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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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