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Dispersed Hong Kong diaspora linked by ‘common destiny’ – Health and Lifestyle News – Report by AFR

Looking back on her decision to leave Hong Kong with her family just before the city was handed over from Britain to China 25 years ago, Mary still believes she made the right decision.

“We just didn’t trust the Chinese government,” she told AFP news agency under a pseudonym.

She wasn’t the only one.

The government estimates that hundreds of thousands of people left Hong Kong for a new life abroad in the years leading up to the handover – many citing fears of a future under Beijing’s thumb.

As the area celebrates the 25th anniversary of the handover on Friday, with citywide placards proclaiming “a new era of stability, prosperity and opportunity,” another exodus is underway.

Under the “one country, two systems” principle agreed with Britain, China agreed that Hong Kong would retain a high degree of autonomy and independent judicial power and that the city’s leader would be appointed by Beijing on the basis of local elections or consultations.

Beijing’s introduction of a sweeping national security law has helped fuel a new wave of emigrants around the world and swelled the diaspora of those who feel dispossessed by Chinese rule.

“Hong Kongers in different parts of the world will have different definitions of Hong Kong,” said Fermi Wong, who moved to the UK in 2020. “But we share a strong sense of community with a common destiny.”

“What unites us can be something indescribable, a kind of temperament – I can always spot Hong Kongers walking down a street.”

Maria, now59, has lived in the UK since boarding a one-way flight with her husband and two sons in April 1997.

She quickly adapted to life abroad and was never really homesick.

Years later, however, Mary said she was transfixed when she saw the news of the huge pro-democracy protests that engulfed her city in 2019.

“I watched and cried every night,” she said. “The young people just said how they felt.”

Beijing’s response to the protests — national security legislation designed to quash dissent, as well as electoral reforms that effectively disqualify most opposition groups — has made Hong Kong a place it no longer recognizes.

– vote with your feet –

It was the security law that prompted Wong, who had worked as an ethnic minority advocate in Hong Kong for more than two decades, to leave the country.

Since the law went into effect in 2020, critics say the “one country, two systems” premise has been comprehensively eroded and many of the freedoms promised have been eroded.

“We will never believe in it again,” Wong said.

She was part of the net exodus of 123,700 Hong Kong residents in 2020 and 2021 and one of many who went to the UK.

Since London started accepting applications in 2021, more than 92,000 overseas visas have been issued to UK nationals, with the introduction of the permit explicitly linked to policy changes.

Canada and Australia, which also have “lifeboat programs,” have accepted 47,000 and 8,900 arrivals from Hong Kong, respectively, since 2019.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s main English-language newspaper, even pro-establishment politician Jasper Tsang said Hong Kongers were “voting with their feet”.

The government, however, claims the outflow represents a “normal movement”, with outgoing leader Carrie Lam accusing other countries of “covering up their grasp on talent” with a political subterfuge.

Her successor, John Lee, has warned emigrants that if they leave, they may regret missing opportunities.

But Wong said the city has changed beyond recognition.

“There is still a Hong Kong within a physical border. But it’s not the Hong Kong that overseas Hong Kongers used to live in,” she said.

– borders, people, spirit –

That sense of confusion is shared by Hsiao-lin, a designer now based in Taiwan who spoke to AFP under a pseudonym.

“Actually, I don’t know how to define Hong Kong,” she said. “By its physical limitations? By its people or by the spirit it represents?”

Hsiao-lin originally relocated in 2017 for work reasons, but was inspired by the protests to start an advocacy group to support protesters.

“In 2019 I didn’t have a strong sense of whether I was a Hong Konger – but now, wherever I am, I think I’m a Hong Konger,” she said.

Hsiao-lin is not unique – the political turmoil of recent years has led to a surge in activism among diaspora communities as their networks grow.

According to organizers in four countries who spoke to AFP, there are more than 80 civil society groups around the world run by and for Hong Kongers overseas.

They range from providing immigration services to career development support and political advocacy.

Still, there are concerns among diaspora members about losing touch with Hong Kong as the city changes.

Former student leader Alex Chow, chair of the Hong Kong Democracy Council in Washington, is aware of the distancing that physical distance can create.

He fears that the diaspora will become irrelevant as their homeland is now a place to which many “cannot and will not return”.

So for Chow, the city and its past struggle are his “political motive”.

“I can fight for such Hong Kong, build a free Hong Kong and promote a freer world,” he said.

“At such a level, Hong Kong is an inspiration and an aspiration.”

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