WIf you ask the English teacher Sarah why she Hong Kong wants to leave, she talks about one of her lessons. She describes an episode that says a lot about how the poison of dictatorship is slowly but steadily seeping into Hong Kong society. According to the curriculum, Sarah is supposed to teach her students the ability to think critically. One of her students, 16, criticized China’s zero-Covid policy. Another stood up and yelled at him, “You mustn’t criticize the Chinese government.”
In the past, Sarah would have explained to the screamer that everyone had the right to their own opinion. Instead, she said, “Of course we all support the Chinese government.” Otherwise, her student might have blackmailed her to the school board. “I was so ashamed,” Sarah says later in a conversation in one of those large shopping malls where Hong Kongers flee from the heat. It’s hard to teach students something you don’t believe in yourself.
Sarah and her husband, a social worker, are emigrating to the UK this summer. They are among 540,000 Hong Kongers who obtained a “British Overseas Passport” after the mass protests of 2019. The document entitles them to a work permit in the UK and they can become British citizens after six years. The two are part of a large wave of emigration. Australia, Canada and Taiwan are other popular destinations. In Australia, the number of immigrants from Hong Kong has more than tripled in a year.
Politicians, families and young couples are fleeing
The exodus began two years ago with the introduction of the National Security Act. The law is so vague that no one knows exactly what else is allowed in Hong Kong. The first to flee were the activists and politicians, who feared arrest. Families followed who didn’t want their children being told lies at school. And young couples who saw no future after the protest movement was crushed.
Last went the foreigners and highly paid professionals who face the strict Zero Covid Strategy no longer wanted to do. Since the beginning of this year alone, around 130,000 more Hong Kongers have left than entered Hong Kong, according to statistics from the customs authorities. It is now part of the greeting ritual in Hong Kong to ask why you are still there.
All of this will of China Head of state Xi Jinping will keep silent when he will deliver a keynote address on the city’s future next Friday. That day marks the 25th anniversary of the return of the former British crown colony to China. Xi will cite creating “stability” in Hong Kong as one of his major achievements. Next, he wants to strengthen “the emotional bond” between Hong Kong and the rest of China.