On the border of Hong Kong, a window to an integrated future in China

From the heights of Lok Ma Chau Village, in the far north of Hong Kong, the border with mainland China is clearly visible: a narrow river separates farmland and lakes from Shenzhen’s glittering skyscrapers on the other side.

Friday marks the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from the UK to China, and while you might think from the Lok Ma Chau Hills they are still two different realities, this rural area is part of a major project in Beijing. country.

The boundary between the two regions is becoming more and more blurry and discomfort is evident in some of the region’s Hong Kong residents, unenthusiastic about living at the gates of mainland China.

Concern that Beijing would swallow it all up contributed to the massive pro-democracy demonstrations of 2019. The spark that lit the canister was a law allowing extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China.

The measures taken by the communist force and the loyal local authorities to eliminate dissent in this region increased the feeling of greater control by Beijing.

Hong Kong’s population and economy have been integrated into mainland China for decades.

Between 1997 and 2021, more than 1.1 million people from mainland China immigrated to Hong Kong through a “one-way permit” and limited quota system. This represents the seventh current population of this international finance center.

Mandarin has gained a place in schools, helping critics erode the distinct Cantonese culture and language of this region and neighboring mainland China.

Even Hong Kong’s borders have changed, especially in 2010 with the expansion of the high-speed rail network from the rest of China to the city.

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A portion of the Hong Kong terminal has been passed to Chinese jurisdiction, as the legal system controlled by the Communist Party is enforced there.

And a tough national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 to appease the opposition eroded the legal firewall that had hitherto existed between the two regions and allowed mainland security forces to operate freely in the city.

– China’s Silicon Valley –

The covid-19 pandemic has made the Chinese imprint visible again in this city, which in theory should maintain its freedoms and rights that characterize Britain’s era until 2047.

Despite closing the murky borders in the name of Beijing’s “Covid-Zero” strategy, local authorities opted for the same restrictive approach and internationally isolated a city that has boasted of being “the world’s city in Asia”.

At the same time, doctors from mainland China obtained permits to work in hospitals in Hong Kong, which also received construction workers to build emergency health facilities and a bridge to facilitate such transfers.

The Hong Kong government plans to turn the border area in the next 20 years into a huge economic development project.

Dubbed the “Capital of the North” and with a budget of about $13,000 million, the project foresees the construction of a new mega-city in the north of the territory.

The government claims this will create 650,000 new jobs and housing in one of the world’s most expensive real estate markets.

The project is part of a larger plan to integrate the “two special administrative regions” of Hong Kong and Macau into a giant nine-city district in Guangzhou, China’s most dynamic province, including Shenzhen and Guangzhou itself.

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– ‘Power imbalance’ –

City planner Kenneth Tu is concerned about the inconsistency in the government’s plan and regrets the small circle that decides to develop Hong Kong.

The city lost its prominent opposition figures in Beijing’s campaign to silence dissent, and to wonder who would represent the citizens of the border region.

“The imbalance of power is worrying,” he told AFP. People, villagers, and small farmers will not have a chance to express themselves.”

Jack Lamm, a cell phone accessory seller who lives near the border, remains optimistic.

“When the population increases, we can expect more development, and there will be more people setting up businesses. That’s for sure,” says the 35-year-old.

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