Hurrah for Xinhua

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 February, 2004, 12:00am

Although it may make me unpopular in some quarters, I would like to offer my personal thanks to Xinhua for its efforts to provide 'objective and clear' criteria for patriotism. Its public service campaign reached new heights this week with the publication of a blacklist of unpatriotic legislators. Surely the next step will be a demand for a loyalty test for prospective legislators, incorporating these criteria, and a call to investigate unpatriotic incumbents. Beijing is clearly and justifiably concerned that the elections for the Legislative Council in September do not produce a government in permanent deadlock between anarchically minded democrats and an Executive Council struggling to deliver policy.

I am grateful to Xinhua because it has made each of us rethink our identity, our allegiances and our roots, wherever they may lie.

To be sure, Hong Kong's anxieties over patriotism have been little noticed abroad. Perhaps this is the latest manifestation of the world's indifference to the democratic aspirations of a wealthy, complacent society umbilically attached to the world's fastest-growing economy.

Let's just summarise the positives. First, Xinhua has summoned the ghost of former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping as its authority for a set of qualifiers to the Basic Law on the subject of patriotism. It is always good to be reminded of that plain-spoken, far-sighted, complex man, who set China on its head in a couple of bold strokes in 1978 and 1979. Twenty years on, the patriarch of Chinese globalisation still breathes a kind of flexibility and common sense foreign to the stilted rhetoric of Xinhua. 'So long as we all stand on the side of the Chinese nation and help safeguard its general interests, all of us, regardless of our different political views and including those who criticise the Communist Party, can unite,' was Deng's take on patriotism in 1984.

We simply have to assume that Xinhua, in the time-honoured, procrustean manner of state propaganda services, is sending a dual message to the people of Hong Kong. Beneath the blacklist is a subtext that goes something like: 'Get your act together, Hong Kong. Don't play politics with the central government. We have a big job to do, and need to do it together.' How much more effective it would be if Xinhua could use such language.

Another element of closet liberalism that simply jumps off the page is Xinhua's admirable lack of sexism. Women make up nearly half the current blacklist, and as it expands we can easily think of the outspoken, brilliant females who are likely to be added, reflecting the old Maoist adage that 'women hold up half the world'. Again reading deeply between the lines, in putting Emily Lau Wai-hing and Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee on the blacklist along with male legislators Szeto Wah, Martin Lee Chu-ming, and Cheung Man-kwong, Xinhua has paid a backhanded compliment to the prominence of women in Hong Kong, and signalled that it takes their views seriously. Again, there are better ways to pay compliments to Hong Kong's women than by including them on a blacklist, but speaking as a woman, I don't mind if I am seen as a force to reckon with.

Third, Xinhua is keeping Hong Kong's western-influenced media on its toes. For example, a few days ago, Taiwan's witty, feline unofficial representative, the novelist and playwright Lu Ping, asked to meet me, in my capacity as editor of the Post's opinion pages. Sipping chamomile tea in the posh environs of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel's Chater Room, it crossed my mind at least once that Xinhua might view the meeting as prejudicial to China's sovereignty over Taiwan. We talked of our mutual concern about Taiwan's future, as the war of words on both sides of the Taiwan Strait escalates in advance of the March 20 presidential election. From Xinhua's perspective, the meeting might be construed not only as seditious but as yet another example of foreign interference in Chinese affairs. It should, perhaps, include on its agenda loyalty tests for local media and for foreign residents of Hong Kong.

If Xinhua keeps this up, the results are incalculable. Hong Kong may discover that it does indeed have an identity and a soul. As Hong Kong learns what it means to be Chinese, inevitably there will be pain and conflict. Yet there may also be deepening self-awareness and a sense of expanded boundaries as Hong Kong embarks on a course of political evolution that takes China in stride. Ultimately, there will not only be one country, but one system. Hong Kong could play a critical role in ensuring that this one system of the future is transparent, fair and rules-based. Whether Hong Kong takes the challenge is only for Hong Kong to decide.

Edith Terry is editor of the Post's opinion pages