Ignore the taunts - Beijing should help HK tackle cross-border issues

Alice Wu says Beijing must see past the radical protest actions here to tackle the real issues - the strains of cross-border integration

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 3:36am

I've no clue whether the powers that be in Beijing have any time now to worry about Hong Kong matters, given the Diaoyu conflict and the impending leadership change. But I hope they're tuning in, and to the right channels.

We've got identity issues that stem from at least a century back. With cries for "de-Sinofication" in the air now, it's obvious these issues are not going away any time soon. The reality is, Hong Kong has reverted to Chinese rule. So while we pick at our identity scabs, no matter how hard we try to reopen the wounds, Article 1 of the Basic Law still stands: The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China.

Perhaps it was "heartbreaking" for a former deputy director of Beijing's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office to see the British flag and the old Hong Kong flag prominently displayed at a recent protest - where one man even carried a placard that read "Chinese people, go back to China!" But a few people doing outrageous things is not something to get teary-eyed over. People being hateful and ignorant isn't news, and it happens not only in Hong Kong. It's crude and ridiculous but it's done to taunt, so the best way to react is by not reacting at all.

That is not to say that Chinese leaders should not be concerned. The anti-mainland sentiment in this city has reached an all-time high. It has been building since the chief executive election, and has been exacerbated by opposition to the introduction of national education, which coincided with campaigning for the Legislative Council election. The protests against cross-border parallel trading in Sheung Shui added to the tensions. Leaders in Beijing can do something about some of these problems.

One is their attitude towards Hong Kong. The news media naturally highlights the outrageous, and it's up to Beijing to see through it to the larger problems. It should recognise that reports of Union Jack waving and the like are just token incidences. In themselves, they are not a problem to be resolved.

"De-Sinofication" is not remotely possible. It's silly in this integrated and globalised world to think that any one, any city, or any nation can be insulated from the outside world - except perhaps for North Korea. But, then again, even Kim Jong-un can't keep all outside influences at bay.

Beijing must not overreact to the sound and fury in the heat of the moment. Over 90 per cent of the city's population are ethnically Chinese. And ethnicity is not something that will change, no matter how much anyone denies it. Beijing, by easing its heavy hand in local elections and politics, will do more to soothe people's frustrations.

Second, Beijing should take the lead in resolving conflicts arising from cross-border economic and social interaction. Closer economic ties have contributed to the city's growth and survival in dire economic times, but they have also created new fronts for conflict - including maternity ward spaces, inflation and unaffordable housing. These are problems that the SAR government cannot deal with on its own. Beijing must make every effort to iron out these integration creases.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA