton, she won the popular vote, and it should be noted that the Libertarian and Green party candidates won more than 4 and 1 million votes respectively. If only some of those 5 million votes had shifted to the Democrats, or conversely had not been drawn away from the Democrats, it could have been a different story. The Democrats also need to take a good, long look at themselves and where they and Hillary went wrong.

This week has been a bad one for politics, because before the US presidential election debacle on Tuesday, Hong Kong suffered a blow when Beijing announced it would ban two localist legislators, as I wrote in my last blog post, due to their pro-Hong Kong independence sentiments. However, the worse consequence is that by issuing this ruling based on their “interpretation” of Hong Kong Basic Law Article 45, Beijing interfered in Hong Kong’s law, a significant breach of the “one country, two systems” that is supposedly in place. There is also talk about Beijing wanting to ban more legislators due to their making certain statements during their oath-taking. Things have been happening quite fast since the weekend, and Beijing seems to be wanting to do more than just make a statement, but make it clear they have had enough. In doing so, they are showing more of their true colors, but this is something many of us already know.

China · Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s legislative fiasco escalates into clashes

Hong Kong’s legislature has been in the spotlight in the last few weeks, even making it into international headlines, but not in a good way. The reason is that when all of Hong Kong’s legislators were sworn in three weeks ago, two localist first-time legislators altered the words of the oath to refer to China as “Cheena” with a bit of profanity, as well as held banners saying Hong Kong is not China. Initially Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching were told to retake the oath, but this was then overturned and the issue was taken to the courts.

But then, Beijing waded in by claiming the right to interpret Hong Kong’s Basic Law to determine whether Leung and Yau can be banned. To make it crystal clear, the mainland’s top official in Hong Kong said Sunday morning those two would not be allowed to be sworn in, a decision which goes against Hong Kong’s democratic process and laws, and opposes the will of Hong Kong voters. Well, thousands of Hong Kongers, as well as Leung and Yau, didn’t take that sitting down and immediately marched in the afternoon and protested outside the Liaison Office on Sunday evening, clashing with police.

In the past three Wednesdays, (when the legislature meets), the legislature has become an action-packed scene with stormings (by the two young radicals after being banned), scuffles and a walk-out inside the legislature chamber and protests outside. Leung and Yau belong to localist party Youngspiration, whose main goal is Hong Kong’s right to self-determination or basically independence. So while this controversy has propelled Hong Kong into the international news again, like with the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and the bookseller kidnappings last year, the legislature has become a spectacle and unable to conduct much real business, and worse, gave Beijing a reason to interfere in Hong Kong’s political affairs by claiming the right to interpret Hong Kong’s Basic Law to ban Leung and Yau.

I can’t say I want Hong Kong to be independent, but the Chinese government and regime are certainly not something civilized society would really want to be under, and what many respectable citizens would want to support. Unfortunately, Yau and Leung’s actions during their swearing-in ceremony were not the most mature or effective thing to do, and the controversy it caused has resulted in two major consequences. One is it has made the legislature into a farce (which admittedly it has often been in the recent past) unable to conduct normal business, having dragged on for three weeks already. Second is it has given Beijing an excuse to interfere in Hong Kong’s political process, claiming that it needs to intervene to uphold stability and prevent independence from being discussed in the legislature by the two “traitors.”

I certainly don’t think the two are “traitors” and should be barred from being sworn in just because they did not acknowledge Hong Kong is part of China. Moreover, it shows is how weak in terms of principles that China and its Communist regime is, and why Hong Kong’s freedoms and rights matter even more. Also, the pro-Beijing lawmakers need to take some blame for the legislative circus because they were the ones who walked out when the two young lawmakers were set to re-take their oaths, causing this controversy to be prolonged.

However, I wonder if the two young novice legislators, when they did what they did, knew what they were doing. Were they expecting and prepared for the escalation of this issue and Beijing’s interference? If they did, then maybe it is a cunning way to force the issue of Hong Kong’s political reform and future to be confronted by the authorities now. But if they didn’t, then their actions during the swearing-in ceremony would have been just a reckless stunt. Given Beijing has taken the next step and the localists responded tonight with their protest, this fiasco might signal new tensions and conflicts in Hong Kong.