A lecture from Beijing that Hong Kong should not ignore
It’s a given that state leaders will praise an openly obsequious government in Macau, but increasingly it sounds like a warning to us to toe the line – or else!
It has become a ritual for visiting state leaders to praise Macau at the expense of Hong Kong. For the central government, the former Portuguese enclave has been the model son while we are the wayward, ill-behaved one ever since the two cities were returned to China by their respective colonial powers.
Some of us who are old enough can still remember an embarrassed Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s first chief executive, and other policy bureau chiefs, being lined up and lectured to by former president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤 ) while he lavished praise on Macau in late 2004.
So the chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, Zhang Dejiang (張德江), has continued this indirect criticism during his visit to Macau this week. He said Macau had made great strides in advancing national security, promoting patriotism and practising pragmatism.
That’s true from Beijing’s perspective. Macau has a restrained legislature and an openly obsequious government. It passed laws against treason, secession, sedition and subversion just 10 years after its return to Chinese sovereignty. We in Hong Kong are still debating whether we should even talk about Article 23 of the Basic Law, the part of the mini-constitution that places the responsibility on us to pass national security legislation.
Our city may be richer given its much larger economy, but in terms of housing, social services and disposable income, poor and grass-roots families in Macau may actually be better off.
But, of course, none of this really matters; such comparisons are mostly beside the point. Macau has about 650,000 people. At least four of our 18 districts – Eastern, Kwun Tong, Sha Tin and Yuen Long – have a comparable population. If our chief executive has been compared – a tad incorrectly – to being the mayor of a big city, Macau’s is more like the chairman of a highly empowered district council.
Hong Kong has a key part to play in the Great Game of international politics, global trade and China’s rise. Macau will always be a sideshow. Our government is being measured against global governance standards while still having to please Beijing. Macau’s government faces no such pressure or comparison. Our people are also far more ideologically diverse.
China’s state leaders are political realists who understand this. They know Hong Kong’s problems and conflicts won’t go away on their say-so. Their criticism increasingly sounds like frustration and impatience. And therein lies the real danger. One day soon, they will stop giving lectures, and instead show us the whip.