Hong Kong handover protests Anthony Wallace/Getty Images

Hong Kong’s Handover Hangover

As the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the UK to China approaches, political challenges are threatening to upend what was once a financial miracle. With the city divided along political, economic, and generational fault lines, Hong Kong needs a new vision for managing its future.

BANGKOK – Earlier this month, an estimated 100,000 Hong Kong residents gathered in Victoria Park, to mark the 28th anniversary of China violent repression of pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. As the South China Morning Post noted, the event in Hong Kong was the only large-scale public commemoration of June 4, 1989, permitted on Chinese soil. And, to the attendees, the Hong Kong demonstration reflected growing frustration, not only with China’s leaders, but also with their own.

On the surface, little has changed since the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to China 20 years ago. But, in reality, China now exercises near total control over Hong Kong’s management.

China no longer believes that local leaders can competently govern the Hong Kong “special administrative region,” no matter how sympathetic they are to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). China learned that lesson from the tenure of Tung Chee-hwa as Hong Kong’s chief executive from 1997 to 2005, and that of Leung Chun-ying from 2012 to 2017. Neither was able to earn the support of Hong Kong’s residents.

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