The Jumbo Floating Restaurant was a landmark in Hong Kong for nearly half a century. The palatial restaurant, with its pastiche Chinese architecture and neon lights perfectly encapsulated the territory’s beguiling balance of East and West, tradition and modernity. It was a feature backdrop in numerous Hong Kong films.
However, forced to close amid the stringent COVID-19 lockdown policies of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) and denied financial support from her government, the floating temple to Cantonese gastronomy was towed from its mooring in Aberdeen Harbour this month by its owners with its planned destination not released. On June 19, the vessel reportedly encountered inclement weather and “capsized” near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) in the South China Sea, the owners said.
It might be regarded as fitting that a restaurant specializing in seafood cuisine would have its final resting place among the exotic fish and crustaceans that once graced its tables, but the Jumbo’s demise is also a metaphor for Hong Kong’s sinking fortunes and the hastening erosion of the former colony’s unique identity as it prepares to mark 25 years since its return to China on July 1, 1997.
Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, who presided over the handover, has said that the territory’s residents enjoyed significantly more freedom under British rule than they do under the Chinese Communist Party.
An exodus of talent and young people is under way. Britain last year granted 97,000 residency applications to Hong Kong holders of British National, Overseas passports. Large numbers are also emigrating to other countries, particularly Australia and Canada.
In Taiwan, the National Immigration Agency last year granted residence permits to 11,000 Hong Kongers.
The territory last year lost nearly 90,000 of its population of 7.5 million and more than 100,000 headed for the exits in February and March when its most serious wave of COVID-19 infections hit, Hong Kong government figures showed.
The freedoms afforded to Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” framework for nearly two decades had enabled the territory to be the regional headquarters for global companies and Asia’s pre-eminent financial center.
However, Beijing chipped away at those freedoms, culminating in the imposition in 2020 of a sweeping National Security Law, which signaled the beginning of the end of its independent and impartial judiciary, which was modeled on the British system.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong in January released a survey that said one in 20 companies had plans to relocate their global or regional headquarters out of Hong Kong.
The territory’s incoming chief executive, John Lee (李家超), a former senior police officer turned civil servant, has stuffed his Cabinet with security personnel and said that his administration would establish a “new emergency mobilization mechanism” to beef up the executive’s security enforcement powers.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council yesterday warned that Lee might establish a surveillance mechanism in the territory similar to mainland China’s all-pervasive system of monitoring and censorship.
If Hong Kong is placed behind the mainland’s Internet censorship machine, there will be a stampede for the exits by foreign businesses, whose lifeblood is the free flow of information.
Just halfway through China’s guarantee to preserve Hong Kong’s independent system for 50 years, the territory’s future has never looked more bleak.
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