Aspiring to take on a career in journalism, I was never incredibly drawn to pursuing it in Hong Kong, where many of my banker/lawyer-hopeful peers have set their sights on since before university. The ongoing protests, however, have given me new reasons for not going back.
My plans for the future have been inextricably complicated by Hong Kong’s souring employment situation.
The protests, formerly against an Extradition Bill, have brought – with sociopolitical disarray – a hostile atmosphere targeting locally-educated graduate jobseekers. Employers – especially banks and firms with strong ties to China – are less inclined to hire the current cohorts of young adults, in suspicion of their involvement with the protests. As Hong Kong students return from studying abroad to an irremediably socially divisive city, they may be faced with a grim – albeit personally advantageous – reality: we will find work easier than our more “threatening” or “politically active” local peers.
However, the economy has suffered collateral damage in the latter half of 2019: Bloomberg reported a recession descending upon the city. With expats and branch businesses moving ever closer towards relocating to Singapore – one of Hong Kong’s main competitors – and other more politically stable countries in Asia, the city’s economic future is pushed further and further into jeopardy.
While contemplating heading back home for work, it’s impossible not to bear in mind the economic uncertainty that my hometown will inevitably face.
While I have the privilege of deciding to stay abroad for as long as I can and right to work without the need for a visa, I am very aware that it is not an opportunity many other students possess. Some have appealed for British National (Overseas) passport holders to be given some of the rights British passport holders have, through a demonstration outside the British consulate during the summer, for example. While this call was supported by politicians such as former Labour MP Chuka Umunna, a formal government response is still pending. Meanwhile, some of my peers in the universities of Birmingham and Cambridge have resorted to fighting for the ever-competitive Masters offers in an effort to stay.
The protests have only strengthened my inclination towards staying in the UK – but that is not to say I will ever forget the scenes that have wrought my home, or that I will ever stop reporting on it. As an aspiring journalist, and with Hong Kong’s freedom of press hanging in the balance, the growing prospect of censorship (which has already begun to manifest through “random” phone searches at the border and the monitoring of private but “potentially threatening” messages) and suppression is a very real fear. Who’s to say that pro-democracy journalists won’t “suddenly disappear”, when China formally seizes the city in 2047? Frontline journalists in the city are routinely assaulted while trying to do their job, and these attacks have only exacerbated over time. Who can be certain of how ruthless authorities can get anymore?
Besides these possible consequences (that may be borne not only by myself, but my family and others close to me too), Hong Kong’s dominant English language newspaper, the South China Morning Post (SCMP), has also been criticised for pandering towards Chinese leadership after being bought by Jack Ma, head of Alibaba.
I believe in committing to the values of journalism – more important than ever in the current political climate worldwide – which would mean rejecting any possibility of being reduced to a mouthpiece for national propaganda. The protests, which have come to define the city, and how they have been handled by the government has only made it even clearer to me that it is not a place where freedom of expression is valued.
What used to be my city has now become a hub for anything possible: the good, and (mostly) the bad. Anyone who returns must prepare for anything to happen, yet I can’t help but begin to believe that the risk won’t be worth it.