Idle gossip can damage relations with Beijing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 March, 2010, 12:00am


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Spring has arrived: the time for renewal, beautiful flowers in bloom, happy chirping birds and, of course, the annual sessions of the CPPCC and the National People's Congress - the gathering of over 5,000 politicians - in Beijing. The world is watching this year's session closely for clues to Beijing's intentions - like military spending, economic growth and leadership succession. Beijing has a message of its own to send to the world: do not interfere with China's 'three Ts' - trade surplus, Tibet and Taiwan - coined by NPC spokesperson Li Zhaoxing .

The annual ritual of men and women in serious suits participating in the two weeks of high-level politicking has left most Hongkongers feeling out on the periphery of the national political centrepiece. We do not have to pay the central government taxes, and we are guaranteed protection by the People's Liberation Army in case of foreign military threats. Li's 'three Ts' are not on our minds, either - Beijing must work them out with the rest of the world.

Don't get me wrong - this annual liang hui (the political meetings) ritual is important to most of us, albeit for different reasons. It is an annual renewal of the leadership's staunch support for Hong Kong, commitment to the 'one country, two systems' principle and to our economy. These messages of support are boring but necessary. Can one imagine Hong Kong not being on the national agenda? For a city that has the mainland to thank for so phenomenally riding out the global financial meltdown, dropping below Beijing's radar would certainly spell doom for us. Our only way to face the increasing competition from the region is by working with the mainland, not without it. And, judging from the city's (over)reactions to things like Shanghai Disneyland, we do need these assurances to soothe our neuroses.

'One country, two systems' allows us freedoms unavailable for our brethren across the border, but keeps us disengaged from national affairs. Under the Basic Law we can run our own show but, when it comes to state affairs, the best that ordinary Hongkongers - non-members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference or NPC - can do is 'eavesdrop' like a nosy neighbour.

Over the years, some of Hong Kong's CPPCC members and NPC deputies have treated the liang hui as an annual chance to gossip about people at home, which only makes the situation worse. This year is no exception: in a meeting between Hong Kong's CPPCC delegation and Vice-President Xi Jinping last week, property tycoon Sir Gordon Wu Ying-sheung warned Xi about the 'uprising' being stirred up in the city by the masterminds behind the 'referendum' by-election scheme. It is hard not to be struck by the ridiculous notion that Xi, whose political portfolio includes Hong Kong and Macau affairs, needs warnings on what he must already know all about.

With apparently nothing productive to say to our state leaders, some of our representatives are doing real damage to the image of the CPPCC and NPC here in the city. This creates opportunities for people who actually can harm Beijing-Hong Kong relations, such as those preaching the idea of the 'referendum' by- elections as a battle between democracy-loving Hongkongers and the Communist Party.

Unfortunately, such things add up - think of those who called the referendum scheme an 'uprising'. If this continues, a growing distance and mistrust may open between Hongkongers and Beijing, making it even more difficult for the Hong Kong government to do its job. This is one reason the government had such difficulty appealing to Hongkongers to support our section of the nationwide high-speed rail network, and the incident became a mess. One can only imagine how difficult it will be for the government to ask people to consider NPC Standing Committee decisions on constitutional reform; Xi's call for rational discussions will most likely fall on deaf ears.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA