The South China Morning Post reports that 100,000 Mainlanders who are adult children of Hong Kong citizens are likely to take advantage of their right of abode here, which takes effect today. Those of us with long memories will recall the great trauma of 1999, when the courts read the law as meaning what it said and confirmed this right, prompting the government to warn that this would result in 1.67 million ravenous human locusts descending on the Big Lychee and stripping it bare – thus necessitating an ‘interpretation’ (essentially an invisible amendment) of the Basic Law by Beijing to decree that no such right existed.
This set the precedent, since employed on constitutional issues, for Beijing to declare the meaning of the Basic Law to be whatever is politically convenient on the day regardless of the mini-constitution’s wording. It was Hong Kong’s first significant reminder that it was now in a one-party state in which nothing, including a Special Administrative Region’s Court of ‘Final’ Appeal or the law in general, may override the ruling power. When officials declare the importance of rule of law in this city they neglect to add that all bets are off if the Chinese Communist Party feels it is affected.
Most Hongkongers, still bitter at a previous influx of Vietnamese boat people, were pleased to keep the hordes out; meanwhile, the fight to enable the separated families to reunite continued, led notably by the Catholic Church. Then the Hong Kong government revisited the whole issue and decided that actually we could use some human locusts after all. There was the famous Aging Population Menace, which threatened civilization as we knew it. And Chief Executive Donald Tsang had a thing about headcounts and seemed to feel running a city with a seven-digit population was beneath him; Hong Kong needed 10 million people, he said at one point, to be a real international financial centre. (Before anyone says ‘New York’ or ‘London’, don’t forget this is the same demographics genius who said our air quality must be OK because we have a long life expectancy.)
Thus it came to pass that it was OK to let at least certain sizable cohorts of the grown-up mainland offspring of Hongkongers into the city after all. The SCMP quotes its favourite source, ‘a person familiar with the policy’, as saying that of the 169,000 eligible perhaps 60% would come, forming a ‘healthy, youthful influx … aged between 30 and 50’. These new, healthy and youthful production units are, it seems, earmarked for the construction, catering and security industries, which suggests that they may not be the highly skilled, creative, entrepreneurial talent who will transform Hong Kong into the globalized, new-age, digital, whiz-bang knowledge economy we hear so much about.
The paranoid will see this as yet another Beijing-inspired measure to swamp the Big Lychee with all things Mainland and patriotic and dilute the decidedly non-healthy and non-youthful colonial cultural residue that – some say – festers in the natives’ hearts and minds. Cynics will spy a rather obvious move to counteract future upward pressure on the new minimum wage by increasing the labour pool by another 100,000 happy to slave away on HK$28 an hour for years to come. The pragmatic will wonder where these newcomers will live. Something will have to make way to create space for all these new builders and dishwashers. Turning to page three of the SCMP, it all becomes clear…