No jackboots are to be seen marching through Hong Kong's sleek shopping malls, but a distinct whiff of totalitarianism is in the air. The tell-tale phrases are on everyone's lips: talk of the need for anti-subversion laws, press controls, strong leadership, of adjusting to Hong Kong's new reality. Everyone looks to the great Northern neighbor for direction and mutters about expediency.
Most of the world lost interest in Hong Kong after 1997 when the "Anschluss" with China did not instantly deliver vast changes. Over the last year or two, however, the pace of integration into the People's Republic of China has quickened decisively.
Life at the South China Morning Post , Hong Kong's leading English language newspaper, and so a visible political gauge, offers a window into what is going on all across Hong Kong's institutions. The atmosphere at the paper began to darken noticeably as one after another of its leading editorial lights was pushed out.
It would be an exaggeration to compare the situation to the way the Nazis took over institutions in Germany in the 1930s, and to how people back then fell in line, because no one is disappearing into concentration camps. Hong Kong remains a rich and prosperous place. Yet the dictatorship in Beijing has made its presence felt, if only through proxies and collaborators.