It was the epidemic of 2002-’03 that caught the world in what is now known as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) that started in the southern part of China, got Hong Kong between a rock and a hard place, and from there, its cosmopolitan reach stretched across the planet.
The Ebola epidemic plagues Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and jumped to Lagos in Nigeria, which like Hong Kong is also a cosmopolitan center with its extensive worldwide oil trade and commerce. Nigeria has been assuring the world that it is capable of handling the epidemic within its borders. Bravado or bravura, the world broils in the same heat together especially now that Senegal has joined the fever!
I had malaria in Nigeria in the early ’80s and learned that expats had twice a year at the hospital in their contract as the parasite came calling every six months. In fact, non-human creatures (there are 8.7 million species on the planet) originated HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and other germs and viruses. Humans also developed anti-microbial resistance.
With the outbreak of the Ebola in the Congo (previously Zaire where it emerged in 1976), the global health community finally raised the alarm that every place on the planet be prepared to combat the epidemic. Fatalities are projected to reach 20K before the “perfect storm”—the public health emergency—is subdued.
China has its own tragedies, mostly landslides that devastate communal structures, recent disasters attributed to long-term mining, the frequent quakes that goes with the rain preceding the landslides bars access to many remote villages, particularly in the south and southwest.
But Mother Nature’s convulsive behavior (a bridge under repair collapsed) is not the only cause of China’s distress. If SARS bedeviled Hong Kong in the past, it is its status as a SAR, Special Administrative Region, that captures the evening news; the election of executive officers in the former British colony has got democrats roiled as Beijing weighed in on the nomination process.
Margaret Thatcher thought that Westminster had something to say about the city’s future. Deng just went to receive the return of Hong Kong, thank you! Xianggang has always been a part of China, like Taiwan and Macau. Deng promulgated his political philosophy of “two systems, one country,” which applies to Taiwan as well.
Those familiar with China’s political divisions know that its ethnic minorities are granted autonomous status, not only to promote and protect cultural heritage but also to indigenize symbolic positions. Many in Hong Kong forgot that their political status is that of an administrative region, not an autonomous one.
China’s promise to England was that Hong Kong’s economic basis remains the same for the next 50 years. The Occupy Central movement that we encountered New Year in Victoria Island pushes for universal suffrage including the right to nominate anyone, with some vocally egging independence from China.
We shall not speculate on who is stoking the fire. HK never had universal suffrage. We used to say before the return of Victoria Peak to Beijing that political decisions were made with malt juice at the HK Jockey Club by taipans rather than British colonial officials. Nor does HK have a Hakka Lee Kwan Yew to chart an independent course, and Beijing in disinclined to move in that direction.
Inversely, Beijing supports the anti-Occupy forces that started a million signature campaign to oppose disruptive activity in the island’s economic system and marched a 190,000-warm-body presence in a street demonstration for peace and democracy in August.
Familiar with powerful old Koumintang forces (9 of the top 10 richest men in the Philippines are of Chinese descent) and Taiwan, we can only speculate where Occupy Central in HK is getting its support. Shenzhen, Chongqing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai in reform-and-opening-up drive started by Deng Xiao Ping drove many in China to exit to other parts of the world, including SF, Vancouver, NYC, and HK. There is a strong undertow of despair, desperation and frustration within 85 percent of China’s population, some in the 15 percent opening Caribbean bank accounts that Xi Jinping is now trying to unravel.
Whether HK SAR becomes China’s political SARS remains to be seen. One of the illusions China needs not take too seriously is the western media’s painting of it as the second largest economy in the world exhibiting the fastest economic growth. Maybe it is factually accurate, but a huge portion of the mainland population do not experience the wealth it supposedly has, and most of it is in paper tied to a boom in construction annually predicted to burst. To Beijing’s credit, it has managed to manipulate the numbers. I know. I just became a reluctant home owner in a new development area.
The vitality of trade and commerce is never far from the specter of a few filthy rich, and that is China’s present SARS! Some in HK are whining and lots in Manila will oblige to stoke the fire.