Absurd claims of foreign meddling bring shame on Hong Kong

Stephen Vines says warnings of foreign plots are farcical and dangerous

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 August, 2014, 3:09pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 2:25am

I have a terrible admission to make: I am a foreigner. Although I have lived in Hong Kong for the better part of three decades, this is the first time that I have felt compelled to make an admission of this kind.

It's not being a foreigner that's so terrible but the fact that the pressure is now on to unearth dark foreign plots and point fingers at foreigners for undermining Hong Kong.

Certain organisations are slowly but surely purging themselves of foreign staff. A recently published newspaper column argued that Hong Kong people need to rid themselves of their reliance on foreign managers who, anyway, have shown themselves to be incompetent.

On top of this, but hardly new, are accusations of foreign meddling in Hong Kong affairs. This has reached a truly absurd level with allegations that the publisher Jimmy Lai Chee-ying was somehow or other acting as a conduit for United States meddling in local affairs based on his relationship with a former US government official who belongs to a party opposed to the current US administration.

Blaming foreigners for things going wrong and accusing foreign countries of meddling is hardly novel. It comes from the playbook of the truly desperate, who have given up on rational argument and resorted to wild accusations.

Meanwhile, a nasty atmosphere of xenophobia is building up, some of it attached to the presence of mainland Chinese in Hong Kong. The xenophobes maintain that this cannot be racist as they are of the same race.

Thus, they pile ignorance on top of prejudice because xenophobia is not purely a matter of race but of dislike of outsiders or people who are not considered to be part of the same group.

However you define it, it's nasty.

Lamentably, Hong Kong has a long history of prejudice stretching from second-class treatment for the well-established Indian subcontinent community to third-class treatment for the hundreds of thousands of foreign domestic workers who are in Hong Kong.

When prejudice is pressed into service for political purposes, it becomes not only nasty but dangerous.

In Hong Kong, it is also farcical because many of those who shout the loudest about foreign meddling carry foreign passports in their back pockets, send their children overseas to be educated and invest heavily abroad as a safe haven for their wealth.

Practically the entire elite, including the chief executive and all or most members of his inner circle, won't send their children to local schools and universities. Many have a bolthole somewhere abroad.

I recall talking to one of these people about this and he just shrugged and said: "It's normal, everyone does it."

This little comment perfectly illustrates the insularity of the local elite.

They seem to be unaware that the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong people simply do not have foreign boltholes or foreign passports. They are rooted here and have all their eggs in just one basket.

Hong Kong, meanwhile, sets out its stall as being an international city that has prospered on the back of its openness and connections to the rest of the world.

Some colonial baggage remains and needs to be dealt with because the colonial system was discriminatory and had a history that should not be ignored. However, this cannot be addressed by establishing a new edifice of prejudice.

My experience, as a long-term Hong Kong resident, is that most people are very welcoming and far more open-minded than the odious band of political troublemakers who are seeking to inject racial prejudice and xenophobic fear into the political dialogue; shame on them for bringing shame on Hong Kong.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur