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  • Dec 25, 2014
  • Updated: 12:04pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong's vanishing mojo

Regina Ip traces the reasons for some Hong Kong people's longing for 'idyllic' colonial times, which have little to do with separatist sentiments but much to do with lost confidence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2012, 2:06am

The 18th Communist Party congress this month had observers around the world parsing the make-up of the Politburo and the speeches of the Chinese leaders for clues to any change in direction for this powerful nation.

In the case of Hong Kong, Beijing's policy on the special administrative region's governance is normally expressed in dull, formulaic statements reiterating that "the central government supports governing Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law". Thus, any departure from this standard line, or omission of the pivotal reference to the Basic Law, cannot but trigger speculation that there may be a change in policy.

And this is precisely what happened at the opening of the congress. In his work report, not only did outgoing party chairman Hu Jintao stress "insistence on the 'one country' principle", while respecting the differences between the two systems, the written version of his report also spelled out the importance of "safeguarding the central authority and the high degree of autonomy of the special administrative regions" and "preventing and keeping in check interference in the affairs of Hong Kong and Macau by external forces". The latter two statements were, however, omitted when Hu read out his report.

Was the latest variation in the formulation of the policy on Hong Kong a shot across the bows to warn off the "Hong Kong separatists" who unfurled the colonial Hong Kong flag in recent protest marches, and who yelled "Chinese, go back to China"? Or was it a harbinger of the resurrection of the much dreaded "evil law", namely, the aborted 2003 bill to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law to protect national security, as some local critics suggested? If Article 23 were indeed on the minds of the Chinese leaders as a cure for Hong Kong separatist sentiments, nothing would be more misguided and futile.

The national security bill that the authorities tried to muscle through the legislature in 2003, commonly referred to by the Western media as an "anti-sedition law", was intended to prohibit offences which threaten national security. In fact , seven such offences are listed in Article 23, of which sedition is only one.

The last time the sedition charge was used against those accused of inciting discontent was in 1967, in connection with the Cultural Revolution-inspired riots in Hong Kong. Several pro-China newspapers were charged with arousing the discontent of police officers and violating the Control of Publication Consolidation Ordinance. Sedition or other national security charges are not known to have been laid against any person since then.

Today, the development of the law on sedition in many common law jurisdictions is such that a charge can only be laid if a person is engaged in overt conduct directed at inciting violence against the authorities. Given the tight remit of this and other national security offences in other common law jurisdictions, it is unlikely that any future national security legislation would be of any use in prohibiting anti-China slogans or flags - acts that do not involve incitement of violence.

In the past 15 years, hundreds of million of dollars have been expended on programmes, both in and outside the classroom, to cultivate greater understanding and hopefully greater love of the motherland among Hong Kong youth.

The efforts appear to have backfired, provoking greater antipathy and nostalgia for the colonial era instead.

But despite the "sporadic expression of nostalgic feelings for colonial rule or even slogans like 'we are not Chinese'", it would be "an exaggeration to suggest that there is a rising pro-independence movement in Hong Kong". So said a pro-democracy scholar, Professor Ray Yep Kin-man. Hong Kong people know too well they are part of China, historically, geographically, culturally and constitutionally. Whether during or after the colonial era, Hong Kong has depended on China for its water and daily beef, among other necessities.

Hong Kong people are too pragmatic to be serious about pursuing "independence". But try asking them a question similar to that asked by former US president Ronald Reagan at the conclusion of the presidential debate between him and Jimmy Carter in 1980: "Ask yourself, are you better off now than you were 15 years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was 15 years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the city than there was 15 years ago?" No doubt many would give the same answer as the American public did - "No, we don't feel better off now."

Not only do we not feel better off in material terms, there is also a feeling that Hong Kong is less respected within the nation and in the region. Hong Kong's pre-eminence, except in the area of finance, has been overshadowed by the rise of scores of gleaming cities on China's coast. There is much less to be proud of, or look forward to, and less cause for respect. This feeling is strongest among our young people. Hence the nostalgia for the seemingly idyllic colonial past.

There is no way the authorities can instil greater identification with the nation unless they can fix this sense of faded glory and give our people a new sense of purpose, hope and confidence in ourselves.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party


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This article is now closed to comments

I refer to Hong konger's comment on 27.11.2012:
1.From the day I was born,consumers' spending has always been going up alongside with capital gains,though the pace varies through the years.Generally inflation outweighs deflation historically.
2.Freedom has not been lessened:there are even more legitimate strikes than in the pre 97 era;internet has not been firewalled;sharp- worded-critics on the government are the same as before;no universal suffrage as before;the executive,legislative,jurisdiction three-tiered system.....nothing changed.What has changed is the HKers' aspiration.
3.Governments world wide attracts critics;though may not be the case in North Korea,as long there is a government,there must be critics.In HK it is all the same:in the colonial era,critics blames,in the post 97 era,critics blames,nothing changes:what has changed is the who is the one to be blamed. whatever era is it in,government officials are the targets,including the government heads.
4.Hostilities prevails in provinces/states within a country,this is even the case in the US due to cultural,socio-economic geographical differences.Coastal areas settlers often gifted with richer resources look down upon continental folks.Minor conflicts wouldn't be much of a hurdle to achieve overall unity and harmony.
A Hong Konger
What Ip fails to mention is that:
1. China's policy has always been to reintegrate HK into China on their terms, something that is unacceptable to us
2. Previous generations, fearful of China, opted to placate China so as to secure the best possible terms we can get (i.e., colonial terms)
3. A realisation that rising prices, lower living standards, social alienation and diminishing freedoms (i.e., HK as it is now) ARE the best possible terms we can get, and are unacceptable to most HKers, esp to a younger, braver generation unwilling to be colonial subjects, are articulating an identity and narrative that excludes China as part of the HK experience.
4. This new identity and narrative will lead to a HK centric approach that, like all nationalist approaches, holds populist views (economic self reliance, HK for HKers, etc) in an economically alienated HK
5. Given China's goals and our growing alienation from China, means that greater alienation from China is inevitable, of which an independence movement is its natural evolution given our social & economic maturity and discontent. Much like in Taiwan.
Ip is (surprisingly after 2003) correct to say our economic pre-eminence has been eclipsed by China and this is a source of resentment, but she missed the deeper philosophical contradictions within HK that makes an independence movement inevitable and, given the Sino-HK structure, is here to stay. But will it be an expression of discontent or an irreversible tide?
i wish regina ip would jump off a bridge. she is a class a moron.
I wonder whether Regina Ip has lost confidence as a aftermath of the Article 23 enactment failure.Like a dried leaf will it be possible to rejuvenate the legislation as it drags along for years,looking fresh and young green,if she is the incumbent secretary once again?
…umm I don't know. The jury is still out on the Chinese "economic miracle."
Many believe that the opening up of China as a low cost manufacturing base may have only delayed its eventual Soviet styled break up. It's hard to imagine that a reformed China that has a rule of law and a pluralistic government would be able and willing to use the harsh measures employed that are necessary to hold onto regions not dominated by Han Chinese.
A prolonged economic crisis could eventually bring down the government and lead to an eventual divorce. I think if chaos were to ensue in the mainland, its not an impossibility that there would certainly be calls for independence in many of China's provinces and regions - if not simply an act of se;lc-p.reservation. It has happened before, and depute claims of 5000 years of history, the map of China has changed many, many times. For example, in the last 100 years, what happened to the land of Genghis Khan? Yes, its now a separate country.
We shall see, but I am not so confident the CCP has the courage to institute the necessary economic and political reforms in order to move forward from this point because they might ultimately threaten one party rule. Stay tuned!


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