Beijing White Paper 2014

Disaffection poisons Hong Kong-mainland relations

Regina Ip says the growing Hong Kong-mainland divide is a problem not just for Beijing in applying 'one country, two systems'; those professing to care about the city cannot ignore it, either

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 4:13am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 4:13am

Last month, authorities in Beijing dropped a bombshell by publishing their first ever white paper on the implementation of "one country, two systems" in Hong Kong. The unprecedented move immediately sparked speculation that Beijing's statement signified a weakening of its commitment to Hong Kong's separate systems. Pundits also questioned the timing of its release, being so close to the holding of an unauthorised "referendum" on the mechanisms for nominating the chief executive in 2017.

In the event, the "referendum" attracted a reported turnout of 780,000. Questions were inevitably raised as to whether Beijing's strong assertion of authority over Hong Kong fomented support.

Translated into seven languages and prepared over a year, the white paper could not possibly have been issued as a knee-jerk response to escalating demands for civic nomination or threats to "occupy Central". A closer scrutiny shows that the white paper is in the same vein as an article by Zhang Xiaoming , published in the Chinese-language press in November 2012, when Zhang was deputy minister in the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

Both Zhang's article and the white paper stated from the outset that Beijing's fundamental objective is to uphold the sovereignty, security and developmental interests of the nation, as well as the prosperity and stability of the two special administrative regions.

After 15 years of experience in implementing "one country, two systems", Zhang identified "three sets of relationship" which needed to be successfully managed. They are the relationship between upholding the principle of "one country" while respecting the "two systems"; upholding the authority of the centre while safeguarding the special administrative regions' high degree of autonomy; and making full use of the vast hinterland provided by mainland China while enhancing the two regions' competitiveness.

The "three sets of relationship" was effectively a summary of the challenges faced by the central authorities in implementing "one country, two systems", as perceived in late 2012.

The white paper is a continuation of the central authorities' efforts to grapple with putting "one country, two systems" into practice. In the last chapter on "fully and accurately understanding and implementing" this policy, the white paper says the practice of this "groundbreaking initiative" has encountered "new circumstances and new problems".

It is not difficult to surmise that these have arisen because of the heated debate on the method for electing the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017, and the mass mobilisation movements which have mushroomed as a consequence.

One of the "new problems" encountered by Beijing in its endeavour to steer the constitutional debate to a fruitful close is the tremendous effort it has had to make to convince Hong Kong people that the candidates need to be individuals "who love the country and love Hong Kong".

The appeals that Beijing officials have been repeatedly making in the past 18 months might sound unnecessarily restrictive to many in Hong Kong, particularly young people hungry for Western-style democracy, but the very fact that such appeals have had to be repeatedly made is indicative of deep-rooted problems in implementing "one country, two systems" in our restless city.

In many parts of the world, it is taken for granted that candidates running for high office "love the country". In February 2008, when candidate Barack Obama was gaining ground on Hillary Clinton in the Democrats' presidential primary, his wife, Michelle, came under fire for saying that "for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country". Mrs Obama had to retool her remark to stress that she was absolutely proud of her country and that the couple would not be where they were without the opportunities offered by their country.

To Beijing's dismay, many in our city remain sceptical about this requirement. Furthermore, since 2012, websites casting China's developmental problems in a negative light and scoffing at the uncouth behaviour of newly rich mainland visitors have gained popularity. Groups advocating "Hong Kong nativism" and unfurling the British colonial flag had staged provocative demonstrations outside the People's Liberation Army's barracks and Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong. Sarcastic nicknames of mainland Chinese as "nationals of a strong country", as though they were from a foreign country, have gained in currency.

A war of words between bloggers on the mainland and in Hong Kong has dampened the relationship, and effectively delivered what some Hongkongers wished for - a slowdown in visitors from mainland China as well as their per capita spending.

Bigots and China haters might consider the unsympathetic reception to be what China deserves, by virtue of simply being different from the West. But if you have "real stakes" in Hong Kong, whether as the city's sovereign power, or as a true lover of what this vibrant city has achieved, is this not a problem and a situation that you wish to redress, by talking straight and hopefully gaining more understanding?

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