Beijing must counter perceptions in Hong Kong of high-handedness

Holden Chow says such views matter in politics, and mainland authorities should consider softening their approach to Hong Kong’s dissenting voices

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 4:55pm

Britain is set to decide whether it will stay in the European Union. A tiny peninsula with a population of just over 30,000 also joins the debate – Gibraltar, as a British overseas territory, will also take part in the referendum. Unlike Britain, where opinion is split, those in Gibraltar overwhelmingly support the UK staying in the EU.

There are many reasons for this, but one of them is worth discussing here. Spain, located right next to Gibraltar, wants sovereignty over the rock. Though most Gibraltarians oppose this (and voted to reject Spain’s claim in a 2002 referendum), many cross into Spain for work, and they know that leaving the EU may result in Spain closing the border again, as it did from 1969 to 1985.

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Gibraltar knows better than most others the pain of isolation. After all, jobs and the economy are pillars of any society. Thus, despite its tense relations with Spain, it is inclined to remain open.

Unlike Gibraltar, Hong Kong is part of China – an undisputed fact – and any push for independence will bring great harm to our economy. Countless Hong Kong people have jobs directly or indirectly associated with the mainland. Those who peddle separatism will have to think about border arrangements, and the impact upon our economy.

It is interesting to note, too, that the Spanish government is widely seen by Gibraltarians as a condescending authority. Their resentment is probably the result of Spain’s high-handed approach.

Gibraltar offers a lesson. I trust Beijing in its support for our prosperity and stability. But despite its sincerity and efforts, some Hong Kong people still see it as a patronising superior. There is a minority in the city who spare no effort in demonising the central government. But at the same time, no one can deny the diminishing trust between Beijing and the great majority of Hong Kong people. Thus any measures taken by the central government are easily interpreted as infringing our rights.

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The political reform dispute is a case in point. The central government is perceived by most Hong Kong people as dismissing their concerns about universal suffrage, though this is not true.

Perception counts. If such views persist, they will encourage talk of separatism, which will lead to serious harm to “one country, two systems”. To find a way out, Beijing should consider making more concessions to the pan-democrats on key issues, including future political reform. At least it should avoid being seen as turning its back on dissenters in Hong Kong. After all, perception matters in politics. Compromise could bring desirable results.

Holden Chow is vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong