The great emigration dilemma｜Stephen Vines
As growing numbers of Hongkongers contemplate fleeing the white terror sweeping through the SAR, the Quisling media have been mobilized to spread tales of the dire fate that awaits would-be emigrants, especially those contemplating a move to Britain.
Britain is the obvious target of this effort because of Beijing’s fury over the granting of citizenship rights to some 1.9 million people entitled to British National (Overseas) passports.
However other countries, notably Canada and Australia and, to a lesser extent, the United States have opened the door wider to would be Hong Kong immigrants.
Officially both the SAR government and their bosses in Beijing do not acknowledge the outflow aside from frequently denouncing the BNO scheme. They are also silent on the matter of whether their actions have forced so many people to uproot themselves.
Behind the scenes however there is clearly concern and the usual suspects in the media are doing their best to discourage emigration.
Beijing’s friendly media outlets pump out reports highlighting the difficulties faced by immigrants to Britain who are confronted with bureaucratic hurdles, high costs and lack of employment opportunities. Moreover there is the problem of Britain’s notoriously bad weather and marked lack of Hong Kong-style efficiency.
Added to this is a fuselage of commentary over anti-Asian racist attacks, particularly in the United States where the Covid crisis has brought out the worst in the worst people who are keen to blame anyone with an Asian face for the pandemic.
There is no doubt that these problems are real and there are indeed racist issues confronting some but not all Hongkongers overseas.
Although these are real issues, the repeated depiction of an emigration hell misses the point. On the contrary it underlines the more appalling truth that things have got so bad in Hong Kong that people are prepared to make enormous material sacrifices to escape what they see as being a relentless attack on the freedoms and way of life they cherish in the SAR, not forgetting the very real fears parents have over their children’s education under the new order.
Hongkongers are not stupid and understand that emigration involves all manner of problems. Indeed many people accept that leaving Hong Kong entails, at least initially, a drop in their standard of living and a difficult period of adjustment in an alien society. Yet they still want to leave.
Everywhere in the world immigration is a big decision, never taken lightly but in many instances it is taken by people who can’t wait to get out of the places where they are living because they see the prospects of a brighter and more prosperous future somewhere else. Many Hongkongers however lead comfortable lives and tend to be very reluctant to leave and will only do so under extreme pressure.
Hong Kong’s long history of migration from the Mainland means that an awareness of the implications of leaving home is embedded in the local DNA. The bulk of the people who fled across the border following the establishment of the PRC did so to escape dire poverty and a life-threatening regime.
The majority of those now seeking to leave Hong Kong are not notably poor but they do fear the regime. As they contemplate their departure they tend to be looking not so much as the advantages of their homes but at the lesser of two evils. On the one hand they fear life in an increasingly authoritarian state, while on the other they fear venturing into the relatively unknown conditions of life in a new country.
If the government is at all serious about persuading people to stay it will have to do a lot more than ramping up the propaganda about the uncertainties of immigration. As matters stand it is spending far more time threatening to jail anyone who steps out of line, it is busy throwing people out of their jobs and creating an overbearing atmosphere of uncertainty as to what will come next. The only positives seemingly on offer consist of constant talk about glorious opportunities in the Greater Bay Area.
In other words as people weigh up the balance of whether to go or stay they are finding an almost aggressive attempt by the authorities to tip that balance in favor of emigration.
Meanwhile every time Carrie Lam appears on television more and more people start looking at their packing bags, wondering whether they are big enough.
(Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist, writer and broadcaster and runs companies in the food sector. He was the founding editor of ‘Eastern Express’ and founding publisher of ‘Spike’. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. He hosts a weekly television current affairs programme: The Pulse”
Vines’ latest book Defying the Dragon — Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published early next year by Hurst Publishing. He is the author of several books, including: Hong Kong: China’s New Colony, The Years of Living Dangerously — Asia from Crisis to the New Millennium, Market Panic and Food Gurus.)
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