Kong nibbles the hand that feeds
it By Kent Ewing
KONG - Fifteen years after the handover of Hong
Kong from British to Chinese rule, it wasn't
supposed to be like this: ever-rising resentment
against mainlanders and their authoritarian
leaders, nostalgia for the once-maligned British
of the colonial past and now, at least some
observers claim, a Taiwan-style independence
What, if anything, can the
Chinese leadership do to win the hearts and minds
of Hong Kong's 7.1 million people?
is no question that Hong Kong's return to the
motherland has brought the city a raft of economic
benefits, not the least of which is the hordes of
nouveau-riche mainland tourists who spill across
the border every month to wine, dine, shop, shop
some more. As tourism
from cash-strapped Western nations has dropped,
mainlanders have picked up the slack, buying
everything from designer clothes to jewelry to
luxury penthouse apartments.
the central government in Beijing has been busy
turning Hong Kong into an offshore trading hub for
the Chinese currency, the yuan. The economic
favors never cease.
In return, Hong Kong
has chosen to bite the hand that feeds it - with
anti-mainland groups organizing street protests
and an advertising campaign against the "locust"
invasion from the north that they claim not only
creates higher prices and shortages of goods for
local residents but also threatens the city's
unique blend of Western and Chinese culture. They
argue that the "one-country-two-systems" formula
upon which the hand over was based is under
assault from a rapidly advancing "sinofication".
One group, the Hong Kong Independence
Movement, has gone so far as to launch an Internet
campaign calling on the city to secede from China,
although exactly how that could be done remains,
to say the least, problematic, and the movement's
smattering of cyber support hardly constitutes a
serious challenge to central government
Yet leave it to those
paranoid authorities to make a mountain out of a
molehill and turn a small, motley group of
netizens into a menacing movement. Actually, at
this point, it is former officials, not present
ones, who have been sounding warnings about
pro-independence forces in Hong Kong, with the
Global Times, a state-run tabloid noted for its
jingoism, also taking notice.
Lu Ping, a
former director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs
Office who served at the time of 1997 handover
that made the city a "special administrative
region" of China, has been the most blunt.
"These guys who advocate for Hong Kong
independence are sheer morons," Lu wrote last
month in a letter to the editor of the South China
Morning Post, the city's leading English-language
daily. "Deprived of support from the mainland,
Hong Kong will be a dead city. Do they know where
the water they are daily drinking comes from?"
Lu's rhetorical question makes the
not-so-subtle point that, if Hong Kong should
consider independence, China, supplier of most of
the city's drinking water, could turn off the tap
and leave it high and dry.
Just in case
his letter wasn't sufficiently understood, Lu
followed up last week with an e-mail to the paper
in which he stated: "Those who do not recognize
they are Chinese should look at what is written on
their passports or they should renounce their
Lu added that China,
as a nation of 1. 3 billion people, "would not be
bothered" by losing a "handful" of secessionists.
Coarse and undiplomatic though his
language may be, at least the blustering Lu kept
the so-called independence movement in
perspective; indeed, it is a relative handful of
people who are calling for Hong Kong to sever its
ties with the motherland, and no one with any
common sense in the city is listening to them.
Why, then, draw undue attention to this fringe
group in an angry and insulting letter to the
editor and, then again, in a subsequent e-mail
that just adds fuel to the fire?
former deputy at the liaison office, Chen Zuoer,
who recently stated that "the rise of a
pro-independence force in Hong Kong is spreading
like a virus", has managed to lose both his
rhetorical composure and his perspective.
Chen, visiting Hong Kong in September to
promote a book he has written on the negotiations
that led to the handover, seemed particularly
upset by large protests against a proposed
mandatory moral and national education curriculum
for Hong Kong schools (since unceremoniously
shelved) during which some demonstrators were
filmed carrying the Union Jack and the Hong Kong
Chen also expressed alarm
over a protest sign - aimed at cross-border
mainland traders who buy goods in bulk in Hong
Kong then sell them for a profit in China - that
read: "Chinese go back to China."
called such displays "heartbreaking", asking: "Why
did some Hong people wave flags of a foreign
country during the protests. Does waving colonial
flags help resolve matters? Those flags should be
sent to history museums rather than be displayed
in the streets."
Chen may be a retired
bureaucrat who no longer holds any official
standing in Hong Kong, but it appears the city's
chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, remains a fan.
Just last week, describing the 1997 handover as "a
matter of fact" in a speech before the city's
mini-parliament, the Legislative Council, Leung
said that Hong Kong residents should not use the
British or colonial flags as symbols of protest.
Since many of those residents see the
unpopular Leung as a Beijing puppet, his remarks
almost certainly guarantee that those flags will
feature even more prominently in future
An editorialist in the
Global Times also took on the issue of Hong Kong's
recalcitrance, dismissing talk of an independent
city-state as an "empty slogan". Describing those
who advocate secession as resentful of China's
economic rise and rapid development, which had
robbed them of a "sense of superiority", the
writer stated: "What they really yearn for is the
gap between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland
that existed [prior to that development]."
In the face of China's "continuous rise",
calls for independence for Hong Kong will
inevitably come to an end, the editorial
concluded. It's not often that the Global
Times actually makes a valid point, but in this
case the daily font of unfettered nationalism may,
for once, be on target.
While the phrase
"continuous rise" reminds us that the paper's one
and only purpose is to promote China no matter the
circumstances, it is an unmistakable reality that
any calls for Hong Kong to become an independent
city-state like Singapore are, as the paper says,
a false proposition.
cannot and will not happen. Even if - by some
wild, unforeseen turn of events - Hong Kong should
attempt to declare independence from China,
Article 18 of its own constitution allows Beijing
to intervene in the city to quell any unrest that
"endangers national unity or security and is
beyond the control" of the local government and
thus gives central authorities the power to quash
such a move.
So, in the end, there isn't
much to talk about. Yet the insults fly from both
sides of the border as, 15 years after a forced
family reunion, the clash of cultures continues.
Kent Ewing is a Hong Kong-based
teacher and writer. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter:
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