Hong Kong: Holding high a national flag, Carey Chan jogged down the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui on the afternoon of October 1 to celebrate the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, something he dared not do last year.
“I would have been ‘lynched’ by black-clad rioters then,” he said. “But now I can express my opinions freely without the fear of being beaten up.”
Chan’s sense of freedom and safety is in sharp contrast to the situation a year ago when “people were jittery about simply going out.” Chan said his memory of last year’s National Day was rioters throwing petrol bombs, torching entrances of Mass Transit Railway stations, and vandalizing public and private properties. “But now Hong Kong is safer and calmer thanks to the national security law.”
The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) was passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on June 30 this year. It took effect at 11:00 p.m. local time the same day upon its promulgation by the HKSAR government in the Gazette.
Dan Albertson, a freelance writer and translator from the United States living in Hong Kong, recognized the beneficial significance of the national security law. “The law has made life much less unpredictable in Hong Kong,” he said.
More than a year ago, Albertson, in his 30s, left Chicago to start a new life in Hong Kong, but only found himself unwittingly caught in violent protests and acts of destruction, vandalism and overall mayhem. His neighborhood was ransacked almost every weekend during the peak of the upheaval.
Order is “essential” and “always a good thing,” Albertson said. “Now there’s no need to worry about whether train services will suddenly stop or be altered, no need to fear being caught in the middle of something volatile.”
With the National Day and the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival falling on the same day this year, celebrations were held across Hong Kong with parades of double-decker buses and fishing vessels. Festive banners were spotted hanging from small corner stores to grand skyscrapers. During the holiday, restaurants, wet markets, shopping malls and amusement parks were all packed with people and, once again, the air was filled with joy.
The national security law has been effective in restoring stability so far, Chief Secretary for Administration of the HKSAR government Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said in a video message delivered to the 45th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council which was held in Geneva, Switzerland, on September 15.
Advocacies of “Hong Kong independence” and collusion with external forces have visibly subsided, as have acts of violence and blatant defiance of law and order, he said.
While the Hong Kong police have taken resolute law enforcement actions against rioters, the daily lives of the vast majority of Hong Kong residents have remained unaffected.
“There are no mass arrests of dissidents and no shutting down of media … People accused of committing crimes of rioting, unlawful assemblies and other public order offenses continue to be granted bail or acquitted by the courts,” Ronny Tong, a member of the Executive Council of the HKSAR, said.
“There are no additional restrictions on marches, rallies or other protests save those necessarily imposed by reason of COVID-19,” Tong said in an online article published by local media.
Hong Kong people continue to enjoy and exercise their rights and freedoms as guaranteed by the Basic Law just as before, he said.
While violent social incidents and the COVID-19 epidemic plunged Hong Kong into a deep economic recession, observers believe the resumed peace and order will create a solid foundation for Hong Kong, known as the “Pearl of the Orient”, to recover quickly and regain its glory under “one country, two systems”.
Hong Kong’s gross domestic product (GDP) plummeted 9 percent year-on-year in the second quarter of this year. The jobless rate remained high at 6.1 percent during the June-August period.
In mid-September, the HKSAR government announced its third round of anti-epidemic fund worth about 24 billion Hong Kong dollars (about 3.1 billion US dollars) in an effort to fight COVID-19 and bail out an economy reeling from the epidemic.
Taking into account the latest relief package, more than 300 billion Hong Kong dollars have been allocated this year to help businesses and residents weather out the hardships caused by months of social disturbances and the ongoing epidemic.
Financial Secretary of the HKSAR government Paul Chan predicted the new relief package will support the economic growth by more than 5 percentage points.
Meanwhile, the third wave of the epidemic has largely been brought under control in Hong Kong thanks to the swift response of the HKSAR government, months of stringent social distancing policies among residents and restrictions on inbound visitors. Hong Kong’s anti-epidemic efforts have also been underpinned by the support of the central authorities in launching mass COVID-19 screening and building new medical facilities.
As global tourists will no longer need to worry about their safety in Hong Kong, the tourism sector and the wider economy will gradually recover after the epidemic abates, said Yiu Si-wing, a Hong Kong lawmaker and tourism industry insider.
Hong Kong-based economist Liang Haiming, meanwhile, expects a stable Hong Kong to make better use of its unique advantages and blend in the national development opportunities, while the Belt and Road Initiative and the development of Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area will provide incessant energy for Hong Kong’s development.
Backed by mainland’s market and capital, Hong Kong will remain the financial center favored by international capital and talents, Liang added.
From April 21 to Sept. 19, Hong Kong witnessed a capital influx worth more than 140 billion Hong Kong dollars as investors cast a vote of confidence in the global financial center.
Hong Kong’s equity market is still appealing to enterprises. Bottled water giant Nongfu Spring and restaurant company Yum China listed in Hong Kong in September, with more industry leaders expected to follow suit, including Ant Group, the parent company of China’s leading mobile-payment business Alipay.
During a National Day celebration address, HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam said social unrest hit Hong Kong’s economic and social development but thanks to the support of the central government, Hong Kong is gradually getting back on track.
The HKSAR government still has a lot to do both in combating the epidemic and in restoring the economy in the coming year, but with the strong support of the central government and the concerted efforts of all sectors of the society, Hong Kong will surely meet the challenges, she said.