Cynical criticism of Beijing will harm us all

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 December, 2010, 12:00am

Since the handover, the principle of 'one country, two systems' has been operating in Hong Kong, with the promise of 'a high degree of autonomy'. Hong Kong will always be an inseparable part of China; but, we have full control in running our affairs in accordance with the Basic Law, except for defence and foreign affairs.

It has proved that preserving the city's capitalist system and way of life is in the best interests of both the mainland and Hong Kong.

Immediately after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, the central government made it clear that it would not allow the city to become a subversive base for anti-China activities. Beijing warned that it would allow Hongkongers to voice their opposition or stage demonstrations as long as they respected the 'one country, two systems' principle.

Many Hong Kong people insist on supporting the pro-democracy movement on the mainland because they love this city and the motherland.

Despite its spectacular economic growth, the mainland's uneven development has caused a widening wealth gap, prompting a growing movement to protect the freedom and rights of citizens.

Hong Kong people have for years rallied for the release of jailed human rights activists and political dissidents on the mainland, including Liu Xiaobo, Hu Jia and Tan Zuoren , as well as, recently, tainted milk campaigner Zhao Lianhai. Protesters are only trying to protect social justice and fundamental values, a practice widely accepted by the international community.

But not all opposition is equally valid. Pan-democrats recently criticised the government for granting a prime Mid-Levels site to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for expansion at a nominal sum of HK$1,000. The land, adjacent to the foreign affairs commissioner's office, will be used to build a new residence for the commissioner and an office block.

That amount is similar to what the government customarily charges foreign consulates when granting land to meet their need for space. But, for some reason, the pan-democrats took a big swipe at the government, saying the decision would create a bad precedent. It was an overreaction because this practice has long existed.

It makes me wonder what their motives were.

As part of China, there is nothing wrong with the government granting mainland bodies in Hong Kong free land for official purposes. And why should it need to consult the Legislative Council, as demanded by Democratic Party vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing and legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan?

It was not a unilateral decision but a common practice; the People's Liberation Army has the same land entitlement in Hong Kong with regards to its headquarters. The British consulate as well as its military benefited from similar land-lease arrangements during the colonial era.

The Democrats did an admirable job by supporting the government's political reform package, and their courage and vision helped pave the way for our political evolution. But Lau's attack on the land-grant issue seemed to go against the grain. Was it a lack of political intelligence or an intention to boost popularity? It would be naive for the Democrats to think that a strong anti-mainland stance could 'redeem' their reputation and show that they are not pro-mainland, even though they had earlier supported the political reform proposal.

Bashing the central government for the sake of political convenience runs contrary to the principle of 'one country, two systems' and damages its foundation. It will ultimately hurt everyone, including the instigator.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.