Only a patriot can be a true leader

Michael Chugani says while talk of patriotism here has been causing furrowed brows, love of country really isn't that complicated

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 8:59pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 8:59pm

Whenever people ask me if I love my country, I am stumped. Which country am I supposed to love? It's a question I often ask myself. As a naturalised American, I, of course, love my adopted country. I pay my taxes, vote if there's someone worth voting for, and root for America in the Olympic Games. George W. Bush's needless war in Iraq diminished my faith in America's moral authority but not my love of country. Pride swelled again inside me when the US proved its democratic credentials to the world by electing its first black president.

But since I am ethnically Indian, shouldn't I love India instead? In fact, most of my Hong Kong Chinese friends see me as an Indian rather than an American. There's this argument that if you're an American by nationality, then you're American and race doesn't come into it. That is nonsense. Most people define you by how you look, not what your passport says.

This is particularly true in Asia. A hotel manager on the mainland, astonished by my fluent Cantonese, asked me what my nationality was. I said American, to which he replied: "But you're Indian." Even the Hong Kong government considers me a so-called "ethnic minority", not an American. No one seriously treats Allan Zeman and Mike Rowse as Chinese, despite their Chinese passports.

Since I have visited India only three times, my connection to the country is limited. But I take pride in its long history, culture, economic strides and its recent launching of a Mars mission. As an American national but ethnically Indian, which country should I love? Why not both? In the US, different ethnic groups label themselves as Chinese Americans, Italian Americans, Vietnamese Americans and Indian Americans. They love their adopted country yet still take pride in their ethnic origins.

But shouldn't I love China ahead of America and India since I was born and raised in Hong Kong, which is now part of China and I make a living here? It's a tricky question, which leads to another one: shouldn't I love Britain above all since I was born and raised under British rule? That's an easy one to answer. I feel no moral obligation to love Britain because it never treated me as a full British national.

The question of love for China is far trickier for Hong Kong Chinese than for me. It now looms large as a sensitive issue in our political debate over who should qualify as chief executive candidates. Strictly speaking, as a Hong Kong permanent resident without Chinese nationality, I need only love Hong Kong although I would still feel obliged to respect China.

But Hongkongers with Chinese nationality are naturally expected to love both Hong Kong and China. Yet there is this baffling squabble over why only patriots should qualify as chief executive candidates for universal suffrage elections. Hong Kong Chinese nationals with no great love for China attribute this squabble to their hatred of the Communist Party. That's a lame reason. I detest America's ultra-right "tea party" but that doesn't diminish my love of my adopted homeland. I expect presidential candidates to be patriots, for only patriots can be true leaders.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host.