With China’s recent state visit, our eyes were once again opened to the superstate’s quest for global economic power, and Xi Jinping’s tour helped Britain to realise that what China wants, China gets. There might have been some British opposition to their human rights record, but Jinping and his wife still ended the trip with the deals they came for. The Chinese are unstoppable. And not just in their own country, but amongst their neighbours as well. Living in Hong Kong, I am all too aware of the firm grip Beijing has on our population of seven million.
Last year’s Occupy Central was the result of proposed changes to the Hong Kong electoral system, whereby China decided that it will vet potential candidates running for leader of Hong Kong. Once three have been pre-selected, the citizens of Hong Kong will be allowed to ‘democratically vote’ for whichever candidate they so choose. Hardly democratic, and arguably no better than the current system. This veneer of democracy, which is masking the reality of a communist iron fist across the border, has not gone unnoticed by our generation. The 100,000 protesters that brought the city to a standstill were almost entirely Millennials, and they became the driving force of democratic change.
However, I recently returned to the UK for a few weeks and wondered if the plane had even left Asia. It occurred to me that Britain under EU rule is virtually identical to Hong Kong under Chinese rule. But what’s more alarming is that very few realise it. Both the EU and China have unelected leaders, they scare the public into believing the UK and HK would fall into economic turmoil without them, and they fund (and therefore control) large parts of the media. In fact, the biggest difference between the two is that at least Hong Kong actually benefits economically from China, whereas in Britain, we are the mugs dolling out the money.
As a Millennial, I by no means see my generation as perfect. We are often reckless with our time and are care-free with our money. We aren’t as sensible as our parents were at our age, and we certainly aren’t as patient as our grandparents were. But if we have one great strength, it’s that we are democratic. We believe in equality of opportunity across all levels of society, we believe in fairness, and we follow our hearts, often at the expense of our heads. We have shown outpourings of charity and aid in response to the Syrian crisis. And if we invest, it’s in communal projects rather than in huge corporations. We praise social enterprises which have a positive impact on individuals, and care little for monetary success. So why are we so blissfully ignorant that we are living under a regime that is less democratic than China?
Regardless of what politicians may think of us, I do not accept that we are apathetic as a generation. Last month’s Tory party conference in Manchester displayed a range of emotions from Millennials; there was heckling, protesting, and complaints about spending cuts. We were fired up and we made our voices heard. Individually, the recently abandoned tax credit cuts would have been hugely significant to working families, given that £1000 a year can disappear on heating bills alone. But as a national budget, the £4.5bn that Osborne intended to cut is barely a third of the £12bn EU membership fee we pay ever year, and that’s before all the other ‘invisible’ costs of membership. The NHS has even bigger cuts… ahem… I mean efficiency savings of £20bn coming its way, which caused junior doctors to strike for the first time since 1975. That’s a huge sum, but one that could be saved in an instant if we stopped funding the endless streams of red tape in Brussels. When so many of our generation are being affected by spending cuts, why are we not standing up to the people who control over 50% of British laws: the monster that is the EU?
In contrast, Hong Kong’s financial growth and stability has in part been thanks to its Chinese neighbours. As the superstate’s economy has grown, it has created millionaires (and billionaires), who have become tax residents of Hong Kong. With an appealing top rate net tax bracket of 15% compared to China’s 45%, Hong Kong has been welcoming Chinese residents through its doors who pay tax and contribute to the retail economy, but who don’t regularly use the public systems of schooling, health care or transport. They don’t even compete with local residents for jobs. The result? The lowest earners of Hong Kong pay no tax at all. Not a penny. And with the first tax bracket starting at 2%, there’s every incentive to go for promotion.
Having children increases your tax allowance considerably, as does looking after your elderly parents. The wealthy pay for their healthcare, so that the low-earning residents can receive free treatment. There is no doubt that Hong Kong has benefited from China financially, and although there has been recent opposition to the level of democracy it offers, for the most part the two territories have a working relationship. Yet rather than following this example and utilising the EU financially so that we can look after our own low earners, Britain seems to be using the EU as an excuse as to why we have no control over the budget. Westminster is hiding behind EU laws which politicians claim are out of their hands, purely so that they can shy away from taking responsibility for their actions.
The media is currently flooded with articles about both Tory and Labour politicians being ‘out of touch’ with the everyday Briton; Cameron is too privileged, and Corbyn is utterly clueless. But no one is more out of touch with Britons than the man responsible for our financial and democratic welfare: the President of the EU Donald Tusk. Polish Prime Minister until 2014, he earns £74,000 a year more than our Prime Minister, speaks barely any English, and not a word of French. He couldn’t be less aligned to the everyday Briton if he tried. Most significantly, Tusk wasn’t even elected. His appointment was the result of 28 heads of the EU member states ‘voting’ for him, and even this process is not representative of a country’s size or influence. Britain, with 12.6% of the EU’s population, has the same voting power as Croatia (with 0.84%), Slovenia (0.41%) and Estonia (0.26%).
When 28 people are appointing a man to take charge of 508 million Europeans, it signals the true failure of democracy, and we pay billions of pounds a year for the privilege. Even China has allowed a 1,200 strong body to appoint Hong Kong’s leader, and he is only representing 7.1 million citizens. The EU may not inflict violence upon its people as is suggested of China, but that does not mean that it is not a sleeping lion, waiting to rear its angry head when a member state doesn’t conform. It has bullied Greece financially, just as it is now bullying Turkey at a time when the refugee crisis is pushing countries to their limits. So why are we Millennials not standing up to the superstate to fight for our democracy, to help keep British funds in Britain, so that we can help British people?
Last year when Occupy Central was overrunning Hong Kong, it was the Millennials who were the driving force. For 79 days they fought for their rights, for democracy. Imagine Oxford Street, Regent Street and Piccadilly being closed for 79 days. Politicians would have no choice but to start listening. With democracy comes improved social mobility and a sense of freedom which fosters a sense of purpose. This has once again been underlined by the EU’s lack of democracy which is thwarting our financial potential. Last year the oppressive iron fist of Tusk demanded we pay £800m extra in EU contributions as a result of our economy ‘over-performing’. What incentive is there for Britons to continue working through the tax credit cuts only for the apparent excess to go to those abroad who don’t fancy employment? Even Poland has turned against the Union and voted in the Eurosceptic party Law and Justice. Surely alarm bells must be ringing!
If the EU is not supporting us financially, and is not democratic, what is it offering? Britain has overtaken America as the G7’s top country for conducting business, so now more than ever, we are in the driving seat and we can stand up to it. As Millennials, we need to show that we are no longer the ‘forgotten generation’ but that we are a democratic generation. We can follow Hong Kong and become a generation that values both the nation’s democratic independence and its economic potential.