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Hong Kong in the heart

Gianni Criveller
 
For more than two months, Hong Kong has been in the hearts of millions of people around the world who love the city. Something serious happens every day; every Sunday there is a protest with hundreds of thousands of people. 
 
No one knows how it will end. It seems that the situation has gotten out of hand. There is no one able to control events and incidents, which increase in number and intensity.
 
So far, fortunately, no one has died. The wounded, some grave, are numerous. Occasionally the police have been quite violent, as never before seen in Hong Kong. The use of toxic gases could result in significant health issues for the citizens involved; at least five young people have committed suicide, apparently in connection with the protest.; and psychological distress is increasing in a city where it is already a social emergency.
 
It is impossible to discern all the facts and difficult to propose exhaustive analyses. However, the consequences are already dramatic: violence as never seen before; triad gangs that indiscriminately attack people on behalf of third parties; infiltrators who stir up the emotions; the prevalence of violent, if small minority, in critical situations; weariness on the part of the large majority who are reasonable and peaceful, but unheard by a government of incompetents. People argue bitterly and with animosity; quarrels divide families and break friendships.
 
I pinpoint three fundamental questions. The first is political. One of the most popular slogans is Liberate Hong Kong is the revolution of our times. The request for universal suffrage has been on the table for many years. It has always been rejected with arrogance, even taking away already established freedoms. But it is precisely this obtuseness that can decree the end of Hong Kong’s special status and give space to the independence pushes, no matter how hopeless they are. 
 
If nothing is allowed, it is inevitable that those who have nothing to lose will gain the leadership in the movement. The more the protests continue, the higher will be the bar of the demands, as well as the mutual exasperation. The stalemate shows the abysmal distance between the governments of Hong Kong and China from the genuine sentiment of the population.
 
The second question concerns the social situation. The liberal market economy, without any social correction, has utterly failed. In Hong Kong, the rich get even richer, beyond all imaginable limits. More and more businessmen come from China to Hong Kong to multiply their fortunes. 
 
In one of the most densely populated and expensive cities in the world, the weakest and the young pay very high prices. Housing is a dream for most. In the last 10 years, housing prices have risen 242 per cent. For the past nine years, Hong Kong has been the most expensive real estate market in the world.
 
According to the South China Morning Post (July 22) the average monthly salary is $19,100 (US$2,446) for men and $14,700 (US$1,884) for women, compared to an average monthly rent for a modest flat, which is HK$16,551 (US$2,121). Last year, home prices were nearly 21 times the gross annual average income for a family. As I have often heard in Hong Kong, you could buy a French chateâu for what you pay for a flat in Hong Kong skyscraper.
 
The same is true for spaces rented by small business owners. The stratospheric prices make profits impossible and everything ends up in the hands of the new and voracious companies from China or elsewhere.
 
The government in Hong Kong is also very rich: it has a financial reserve in foreign currency of US$425 billion ($3.3 trillion). No other government in the world can boast of so much wealth. Yet, there are no investments for social policy. 
 
The miserable minimum wage has not been raised, there has been no improvement for pensions, nor for school and health systems. And, as mentioned, real estate speculation has not corrected. Observers note that in Singapore (a city comparable to Hong Kong) the government supports social housing in a more effective way.
 
The third question concerns young people, the main protagonists of the protests. The vast majority of them know that they will never be able to afford a home, that they will never have a business on their own and their every effort will serve to enrich the rich.
 
They perceive the 2047 deadline when Hong Kong’s autonomy ends, as already anticipated and that it will impact their lives and the lives of their children. They have expectations, thoughts, angers and hopes that the governments of Hong Kong and China not only do not listen to, but do not even exist. I repeat: what is most striking in this dramatic story is the abysmal distance between the sentiment of the young people and the authorities.
 
This is why I reject the rhetoric, frequent in the narrations of Hong Kong events, on the “patience by the leaders of Beijing” towards the unruly children of Hong Kong. “How long will Beijing be patient?” 
 
What an irresponsible and inadequate way to describe what is happening in Hong Kong! We should rather ask the reverse!
 
It is also irresponsible to evoke the possibility of an armed intervention by Beijing, as if this were a possible or inevitable outcome. Evoking military solutions is functional to the repressive policy of an illiberal regime (thanks to Ilaria Maria Sala for having drawn attention to this point).
 
The situation is difficult, indeed dramatic. But this is not the first time that Hong Kong appears to be on the brink of its end. Hong Kong has recovered from other crisis. 
 
In 2003, Hong Kong overcame the SARS epidemic and the proposed national security bill (Article 23). In 1967, it overcame the very serious crisis caused by the Cultural Revolution riots. In 1945, Hong Kong rose again after the tragic Japanese occupation that brought hunger, death and destruction.
 
The bishops and the faithful are committed to praying, to offering shelter to those in danger, to assisting those affected by the unrest. Despite everything, we continue to hope for a wonderful Hong Kong.