Hong Kong must beware the dangers of 'localism'
There is nothing wrong with promoting local values and culture. But there is every reason to be concerned if such acts turn into intolerance, xenophobia or even aggressive behaviour, as reflected in the controversy surrounding Siu Yau-wai, who surrendered himself two weeks ago after overstaying in the city for nine years. The boy, now 12, eventually returned to the mainland on Thursday, after rowdy protests by groups championing so-called "localism". The Immigration Department maintained that the repatriation was voluntary, but Siu's grandmother lamented that Hong Kong had no place for the boy.
The rise of localism can be traced back to 2006, when heritage lovers protested against the demolition of the iconic Star Ferry Pier and the Queen's Pier. Increasingly, it has taken on an edgy twist, with followers taking to the streets in the name of defending Hong Kong's autonomy and keeping mainland influence at bay. The movement has already spread to different social and political spheres. From demonstrations against the influx of mainland tourists to schooling for children from across the border, and from the Occupy protests to the June 4 remembrance, the anti-mainland sentiment is widespread.
Those "localists" may think they are defending the place they call home. But their actions against Yau-wai have damaged Hong Kong's reputation as an international city that is compassionate and inclusive. The trend has, indeed, strained Beijing-Hong Kong relations and risks spinning into something more sinister than simply preserving the city's identity. Concerns are growing that it may turn into a pro-independence force, something Beijing would not tolerate.
It should be noted that such voices are still a minority in society. But it is nonetheless an issue of concern as they become more active and vocal. Some groups are known for their tendency to challenge rules and norms, so much so that they often go beyond what is seen as acceptable. In the case of Yau-wai, the protesters have not just targeted the lawmaker who tried to help the boy, but also the school that tested the ability of the boy, who was claimed to have been abandoned by his mainland parents and who had not received proper education since arriving here at the age of three. They plastered posters with the words "traitors" and "my classmate is an illegal immigrant" on the school's entrance. Freedom of expression is a core value. But it is not an excuse for vilification and unruly behaviour.