Hong Kong has experienced more than one-and-a-half centuries of British rule and was constantly used by the United States and the West to encircle, contain and isolate the People’s Republic of China. There are powerful anti-communist and anti-China forces in Hong Kong as well as many outside spies and saboteurs to boot. There have always been deep doubts on the part of Beijing about whether this highly open city will continue to be a hidden danger and threat to national security after its return to the motherland.
Long before the reunification, Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of the policy of “one country, two systems”, had warned Hong Kong residents more than once not to allow Hong Kong to become a base of subversion against the mainland after reunification, otherwise, the central government would have to intervene. In an important speech delivered in Hong Kong on July 1, 2017, President Xi Jinping laid down the bottom lines of the central government and issued a stern warning: “Activities that endanger national sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government and the authority of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or use Hong Kong to infiltrate and destroy the mainland all infringe upon the bottom lines and must not be allowed.” In October 2022, General Secretary Xi Jinping solemnly declared in his report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) that Beijing would “resolutely crack down on the anti-China and seditious forces in Hong Kong, and resolutely guard against and suppress the external forces interfering in Hong Kong affairs.
Compared with the past, Hong Kong residents are now increasingly able to understand or concur with Beijing’s concerns about Hong Kong turning into a base of subversion
To prevent Hong Kong from becoming a subversive base that can be exploited by hostile forces at home and abroad, but at the same time responsive to the concerns of Hong Kong residents, Beijing allowed Hong Kong to formulate its laws to maintain national security according to Article 23 of the Basic Law. However, under the interference and opposition of internal and external hostile forces, Hong Kong has not completed the legislation according to Article 23 so far. Moreover, until lately, the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for maintaining national security are not complete, the pattern of “patriots adminstering Hong Kong” has not been fully established, “executive-led governance” had not been established, Hong Kong residents, especially young people, had weak national identification and loyalty, and domestic and foreign hostile forces were rampant and went to unusual lengths to wreak havoc on the city. In this precarious situation, Hong Kong could not effectively shoulder the responsibility of safeguarding national security.
Since the reunification, especially in the past decade or so, Hong Kong has become a place where hostile forces at home and abroad continue to incite struggles and turmoil. From 2019 to 2020, unprecedentedly serious turmoil broke out in Hong Kong, forcing the central government to act decisively to formulate and implement the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL), making up for Hong Kong’s deficient capacity for safeguarding national security.
However, even so, the hidden danger of Hong Kong as a national security threat is far from being eliminated. On July 16, 2021, Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, admonished at a seminar held in Beijing: “At a new stage where the priority of governance is moving from order to prosperity, everyone must be soberly aware that the anti-China and seditious elements still harbor sinister conspiracies, external forces have never stopped containing China’s development, and Hong Kong still faces severe situations and challenges in maintaining national security. Hong Kong society should cherish the hard-won good situation and unite to defend national security and maintain Hong Kong’s stability.”
On April 15, Director Xia delivered a keynote speech at the National Security Education Day held in Hong Kong, and once again warned: “Although the Hong Kong version of the ‘color revolution’ failed to succeed, it, however, is a ‘scar’ that can never be erased in Hong Kong’s history and is our eternal pain. Some people want to erase this painful memory, but it is impossible. It is a wake-up call forever hanging over our heads. We should always be on the alert.” He specifically cautioned that though “Hong Kong society seems to be calm now, in fact, there are surging undercurrents. The root of the chaos has not been eradicated, and the foundation of order still needs to be reinforced. We must always be alert to the possible resurgence of street violence, to the ‘soft confrontation’ that is covertly fomenting chaos, and to be alert to the flow of overseas insurgent activities back to Hong Kong. Particularly, some anti-China activities to disrupt Hong Kong under the guise of so-called human rights, freedom, democracy, and people’s livelihoods are extremely deceptive and must not be taken lightly.”
In retrospect, the reason why Hong Kong has not done a good job of safeguarding national security is closely related to the long-term weak national security awareness of Hong Kong residents. One of the reasons for this is that the prolonged period of British rule and “colonial education” is not conducive to strong national awareness. Many Hong Kong residents are prone to identify more with small groups such as family, relatives and friends, and have a limited sense of social belonging, let alone a sense of national identification and responsibility.
The second reason is that before and after the founding of the PRC, many people with implacable animus against the CPC flocked to Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland. Since then, Hong Kong has been shrouded in fervent anti-communism. Since the PRC was created by the CPC, many people's anti-communist consciousness “automatically” morphed into resistance to the PRC and even to their compatriots on the mainland. Under British rule and at the forefront of the Western camp’s encirclement and containment of China, Hong Kong residents were endlessly instilled with extremely biased and vicious anti-communist and anti-China propaganda from the West and internal anti-communist and anti-China forces. The education promoted by the British in Hong Kong was explicitly or implicitly centered on “de-Sinicization”, “Westernization” and “anti-communism”.
Many Hong Kong residents not only lack the awareness of safeguarding national security but also interpret national security as tantamount to “maintaining the security of the CPC”. As a result, the concept of “national security” has become taboo, making these people even more resistant to assuming responsibility for national security. The more serious reason is that some Hong Kong residents, especially those with a high level of education, have been indoctrinated with Western values and believe that ending the rule of the CPC and putting China on the path of “Western-style democratization” is to the best interest of the Chinese nation. Not only are these people unwilling to safeguard national security, but they are also even willing to become allies of external anti-communist and anti-China forces. Inevitably, in such adverse circumstances, not only has Hong Kong failed to complete legislation according to Article 23 of the Basic Law, but it has also lost the will and courage to take action to safeguard national security.
Today, the good news is that the changes in the reality of the past decade or so have had a huge impact on the mentality of many Hong Kong residents. One of the conspicuous effects is their political awakening, especially in their respect for the country, increased national security awareness, and sense of responsibility for safeguarding national security. Since the reunification, especially in the past decade or so, Hong Kong has experienced unprecedented turmoil and disruption, making people fully aware of the unscrupulous and sinister attempt of Western and local hostile forces to undermine Hong Kong’s prosperity, stability and rule of law. They are more aware that Hong Kong SAR has become a pawn used by internal and external hostile forces to contain China’s rise, trying to use the city’s turbulence to imperil China’s security and stability. More and more Hong Kong residents now recognize that Hong Kong has become a hidden danger and threat to national security, and they realize that if Hong Kong is allowed to become a base of subversion, not only Hong Kong's prosperity and stability will be gone, but also “one country, two systems”. More and more Hong Kong residents, therefore, believe that safeguarding national security is in their fundamental and vital interests.
Second, the US and the West are haunted by the “specter” of China’s rise and are going to unusual lengths to suppress, isolate and contain China. For a long time, the US and the West have had the illusion that Hong Kong will play a role in spurring China to embark on “peaceful evolution”. However, as China continues to advance on the road of Chinese-style modernization, they become disillusioned. In their eyes, Hong Kong has morphed into an “accomplice” to China’s rise and must be dealt with. In the past few years, the central government has brought order to Hong Kong by enacting and implementing the NSL, thoroughly reforming Hong Kong’s electoral system, and significantly curbing the space of operation of internal and external hostile forces. After the sinister plot of internal and external hostile forces to wrest control of Hong Kong through violent upheaval was exposed and smashed, the US and the West no longer treat Hong Kong differently from the Chinese mainland, but instead do their best to discredit and harm Hong Kong. These developments have prompted more and more Hong Kong residents to believe that they and the country share a common destiny and must depend on each other.
Third, after the implementation of the NSL, Hong Kong has restored the rule of law, stability and order, and can thereafter concentrate on promoting development. Many Hong Kong residents consider themselves the beneficiaries of the new political order. At the same time, they do not see that their human rights and freedoms have been compromised. Accordingly, public support for the NSL and other national security laws has been consolidated and grown.
Fourth, Hong Kong residents are increasingly inclined to appreciate and affirm the achievements of the PRC and contributions of the CPC to the rise of the nation, leading to a palpable rise in national consciousness and respect for the CPC. They, therefore, do not want to see the security of the PRC and the CPC threatened and instead become more willing to safeguard it.
Fifth, many Hong Kong residents understand that the situation in the Taiwan Strait would eventually result in serious conflicts between China and the US, including military clashes. And Hong Kong cannot stay out of the US-China tussle. Hong Kong residents are certain that in such circumstances the US and the West will step up the use of Hong Kong to endanger national security, especially in the fields of finance, commerce, culture and information, and will also double down their pressure on Hong Kong.
Finally, after Beijing has suppressed Hong Kong’s violent insurgence, the internal and external hostile forces in Hong Kong have been subjugated, and it is difficult for them to promote heresies that would hamper the promotion of national security awareness or instigate actions that would thwart further national security legislation in the city.
All of the above are vivid examples of the impact of reality education, and its overall effect is to significantly enhance the national security awareness of Hong Kong residents, especially their realization that national security is indeed severely threatened by the US and the West and that Hong Kong will be used by the US and the West as a chess piece to contain and isolate their motherland. Because of this, compared with the past, Hong Kong residents are now increasingly able to understand or concur with Beijing’s concerns about Hong Kong turning into a base of subversion. This newly arising national security awareness in Hong Kong has brought forth an auspicious atmosphere for safeguarding national security and undertaking national security education that has never been seen since the reunification.
The author is a professor emeritus of sociology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a consultant of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.