• Tue
  • Sep 2, 2014
  • Updated: 3:59pm
Column
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 6:26pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 2:27am

Student's story indicative of how bitter cross-border war has become

Albert Cheng says online abuse Betty Wong received after telling her story sadly indicative of the social and cultural confrontations taking place

BIO

Ir. Albert Cheng is the founder of Digital Broadcasting Corporation Hong Kong Limited, a current affairs commentator and columnist. He was formerly a direct elected Hong Kong SAR Legislative Councillor. Mr Cheng was voted by Time Magazine in 1997 as one of "the 25 most influential people in new Hong Kong" and selected by Business Week in 1998 as one of "the 50 stars of Asia".  
 

Betty Wong, an undergraduate at the University of Hong Kong's medical faculty, has become the latest punching bag for the young and furious in Hong Kong who lash out at anything or anyone with a mainland label.

Nineteen-year-old Betty was born on the mainland to a parent with permanent residency in Hong Kong. Under Article 24 of the Basic Law, she would have been granted residency - if a Court of Final Appeal ruling on such matters were allowed to stand. But soon after the ruling, the National People's Congress Standing Committee issued an interpretation of the clause that denied automatic permanent residency rights for people in Betty's situation.

As the gap between the haves and the have-nots widens, youngsters in particular have found it increasingly tough to climb up the social ladder

In 2003, an eight-year-old Betty sneaked into Hong Kong alone but later reported herself to the immigration authorities. She said immigration officers gave her a hard time before granting her a "temporary permit", commonly known as "going-out pass", to stay in the territory.

For 11 years, she endured the discrimination and studied hard. Her efforts paid off last year when she was admitted to the elite medical school. The university then intervened on her behalf and she was eventually granted permanent residency.

She thought her story might inspire others having a difficult time. So she shared it on Facebook. She was wrong.

Betty was immediately mobbed online by netizens accusing her of abusing the Hong Kong system. Most comments left on her posting were negative; some were downright abusive. Many noted that she was not even a proper Hong Kong person when she applied for the university. They argued that HKU should have given her place to a genuine local student.

Betty would have been hailed as a role model back in the 1980s. Yet, given the current tension between Hongkongers and mainland visitors, she is seen by many as another example of how the mainlanders have advanced their self-interests at the expense of the locals.

Generations of illegal immigrants have contributed to Hong Kong's phenomenal success. Tycoon Li Ka-shing, singer Roman Tam and novelist Ni Kuang are but a few of the many such notables. Betty could have been welcomed as a latecomer to this long list of distinguished self-made people from across the border.

Times have changed. The city's streets are now packed with shoppers from the mainland, competing with the locals for resources, ranging from formula milk powder to residential flats and, recently, university places. On Monday, a group calling itself Hongkongese Priority chanted slogans at the City University demanding a curb on the admission of mainland students at all universities in Hong Kong. Mainland immigrants and visitors are now seen as a threat rather than an asset.

Betty is just another victim of this social and cultural confrontation.

As the gap between the haves and the have-nots widens, youngsters in particular have found it increasingly tough to climb up the social ladder. School leavers, including college graduates, are left struggling at the bottom of the social stratum. Upward mobility for them is as elusive as it is illusive.

Most young people can barely eke out a decent living, let alone plan for their futures. They point their fingers at the mainlanders. This cross-border war is getting out of hand.

This political time bomb was planted soon after the handover when ex-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa turned to the NPC for an interpretation of the Basic Law provision, which came after the top court's landmark ruling in 1999 to uphold the constitutional right of children who were in a situation similar to the one Betty is in today.

Former director of immigration and later secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee was instrumental in cementing the NPC's veto of the court's judgment, warning that without the NPC's intervention, the special administrative region would be flooded with mainland children whose fathers were Hong Kong permanent residents.

The pro-establishment camp in the legislature had rallied behind the administration. The Education Department even instructed schools not to enrol those children rejected under the NPC decision, lest it should become an incentive for them to come to Hong Kong illegally. Thus the seed of discrimination was planted, and we now have to stomach the bitter fruit.

Policymakers dismiss the growing public anger at the mainlanders as misguided. They apparently believe the problem will go away as they keep their heads in the sand. The only way out is for the people of Hong Kong to resume control over local affairs through meaningful democratic elections.

Only then, can we regain a sense of common purpose to work collectively to make Hong Kong work again.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk

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This article is now closed to comments

lainy
It is much easier to advocate hatred, instead of acceptance. Sad.
philpaul
But she did violate Hong Kong laws. In America she would be permanently barred from gaining permanent residency, after immediate deportation.
ian_young
This is not true. The US is compelled to educate all illegal immigrant children, and tens of thousands go on to graduate from high school. Also, the new DREAM act could provide a pathway to US permanent residency for children who find themselves in the exact situation faced by Betty Wong.
jiawang@adb.org
If the China made an effort to raise the cultural level
(manners, courtesy, social behavior, etc.) of its people,
mainlanders would not be stigmatized.
anson
But the problem is that the CCP does not want to do or say anything that would lay it open to criticism. Perhaps more to the point, should we be supporting the CCP to be the standard setters? Should we be supporting their role as the sole authority in China? Sure it's a one party state, but do we want to freely allocate more responsibility to that party or should we be advocating more freedom for people to think and behave as they see fit?
ianson
Extreme distortions in behaviour have been brought about by the extreme pressures of mainland activities in Hong Kong. Beijing must take responsibility for this. Only dogged resistance offers any hope for democracy in Hong Kong but, should it be achieved, distortions such as so eloquently set out in Cheng's article will fade away.
snelderj
Hong Kong has really lost it. sad ;-(
amunro
Clearly our universities are teaching but not educating. With hatred starting at this level HK will become a Northern Ireland within a generation.
535c6756-3b7c-40ce-b9ef-52be0a3209cb
I don't think you've had a good look at university entrance statistics. Only ~20% of secondary school graduates in HK get into a proper university. Local university graduates are a minority of the population, most just get sub degrees from community colleges or study abroad.
shouken
Hong Kong "packed" with mainland visitors/shoppers? If the figure of 50 million/year holds any water and the fact that most mainland shoppers return within the same day, then we are talking about 200,000 visitors mingle with 7 million residents on a daily basis. That (visitors) is less than 3% of Hong Kong's population. What is the fuss all about?

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