Blurred Hong Kong border with China is a sign of things to come

From the hill to northernmost In Hong Kong, where Jasper Low stood, the border with China was obvious – a narrow river separating farmland and fish ponds from the glittering skyscrapers of the metropolis of Shenzhen.

Friday marks the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s transition from British to Chinese rule.

While the view from the hilltops of Lok Ma Chau suggests that Hong Kong remains decidedly distinct from mainland China, the area is quickly being included in Beijing’s plan for Southern China.

And as the border blurs, the lack of public consultation has done little to alleviate the lingering discomfort some Hong Kongers feel living on the mainland’s doorstep.

“25 years after the transfer borders is becoming more and more blurred,” said Lo, a pro-democracy politician from the border zone.

The softening of the border worries many Hong Kongers.

And it was one of the catalysts for massive democratic protests in the financial center three years ago, a movement originally sparked by an attempt to allow extradition to mainland China.

Beijing’s subsequent repression only accelerated the takeover of Hong Kong.

– Security agents roam free –

The integration of the population and economy of Hong Kong with mainland China has been going on for several decades.

Between 1997 and 2021, more than 1.1 million people migrated out of China under a limited quota “unilateral permit” scheme, nearly a seventh of Hong Kong’s current population.

Mandarin was increasingly introduced into schools, causing resentment among those who felt that the city’s distinctive Cantonese culture was being eroded.

Hong Kong’s borders have also changed, most notably in the 2010s with the introduction of the Chinese high-speed rail into the city.

Part of the terminus in Hong Kong was under Chinese jurisdiction, meaning that it applied the mainland’s legal system controlled by the Communist Party.

Beijing’s introduction of a sweeping national security law to curb dissent following the 2019 protests further weakened the legal wall between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Under the law, which was introduced directly by Beijing rather than through the legislature, mainland security agents are now free to operate in Hong Kong without being subject to the city’s laws.

Beijing says it can now also judge the worst national security breaches in mainland China.

And the Covid-19 pandemic has further blurred the boundaries.

While the border has been largely closed in line with China’s strict coronavirus regulations, mainland medics have been granted exemptions to work in Hong Kong hospitals.

Construction crews have also been sent across the border to build emergency medical facilities, even building a new bridge to Shenzhen to make their journey easier.

– ‘Power imbalance’ –

The Hong Kong government is now planning to transform the border region with a two-decade plan that will put Shenzhen integration at the heart of economic development in the city’s northernmost districts, shifting focus away from Hong Kong’s glitzy Victoria Harbor.

The HK$100 billion ($12.7 billion) project, dubbed the “Northern Megacity”, involves the construction of a new metropolis near Shenzhen, a new hub in Beijing’s “Great Bay Area” to create China’s Silicon Valley, connecting Hong Kong and several cities. in the neighboring province of Guangdong.

The government says the new metropolis will create 650,000 new jobs as well as much-needed new homes in one of the world’s least accessible cities.

Veteran urban planner Kenneth To said he thought the government’s vision was far from coherent and deplored the narrow circle of stakeholders that dominated development discussions in Hong Kong.

“The imbalance of power is a concern,” he told AFP.

But Jack Lam, a mobile phone accessories salesman who lives in the border area, is more optimistic.

“As the population grows, you can expect further development, there will certainly be more people starting businesses,” said the 35-year-old.