Jia Qinglin

The tension that won't go away

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 July, 2006, 12:00am


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State leader Jia Qinglin stuck religiously to the theme of economic development and social harmony during his visit to Hong Kong last week. The city could retain its edge in global competitiveness, and avoid the risk of becoming marginalised, only by focusing on economic development, said the chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference on Wednesday.

Noting that diversity was the source of Hong Kong's vitality, Mr Jia called on people to seek common ground - while accommodating differences - to foster harmony in society. Set against the general feeling of political restlessness ahead of last Saturday's rally, Mr Jia could not have made a more thought-provoking appeal.

His calls for harmony came amid the tension triggered when former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang launched a campaign to drum up participation in the rally.

Despite their marked degree of self-restraint, the pro-Beijing, pro-government forces were clearly disturbed by Mrs Chan's gambit. Some criticised her remarks about the public losing faith in the central government and the 'one country, two systems' policy as a challenge to the central authorities.

Anonymous government officials and pro-Beijing officials dismissed the importance of her efforts. One official reportedly likened her to an ordinary citizen. Their strong, dismissive - if not disdainful - attitude towards Mrs Chan's deeds and words speaks volumes about the deep-seated contradictions in the community nine years after the handover.

There is no doubting a raft of opinion polls, which indicate an increase in general satisfaction with Beijing's policies towards Hong Kong. The latest survey, conducted by the University of Hong Kong's public-opinion programme, shows a surge in satisfaction ratings since last year.

Meanwhile, there is equally clear evidence showing negative feelings towards Beijing and its policies. In the HKU survey, 51 per cent of respondents said they were not proud to be Chinese citizens, compared with 46 per cent who said they were.

While most people are heartened by the mainland's economic growth and rising influence in international politics since the 1990s, they feel dispirited by its dismal progress in liberalisation and democratisation.

The June 4 crackdown remains a taboo subject. Control has been tightened over the flow of information on the internet on the mainland. Democracy remains an elusive notion.

Hopes were high that the trip by pro-democracy legislators to Guangdong in September would thaw the long-standing freeze in relations.

But, once hailed as 'the start of a 1,000km journey,' the reconciliation trip led nowhere. Following the pro-democracy lawmakers' veto of the constitutional reform blueprint in the Legislative Council, a fresh note of friction has slipped into the harmony.

It is hardly a coincidence that Mr Jia, who ranks fourth in the ruling Politburo, avoided sensitive issues such as universal suffrage during his trip. The fact that he didn't talk to pro-democracy legislators, and the tight security arrangements, reflected the underlying tension.

That was despite the goodwill generated in the economic sphere by fresh concessions granted to Hong Kong firms in the mainland market under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement.

The political divide between the mainland and Hong Kong will remain wide in the foreseeable future, leaving the overall relationship fraught with strain and controversy.

As Hong Kong enters a sensitive time of leadership change, the rhetoric about a harmonious society will face a constant reality check: will Beijing and Hong Kong be wise and mature enough to find common ground and accommodate their differences?

Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large