Leung should define mainland integration

Michael Chugani says the chief executive cannot avoid the conversation about where integration ends and 'mainlandisation' begins

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2012, 7:17am

There's a new buzzword in town - integration. To many, it's a dirty word. They see it as another way of saying "mainlandisation". And that scares them. Others see integration as inevitable, and also desirable. It swells their patriotism. To them, opponents are traitors who foster "de-Sinofication".

I agree integration is inevitable. But how close should the embrace be, and how do we decide on a speed that Hongkongers are comfortable with? Right now, they are jittery. More and more feel "mainlandisation" is already happening, and too fast for their comfort. This fear is being manifested in ways that have been mistaken for "de-Sinofication". The vast majority of Hongkongers know "de-Sinofication" is neither doable nor desirable. That leaves this question: is there a middle ground that is neither "mainlandisation" nor "de-Sinofication"?

If there is, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying doesn't seem to be looking for it. In fact, I don't think he quite grasps the root cause of widespread community unease over "mainlandisation". Twice in the past few weeks he has stressed the need for integration. In his National Day speech, he made clear integration was inevitable and essential. But in his Legislative Council speech last week, he spoke only of economic integration. So which is it? Does he want just economic or full-blown integration? How does such integration differ from "mainlandisation"?

Leung blurred the line when he urged integration as a reaction to alarm over the flood of visitors and parallel goods traders, and suspicion that border towns would be built to benefit rich mainlanders. Let's get one thing straight: integration should not mean simply throwing the door open to growing millions of mainlanders who erode Hong Kong's quality of life. That only fans anti-mainlander sentiments. Add to that Leung's perceived cosiness with Beijing, Li Gang overshadowing him on the night of the ferry collision, and mainland leaders "instructing" him to help the victims, and you have a combustible fear of "mainlandisation".

It is comparing apples with oranges for Leung to justify integration by noting numerous Hongkongers already live and work on the mainland. Hongkongers in Shanghai, Guangzhou or Beijing don't compete with the locals for baby milk powder. They are unable to change the character of those cities in the same way the millions of mainland visitors are changing the character of tiny, overcrowded Hong Kong.

Hongkongers have no trouble with economic integration. What frightens them is political integration that erodes their core values. That, to them, is "mainlandisation". Leung's election win has heightened this fear. Many cling to the suspicion that he has "political missions", despite his denials.

Leung's strategy is to win hearts and minds with promises to deal with livelihood issues such as poverty and housing. But those are long-term fixes. Hearts and minds are won by quick results. Besides, those fixes won't dull the fear of "mainlandisation". If Leung wants to push for integration, he needs to clearly define what he means and how it differs from "mainlandisation". There can be no rational discussion on this explosive issue otherwise.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com