SINGAPORE - Some Hong Kongers think the city can be autonomous from China, but pinning hopes on an illusion is dangerous because "it must lead to tragedy", said former foreign minister George Yeo.
After the "one country, two systems" principle by which Hong Kong is governed lapses in 2047, the next version of that system is entirely in China's hands, he told an audience of students and teachers from various schools at Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) on Wednesday (July 24).
Mr Yeo said that in describing the situation to friends in Hong Kong, he drew an analogy between Hong Kong and the Monkey King Sun Wu Kong in the Chinese classical epic, Journey To The West.
"The monkey was very lively, sometimes very naughty. He would leap 10,000km and still, he cannot leave the Buddha's palm."
"Hong Kong cannot leave the Buddha's palm. If one day, the Buddha decides to put a ring around the forehead of the monkey, then the monkey will have to take note," Mr Yeo said.
In the epic, Sun Wu Kong wore a magical circlet around his head that he could not remove. His master, Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang, could chant a sutra to constrict the circlet in order to discipline the Monkey King.
Mr Yeo was speaking on a panel moderated by Mr Warren Fernandez, editor of The Straits Times and editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings’ English/ Malay/Tamil Media Group, as part of the Hwa Chong Centennial Insights series.
The former foreign minister had retired last month as chairman of Hong Kong company Kerry Logistics Network, a post he took up in 2012.
During the dialogue, a student from China asked Mr Yeo why he thought the people of Hong Kong have a spirit of resistance and why they act in a way that cannot solve their problems.
In response, Mr Yeo said that when Hong Kong was still a British colony, the British "kept that separate character for their own purposes".
Hong Kong's education system did not encourage the city's people to be patriotic towards mainland China, he added.
"I have been told by some young friends who say that in primary schools and high schools in Hong Kong, almost all the teachers are anti-mainland. For a student leader in any of the universities to win elections, you need to be anti-mainland. This has seeped into the mentality of the Hong Kong people."
Mr Yeo said Hong Kong's society is going through a "wrenching period", with families, friends and political parties divided.
"If people focus on what they want Hong Kong to be in 2047, they will find a common ground. In the meantime, stick to the rule of law, be completely opposed to violent behaviour and illegal behaviour on all sides."
He also said Hong Kongers need to work with Chief Executive Carrie Lam, even if they do not like her. Protesters had called for Mrs Lam's resignation over her handling of the extradition Bill.
"You still need her to solve the problems of housing, healthcare and education because the mainland will not allow her to resign. If the mainland accepts her resignation, then Hong Kong becomes even more ungovernable," Mr Yeo said.
In his keynote address, Mr Yeo had said he believes Hong Kong still has a "great future" because it is useful to China.
That is, provided neither Hong Kong nor Macau tries to change mainland China, he added.
"As long as they're separated, that's fine, but if it becomes a point of infection, that's a different matter. They will have to extinguish you. This is the reality," he said.