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  • Jul 25, 2014
  • Updated: 2:33am
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 5:04am

Time to remove boundary fence with China

Peter Kammerer says Hong Kong should be tearing down the fence that separates it from the mainland, not building it up

BIO

Peter Kammerer is a long-time columnist and commentator for the SCMP. He has received recognition for his writing at the Hong Kong news Awards, the annual Human Rights Press Awards and from the Society of Publishing in Asia. Before moving to Hong Kong in 1988, he worked on newspapers in his native Australia.  
 

Germans seem to have a term for everything and one, mauer im kopf, perfectly fits Hong Kong's state of mind towards the rest of China. The expression literally means "wall in the head" and refers to how former East and West Germans perceive one another since the fall of the Berlin Wall 23 years ago. Reunification of the Germanys with the removal of the cold war buffer was supposed to banish physical and psychological barriers, but among a considerable number, negative perceptions remain. Scant traces of the wall exist and few remember where it once stood, yet beyond an imaginary line, some easterners still think of the west as a place of opportunity and westerners see those in the east as being backward, corrupt and unsophisticated.

The underlying facts for the barriers were economics and politics. In 1951, when our fence was put up, then British colonial Hong Kong was on the front line of a UN embargo against the People's Republic of China over the Korean war. A decade later, when the Berlin Wall was built, cold war rivalry between East and West had soured to the point that a brick and barbed-wire demarcation zone was necessary to show which side controlled what in Europe. Both barriers served the same purpose: to keep out illegal immigrants, smugglers and spies.

There the similarities end, though. The Berlin Wall has gone, enthusiastically torn down in a show of liberation and freedom, but the wire mesh and barbed-wire boundary fence that separates Hong Kong from Guangdong is still in place. Surprisingly, despite the apparent interest of our government in integration, it has not been symbolically removed. Instead, it is being strengthened and rebuilt for about HK$300million. The existing surveillance system comprising video motion detectors, sensor alarms and closed circuit cameras is being upgraded with more sophisticated technology.

Why this is necessary has not been fully explained. The threats of economic migration, smuggling and spying are not what they once were. Hong Kong is being governed under the "one country, two systems" principle, but that is about a way of life. The barriers should be coming down, not going up.

Hong Kong has a natural border through the Shenzhen and Sha Tau Kok rivers. If we are worried about illegal traders and pregnant women, immigration and police checks readily serve needs, just as in the European Union. Construction of a four-metre-high fence only benefits the firms involved. Which leads to the conclusion that it exists only to proclaim we are insecure about our place in China.

It is worse than a case of " mauer im kopf". Not only do we apparently have a mental fear and anxiety about the mainland, but we also need a man-made barrier beyond the natural one to protect us. What we have is precious. But we also prevent people and ideas from moving freely and create divisions.

The example of Germany shows that even when a wall comes down, people can continue to think about differences and pass such feelings to their children. Hong Kong's boundary fence helps prolong and more deeply engrain negativity towards mainlanders. If the process of integration is to be smoother, a good place to start is by removing it.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post

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17

This article is now closed to comments

likingming
Mind your friends from abroad. Welcome to HONGKONG PRISON
- no spitting
- no littering
- no foul languages in public transports (definitions at the discretion of officials)
- no eating and drinking in public transports (even a bottle of water)
- no jay walk (Have you ever been charged ? twice ?)
- no smoking (democracy at work that is majority tyranny !)
- no stroller u-turn / no dogs / no kiteing / no noise / no sleep in the Parks & Gardens
- no no seat-belt-fastening
- no unauthorized protests
- no wandering
- no stalking (upcoming regulation)
- no stroll without ID cards (Have you ever been search bodily in the public ?)
- no begging / no soliciting
- no street performing
- no hawkering
- no graffiti
no no no....Hong Kong ? NO !
shouken
Agree! Why should HK be allowed to enjoy the privileges of a special enclave over Shanghai and Beijing? Why give them such a strong, legitimate excuse for being so selfish, given that so many of them came from the mainland within the past few decades? Tear down the fences.
wwong888
because china is full of savage idiots like you
A Hong Konger
Peter Kammerer's shocking lack of understanding of the complex dynamics of East / West German integration pales in comparison to his lack of understanding of what is plain to see to all Hong Kongers, which is astounding since (according to his SCMP profile) his has lived in HK since 1981. As any west German will tell you there is great frustration that Germany's west has bankrolled the integration of the east at great cost, while any easterner will tell you that the institutions that provided social cohesion and security were removed overnight and many have been reduced to destitution by the free market causing an exodus to the west, damaging families and leaving entire suburbs & towns vacant. More than 20 years later economic and social parity still has not been reached, fertile ground for far right parties such as the NPD. Such is the fate of a territory whose institutions are assimilated without consent, if anything it's a warning to HK not to integrate with China. The fact that Germany is a democracy with respect for human rights and a functioning welfare state makes it manageable, China has none of those things! If we ignored the Basic Law and permitted a Chinese take over of HK it would be disastrous. I could go on, but I'd be insulting the intelligence of the reader, like Kammerer has done.
So clumsy is this article I suspect it is a parody of some sort or perhaps he is begrudgingly in the employ of the CCP? I couldn't imagine he's serious or that stupid!
likingming
Despite the intangible core values of democracy, freedom and rule of law, HK achieves the followings
- High Suicide Rates (no better than that of China, charcoal burning vs self-immolation)
- Lower Birth Rate (lower than that of China, self abortion vs forced abortion)
- Higher Rate of Mental Disorder (witnessed in public places like libraries, markets)
- Fewer SMILING FACES on streets (if any, that must be the mainlander's. Or a HK psycho!)
Dirty statistics but anybody who has experiences of living in both places could tell you.
blue
This is some really inane poorly thought out drivel.
ykbc
West and East Germanys were reunified out of real wishes of their people. Hong Kong was handed over in 1997 by its colonial master to an authoritarian regime, which actually wanted to be another "colonial" master.
taaldraak
This column is disturbing in several ways. First, the Berlin Wall was no "cold war buffer," but was built to prevent East Germans from fleeing westwards.
Second, it compares HK's situation with the reunification of the free and democratic West Germany with the former Communist East Germany whose citizens had elected pro-reunification parties in a free election after the peaceful revolution in autumn 1989. The reunification was based on the West Germany's constitution and has been supported by the vast majority of Germans ever since. The "Mauer im Kopf" problem is related to the very sudden political and socio-economic changes at that time. Nowadays, after more than 20 years, it is no longer relevant, in particular among younger people. This was mainly possible because the former unfree East joined a free and democratic Germany which was part of a European Union that stresses values like the rule of law, human rights, and democracy. Of course, nobody is perfect and much, much more efforts have to be made - but this was the price for East Germans (and central and eastern Europeans) in 1990.
Third, has the author ever heard about the new meaning of the term "Fortress Europe"? This is really not about "police checks" against illegals. Before a new member state can join the Schengen Agreement (allows free travel among member states), its borders have to be fortified and special police units are sent to new member states to train staff there. We're not naive...
likingming
Don't deceive yourself with the so-called core values
Democracy - it is moderation at best (no self, no extremes, no arts ....) and majority tyranny at worst ! No smoking, no dog meat, no burqa.
Freedom - my freedom limits yours and vice versa.
Rule of Law - the disguise of Rule by Law
And these core values are to be betrayed as demonstated 12 yrs ago when we tacitly unethically and unlawfully deprived the rights of the 1.67m HK descendants mainlanders to unite with their families.
megafun
If ICAC is not afraid of the mainlanders, then we need no borders!

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