To stay in Hong Kong or go? Beijing's latest ruling reignites the dilemma
While the city has seen violent protests and the imposition of the national security law in the past year, Beijing's ruling last week overrode all of Hong Kong’s mechanisms designed to ensure a high degree of autonomy
Too many times of late, I've heard Hongkongers pondering the question: should I stay or should I go? For me, it has been a moot point; this city is too newsworthy for a journalist to turn away from.
Besides, I wasn't entirely sure to what degree freedoms and rights were actually being eroded, as claimed by democracy advocates and foreign governments, whether local officials or Beijing was in charge or unfounded fear was driving emotions.
The decision last week by China's top legislative body that led to the disqualification of four opposition lawmakers has given clarity, and now that all-important query has returned to haunt me.
The pan-democrat members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council, the city’s top body keeping checks and balances on the government, were just the latest in a string of opposition figures removed or barred from office.
Hong Kong opposition lawmakers to resign en masse over Legislative Council disqualifications
After months of turmoil that involved protests, violent clashes between demonstrators and police, university campus stand-offs, city paralysis and then, on June 30, the imposition by Beijing of a far-reaching national security law, the decision would hardly seem groundbreaking.
But the ruling from the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress overrode all the mechanisms the city has in place ensuring a high degree of autonomy, as promised by its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
By giving the go-ahead for their dismissal on the grounds that they had broken the law or been unpatriotic by failing to uphold oaths of office, local legislation and courts were ignored.
All those earlier ructions were bearable and, from a journalistic standpoint, exciting. While people I know with young families packed their belongings and moved elsewhere, I stood my ground; my sons are both adults and have their own lives.
Hong Kong has been my home for three decades and although I have numerous overseas options, they are unfamiliar territory after so long away. I am one of the lucky ones, of course – most Hongkongers do not have such choices.
The national security law changed everything, giving sweeping powers to police to act against those advocating or seeking independence for Hong Kong, refusing to recognise the state’s sovereignty over the city, promoting foreign interference in local affairs, or committing acts that endanger national security.
What you should know about China's new national security law for Hong Kong
In a climate where throwing a tin can on a road during a protest can get a 55-day jail term – as was the sentence from a magistrate for a man accused of obstructing a public place – there is an obvious fear factor when going about everyday life.
Any object can be classified as a dangerous weapon, including a cigarette lighter, house keys and even the white cane I and other visually impaired people use to get around. Littering or jaywalking could be perceived as unpatriotic.
As a non-Chinese resident, I also feel vulnerable, wondering exactly what "foreign interference" means. In the case of the expelled lawmakers, it meant contacting overseas governments to pressure authorities to help their cause of increasing democracy for Hong Kong.
Is "democracy" foreign interference when living in a country that is a one-party state? Is carrying out my job as a journalist – my Western university education having taught me that my role is to point out the mistakes of officialdom to keep it honest – a national security violation?
I believe those questions were answered by the NPC last week. The Communist Party dictates for all the nation, Hong Kong included, what is right and wrong. It cannot be challenged.
So, should I join those parents with talented children who believe this city is no longer a good place to raise a family? Or those businesspeople who see a better future in a freer and fairer country? Or those who plan to emigrate so they can live in the type of democracy they believe they were promised but which Beijing has put out of reach?