I arrived back in Hong Kong airport yesterday with General Secretary Xi Jinping.
It was the first visit of his nine-year tenure as supreme leader of China but I live here.
We arrived at the same time but were not travelling together.
Fortunately for the General Secretary, he did not, like me, fly Cathay Pacific or he would still be on the tarmac in Beijing. He would have arrived five hours late and may have missed the carefully stage-managed greeting from delirious school children, waving flags in a suitably synchronized fashion.
No doubt, the Presidential jet served up something more appetizing than stale peanuts and greasy stir-fried chicken because Xi and his glamorous first lady looked far more composed than I did on their arrival, judging by the glossy images shown on the relentless TV news bulletins.
While my ID card was being rejected by the automated immigration gate in the arrivals hall at Chek Lap Kok, the most powerful man in the world, unless you count Donald Trump, (and very few do) was speeding to town in an old-style cavalcade with motor cycle outriders. The scene was in the finest traditions of deluded dictators of third world tin-pot dictatorships. Xi was only missing some Rayban sunglasses and a pseudo paramilitary uniform adorned with copious medals. Papa Doc en-large.
The walkway from IFC mall to the central ferry piers was fenced off with metal barriers and officious police notices but his hotel was several kilometers away in Wan Chai. Stoic and pragmatic Hongkongers side-shuffled past each other through the narrow passageway left for the public. Apparently, the risk of the General Secretary being embarrassed by the fleeting sight of protestors was simply unacceptable. The newspaper I work for carried a full page sponsored feature on page five. It was headlined ‘one country, two systems enriched by Xi’. Yes, really.
In my two-week absence to help prop up my elderly parents and see family and friends, the fare on the Hong Kong Express had increased by 15% and this wonderfully rich, diverse and tolerant city seems to have descended into 1970s Haiti.
There is lots of press coverage of course and no shortage of pompous political analysis. Few want to mention though that the city that served as a haven for the oppressed and starving for over 150 years, today witnessed TV coverage of an unelected dictator greeting his goose-stepping troops from a glossy green military jeep. Perhaps the General Secretary thought he was in North Korea.
During its brief and imperfect modern history Hong Kong has welcomed (or at least tolerated) many political dissidents. Ho Chi Minh, Jose Rizal, Sun Yet Sen and Edward Snowden, amongst others. Today the same city welcomed Xi Jinping, the man who locks dissidents up with impunity and the city was treated to a chilling glimpse of its future.
At least the police only locked up the pro-democracy demonstrators for 28 hours. Papa Doc would have had them imprisoned, tortured and summarily executed.
But let’s face it, after 20 years, it’s still early days.