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Posts with tag: Hong Kong

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Hong Kong Burning

Posted by Iain on Nov. 22, 2019, 2:58 p.m. in Hong Kong

 

During my latest trip to Hong Kong, in the midst of the worst crisis in decades, everyone watching the news from home has been asking me if ‘it is safe there?’. With hand on heart I tell them that over the past two months, much of it spent in Hong Kong, I have seen very little of the protesting and have continued to feel overwhelmingly safe. (I spend a lot of time in South Africa, so Hong Kong isn’t going to scare me!).

I have been pretty busy inside the hotel, run off my feet with consultations for the past fortnight, as people grapple with the decision to stay in Hong Kong or leave - if New Zealand or Australia wants them. 

However in the evenings I have been heading out to eat which can be a bit of a challenge. In this city where eating out and shopping, is living, many of the shops and restaurants have been closed. The streets, usually teeming with people, are eerily quiet.

But not on my last night. Monday gave me a very close up view of the revolution/uprising/tearing down…call it what you will.

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the centre of much of the ‘action’ last weekend and into the earlier part of this week is only a few blocks from my hotel and has been at the centre of events last weekend and into the early part of this week.

My wife and I went out for dinner and while there we noticed an ever increasing number of mask clad people, heading in the direction of the University.

Curiosity overcame me. I had to follow them.

What I saw was both disturbing and sobering and yet in a strange way, promising.  I was in the middle of a very potent display of people power.

This uprising, for that is to me what it seems, is not centrally organised, yet thousands upon thousands of people, young and not so young, some dressed in black which has become the uniform of the protestors and others dressed straight from their office jobs, were setting up road blocks on all the major roads leading to the University in an attempt to both block and distract the police who had about 200 protestors trapped inside. They were hoping to help them to escape.

Human chains, many hundreds of people long formed down side streets and they passed food, water, umbrellas (the closest thing most have to a defensive shield) and more disturbingly, empty glass bottles. In alleyways these bottles were being filled with petrol and flour, fabric stuffed in their necks, petrol bombs at the ready, being prepared in their thousands ready to be hurled at the police.

Pavers along Nathan Road (for those of you that know Hong Kong this is a major dual carriageway in Tsim Cha Tsui in Kowloon) were ripped up and stacked along the roadway. Bamboo poles were strapped together with plastic ties and laid across the road, rubbish bags lay strewn everywhere, wooden pallets were piled up to block intersections, traffic lights smashed to the ground for use as additional barriers and in many places plastic wrap (cling film) was stretched across the roads like giant spider webs.

At one point two armoured police vehicles drove past me down the road crashing through the barriers. No sooner had they passed when the roadways were once again filled with people reconstructing the barriers.

As I got closer to the University (but still a block or two away - I was curious, not stupid) I became aware of my eyes starting to sting and my throat became irritated and clawed. The cause was invisible tear gas wafting through the streets from near the university. I realised I was the only one not wearing a mask. I couldn’t stay too long because tear gas works. It is not very pleasant.

As I made my way back toward he hotel, thousands were glued to their cellphones along every street.  Messages were being passed on, phone by phone, what was happening around them and where to head next. Updates on where the police and armoured vehicles were heading was being relayed to thousands of cellphones with the hit of the ‘send’ button. Large groups would suddenly head off down another side road and disappear into the neon lit night.

As I returned to Nathan Road, for several blocks down toward the harbour and back toward Mong Kok, the wide footpaths now resembled children’s sandpits, all the pavers had been ripped up and stacked on the road. Protestors worked feverishly, some clad in black with face masks and helmets, others making no attempt to hide their identity and joining in. Multiple, mini Stonehenges for block after block.

Around 500 m away I saw a fire that seemed to be growing stronger. I assumed as I made my way toward it that it was a shop — many Chinese owned banks and shops associated with mainland China are being vandalised. I presumed one had been torched.

As I got closer I realised what I was looking at was a very large bus — ablaze from front to back (pictures on my Instagram account if you follow me on southern_mannz). Clouds of acrid black smoke billowed into the otherwise still air. No sign of the fire brigade - I suspect they were fighting fires elsewhere and they probably having trouble getting through the barricades but after about ten minutes they arrived to deal with what, without hyperbole, was an inferno.

I wouldn’t describe Nathan Road as a war zone but it was a very clear statement of intent. There is a significant percentage of Hong Kongers that might not agree with the economic destruction of Hong Kong or the destructive and violent methods of the protestors (I have some sympathy for the police) but who are quietly very supportive of what is happening.

The ball I think is very much in China’s court. And China does not fancy ‘losing face’.

My suspicion is a curfew (reported last weekend but that quickly disappeared offline) is likely the next step but I doubt it will make any difference. Already most people aren’t venturing out after dark. Shops and restaurants are largely closed.

This is a movement that either ends in independence from China or Hong Kong will burn. The economy is already in free fall.

This is a wildfire, the passion in the streets and among the thousands I witnessed on Monday night is palpable. I really do get the feeling deaths are expected and death will come.

Already the Hong Kong Police are talking about using ‘live bullets’ in defence and I fear it is inevitable. We know what the Chinese did in 1989 to that generation wanting greater freedom.

I don’t believe there is any turning back now by the protestors. They have little to lose.

Not everyone agrees with what the protestors are doing but it occurred to me as they lined the roads in their thousands or huddled in small groups they are deadly serious about protecting their freedoms and liberties that they have always taken for granted but which their (China) Government now wishes to take away.

As I wandered through all of this mayhem and destruction it occurred to me that no Government, in the end, can survive the will of the people if enough people choose to bring a country to its knees.

No Government can impose laws and ways of thinking on people that do not want to bow down to that ‘newthink’.

Not even China.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

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Tags: Hong Kong

Hong Kong Descends into Despair

Posted by Iain on Oct. 18, 2019, 2:35 p.m. in Hong Kong

 

What a difference six months makes. I’ve been in Hong Kong with my colleague Hamish and over 12 days we delivered three seminars (all fully booked) to several hundred people. We then consulted with scores of families seeking more stable futures in Australia or New Zealand - and all got a plan to get into one of these two countries. As the ‘push factors’ ramp up on them, I am going to be really interested to see how many of them take the plunge. Already some have. I expect many more as events continue to spiral downwards in Hong Kong.

Demand hasn’t just spiked; it’s gone off the charts. Understandably. People are frightened for their future.

As protestors increasingly vent their frustration over their demands not being met, Hong Kong is going into economic free fall. Its inhabitants are nervous whether they agree or disagree with the five demands of the protestors (and it needs to be said not all are supportive). Visitor numbers are down 40% and retail sales in August alone went through the floor with a fall of 23% in that one month alone. Normally packed malls were eerily silent, many of the shops closing at 6pm owing to lack of trade and fear of disruption. The streets which are so often packed with people are now strangely quiet. Despite the apparent news blackout in China over the ‘troubles’, mainland visitors are staying away in their tens of thousands.

A recent change of tactic has seen the protestors attacking and vandalising mainland Chinese connected or owned businesses. Their anger is now spreading beyond the police and Government targets.

I watched two weeks ago a small group throw a Molotov cocktail into the locked entrance to one of the underground train stations before heading down the road and smashing the windows of a Starbucks. Never thought I’d see the day but I think it points to how tenuous all societies really are. It doesn’t take much to cause the bonds that unite, unravel. For those who don’t know why these would be targeted, the Government owns the public train system and the Government is being targeted. The owner of the Starbucks franchise in Hong Kong has links to the China.

Even a year ago no one could ever have imagined it would get to this point. All eyes are now on the Chinese Government. In many ways the protestors are taunting them.

What will the Chinese Government’s next move be?

I suspect that they are not going to tolerate this for too much longer and the protestors are playing into their hands.

If their actions were nonviolent I think they’d have more support than they already do. I don’t think waving American flags is doing them any favours (and somehow I don’t expect Donald Trump is going to come riding to the rescue either).

One has to be very careful what one says and writes these days about Hong Kong but I just do not understand how any Government can reasonably expect a generation that have grown up with the freedom to think what they like and express whatever opinion they like to all of sudden start towing some authoritarian line from what, to them, is a very foreign Government. Being muzzled and having a (local) Government that does what it is told by its Chinese masters despite the one country two systems principle that is meant to last another 27 years, is asking too much. I have a deal of sympathy for them.

When Hong Kong was handed back in 1997 I don’t imagine anyone thought China would be as China is today and everyone thought with globalisation and their mad rush to embrace capitalism, they’d become more like Hong Kong. Who ever thought that the opposite would happen? In hindsight 6 million British citizens were sold down the river and a significant number are openly calling for revolution.

I do not condone the vandalism or violence. But I understand the sentiment.

So many young people are losing hope. And when hope is gone and a generation has nothing to lose, there can only be trouble. Hong Kong has a Government by the rich and for the rich. Adding to the mood of the youngsters is this inequality is getting worse - Hong Kong has an entire generation for whom home ownership, as an example, is an unachievable dream. If you have no economic stake in your own country, then the temptation to burn it down is very real. Lessons there for more than just Hong Kong I’d suggest.

The fact is this younger generation can see that the future, signed away in 1997, has arrived. They have little left to lose.

So they are going to fight. And it is going to get very nasty I suspect.

The feeling in Beijing is there is no way China can let Hong Kong go its own way. It has a very big and diverse country to try and hold together. I suspect they’ll crush Hong Kong because the alternative could be unrest in so many other parts of the Middle Kingdom. If it means turning the place back into a fishing village, it’s a price I suspect the politicians will be willing to pay. Hong Kong’s economy as a percentage of China’s is relatively small these days.

Stuck in the middle of it all the other day I was asking myself how I would feel if the people of Te Wai Pounamu (South Island) of New Zealand decided they wanted to break away from the rest of the country. Would I say no? Should I? Do I have the right to? If they wanted their own country because they felt their values and aspirations were different from those of us in the north, what would it really matter to me? Who am I to stand in their way?

I decided I would be comfortable if they did.

Why does China fear the people of Hong Kong charting their own future? If their system is so beloved what do they have to fear from those in Hong Kong?

Those familiar with Hong Kong appreciate that while they have a common heritage with the mainland they are not the same people any more than I am Scottish. Same ancestors but that different recent history has moulded us into different people with much in common but not the same.  Hong Kong values have been moulded by the British influence of trade and thought. They are having to give that up as China subsumes the territory politically, culturally, linguistically and commercially.

A political system only survives when sufficient people believe it delivers what the majority wants and needs.

If I were the people of Hong Kong though I’d stop the violence and stop the vandalism. I think Greta Thunberg has shown the young people of today a potentially powerful way to effect change - as did Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi all those years ago in India - go on strike.

Imagine if every Friday Hong Kong went on strike. Schools, trains, public transport, Government workers, shop workers - everything grinding to a halt. Interesting to see what might happen then.

But for everyone’s sake, keep it non violent.

Until next week 

 

Iain MacLeod

>> Southern Man on Instagram (New Zealand)
>> IMMagine Australia & New Zealand on Instagram
>> IMMagine Australia & New Zealand on Facebook


Tags: Hong Kong

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