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Settling in UK may be less attractive than imagined

By Rachel Cartland | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-10-29 09:00
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People make their way amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Nottingham, Britain, Oct 28, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

A quaint piece of old-fashioned British etiquette asserted that a well-bred person appears in the newspapers only three times - on the occasion of his or her birth, marriage and death.

If Hong Kong were a person, it would be failing this test, since lately it has been constantly making headlines all around the world.

One of the occasions for this is the offer from the British government of terms for settlement in the United Kingdom for holders of British National (Overseas) passports.

There are currently in Hong Kong almost 300,000 holders of such passports, although potentially almost 3 million if all who were eligible-those who have been Hong Kong identity card holders since before 1997-applied.

We may assume that the small fraction of those eligible who had gone to the trouble of obtaining the passport felt at least some degree of affinity with the West, and with the United Kingdom in particular. For many years, it all seemed meaningless, since, although these passports were usable as travel documents, they did not offer citizenship or a path to citizenship.

It is likely that some of those who hold these documents or are eligible for them are considering whether they should further explore this new possibility. Whatever thoughts are alluring them toward a new life on the other side of the world, there are undoubtedly many other things that are not so favorable also being weighed.

First, any Hong Kong resident who moves may encounter the reality of racism. It is totally unjust but nevertheless possible that Asian appearance alone will lead to attacks and abuse. Second, there are basic economic questions to be faced with all the headaches of finding employment in an unfamiliar setting in an economy that, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is itself confronting the likelihood of the worst recession within living memory. Third, there will be the pain of all that would be left behind.

Of course, the principal pains would be the loss of the daily relationships with friends and family, but there would also be the coziness of one's native language, the culture of home and the beauty of the city left behind.

Perversely enough, those Hong Kong residents who are pondering such a momentous decision will be scared into taking that leap if they are told, explicitly or implicitly, that they will be condemned for doing so. There is much wisdom in the old proverb, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar". To see over and over again that life in Hong Kong is tranquil and civilized and will be allowed to remain so will be a more convincing argument, in addition to all the emotional attachments to one's home, than the fear and uncertainty caused by threats as to what might happen if the UK's offer is accepted.

If, 100 years from now, Earth is still a planet inhabited by human beings, they will surely look back on the 20th century with particular bemusement. They would see that brilliant scientists and technicians had reached the acme of achievement, but what that amounted to was having developed the ability to blow everything to smithereens. What would surely seem even more shocking would be how the years after that awesome invention of the nuclear bomb were squandered. Although it was not used again, everything else reverted to "business as usual".

In 2020, the long list of existential problems is plain to be seen - a pandemic threatening the world, environmental degradation so severe that it is predicted to lead to the collapse of the age-old systems that sustain life, and poverty and inequality that doom millions of children to stunted lives of hardship as soon as they have taken their first breath.

In a rational world, the human race would surely be recognizing a common interest in confronting common dangers and pooling resources to find and implement strategies to deal with them. What we see instead is a traditional struggle for hegemony and a refusal to accept that an opposing nation is not faceless but a jigsaw of individuals with more similarities than they imagine in their hopes and fears for themselves and their families.

It would be good to rediscover the concept of "the moral high ground", the place where the fight is simply an effort to demonstrate the overwhelming attractiveness of one's society rather than to bash the other guys into the ground. Perhaps we might begin within our own society by embracing differences, whether the visible ones of status, ethnicity and so on, or those invisible ones of other choices and ways of thinking.

The author is a Hong Kong-based commentator and a former assistant director of social welfare.

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