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  • Dec 29, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion

Hongkongers' unacceptable ignorance of China's government

Bernard Chan says ignorance about China's government is unacceptable

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2012, 2:03am

A couple of weeks ago, something strange started to happen. It seemed most people I met who knew me here in Hong Kong were all asking me the same question: why wasn't I in Beijing?

The explanation is simple. Around every March, I go to Beijing for 10 days or so to attend the annual full session of the National People's Congress. It takes place in the Great Hall of the People, and the TV news shows pictures of China's leaders giving speeches, while a huge audience listens. That was what happened a couple of weeks ago, wasn't it?

Of course it wasn't. The gathering in mid-November was the 18th congress of the Communist Party. I am not a member of the party.

I was struck by how many Hong Kong people were unaware what that event was. It might have looked like the NPC's big annual gathering, but it was a very different occasion. The party nominated the people who will lead the government and bureaucracy, and it defined the broad policies the government will follow. These decisions go to the NPC in March for approval.

Hong Kong people were not alone in paying little attention to the party congress. Mainland students I spoke to here in Hong Kong at the time seemed pretty uninterested, even though they are generally more informed about the country's government structure. We will soon be going through elections for Hong Kong delegates to the NPC - as part of the same five-year cycle as the party congress - and it is quite likely that the local community will largely ignore that process.

It is easy to see why people probably feel remote from the congresses. Information is limited, and these gatherings do not deal with purely Hong Kong issues. Since the vast majority of people here have no part in the selection of Hong Kong NPC delegates, it is understandable that they show little interest in the outcome. It doesn't help that the sessions do not feature public debate.

On the other hand, the overseas media followed the congress closely. The US presidential election just beforehand provided the chance for some interesting comparisons. The overseas press sensed that China could be undergoing significant change as a new leadership comes to grips with the need for economic rebalancing and social and political reform. Much of the commentary in the foreign press was quite perceptive, and it suggested that some overseas audiences were taking more interest than many people in Hong Kong.

Overseas media noted that the result of China's leadership selection seemed to be well-known in advance. But they also pointed out that the process was in part very secretive, with the identity and even the number of Politburo Standing Committee members not revealed until the last minute.

To many people in Hong Kong, this aspect of the process is what made the event distant and uninteresting. But to the overseas (and some local) press, it was a reason to pay more attention. They analysed appearances by retired officials at the theatre and even at a tennis match, and speculated about rivalry between different factions and what it meant for China's future.

It does mean a lot. The new leaders face big questions. Should the private sector be given more room, or will the state-linked companies be favoured? Will the economy become more consumption based, and if so, how? The answers will have a tremendous impact on the course of China's economy, and on Hong Kong.

To understand what is happening in Beijing and elsewhere, we need to know the basics, including the structure of government in China. This was one of the points that got lost during the national education debate: you do not have to like or agree with the party, but we owe it to ourselves and our children to ensure we know how the country functions.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council

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This article is now closed to comments

TigerJ
Hong Kongers are not interested because it's not obvious how they can make $$ out of this...
mrlcooper
Of course Mainlanders will be paying more attention, they have a more direct need to know from which direction they will be shafted!
fearonjones
Indeed, there should be education about the mainland political system generally in Hong Kong and Macao, and this should involve understanding administrative and political processes as well as an objective and critical analysis of them. But Hong Kong is not much different than other 'developed' democracies with a well-entrenched freedom of speech. Despite the opportunities for people to learn about and get involved in these things, people are quite often more interested in their material conditions and current fashion. National education should be civic education, about how the government works, in theory and in practice, and as long as it is approached academically there should be nothing to fear about it.
ruthleelsf
How are we supposed to feel interested for something that don't belong to us ~ the general populace. It's like the King's new clothes, you keep strutting around hoping for visual and verbal appreciation of your attire while you are wearing none. Are we to be blamed?
ianson
Hongkongers shun Party selection processes because they are smart enough to spot a sham when they see one. You, on the other hand, happily engage in that sham process. Is it any wonder people think you should be in Beijing? Indeed, next time you visit, do us all a favour and stay.
pneave
It is more interesting to watch a free election when result does make a different!
mcheung
You don't watch a free election, you should participate in it.
mcheung
"To understand what is happening in Beijing and elsewhere, we need to know the basics, including the structure of government in China. This was one of the points that got lost during the national education debate: you do not have to like or agree with the party, but we owe it to ourselves and our children to ensure we know how the country functions."
Agreed completely, especially the last sentence!

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