China’s top leader Xi Jinping delivers his grand speech to mark the end of the ‘two meetings’ in Beijing. Somewhere out there in the sea of faces in the Great Hall of the People are several dozen Hong Kong delegates trying hard not to fidget or look at their watches. Just another hour (or maybe two, or perhaps three), and they will finally escape to the airport and get back home to freedom.
In past years, members of the Hong Kong delegation managed to juggle these annual patriotic ‘political’ duties with having a life. The aging shoe-shiners of the CPPCC would turn up at enough of their consultative committee’s sessions to look dedicated, and spend the rest of the time with the city’s reporters – similarly bored at the stage-managed proceedings. The more eager members of the NPC would make a point of being seen awake and with their right hands raised as required at least two days in a row before spending more time at restaurants and karaoke. The tycoons pressganged into the charade would often get away with just two days in Beijing (much of it on the phone in their hotel rooms), then sneak back to the office for a day, then returning to the nation’s capital for another two.
Not this time. Many of the Hong Kong representatives have been stuck up there for 15 days now. Attendance at functions and presentations has been compulsory. The pointless interminable ritual is no longer just a show. The ceremonial stuff has become more militaristic and nationalistic, with creepy Communist salutes instead of flowers on the podium. With their counterparts in the Mainland elite being disappeared, investigated, purged, imprisoned or shaken-down, it is dawning on the Hongkongers that under Xi, being a Beijing loyalist is going to become more serious.