China’s ‘recolonisation’ of Hong Kong could soon be complete

China’s ‘recolonisation’ of Hong Kong could soon be complete

For Beijing it makes sense to crush the things that former colonists think made the city successful

As Prince Charles sailed out of Hong Kong’s harbour in the early hours of July 1 1997, he lamented the symbolic end of British empire after 156 years of colonial rule in the city. “Whatever may be thought about colonisation nowadays, Hong Kong was a pretty remarkable example of how to do it well,” he wrote in his journal aboard the soon-to-be-decommissioned royal yacht Britannia.

The British empire had ended long before that night. But in many respects, decolonisation in Hong Kong was not fully realised until July 1 2020, when Beijing unilaterally imposed a national security law on the territory, essentially outlawing all forms of dissent.

The law has mostly achieved its short-term goal of quashing the biggest eruption of unrest on Chinese soil since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. The collateral damage to Hong Kong’s role as a global financial centre is hard to quantify, but is likely to be extensive.

Beijing’s belated decolonisation — perhaps recolonisation is more apt — of the territory provides a fresh reminder of the UK’s much-diminished place in the world. The Chinese Communist party has made clear it has no intention of honouring the international treaty it signed with the UK in 1984, which promised a high degree of autonomy to Hong Kong for at least 50 years.