Xi Jinping lost his chance to build bridges with opposition parties in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 5:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 9:52pm

Most residents of Hong Kong and Macau are ethnic Chinese. And, on the basis of national identity, it could be argued we should love the motherland and respect its history and culture, despite any marked political differences.

However, many youngsters in both cities are unwilling to identify themselves as Chinese. This is partly because they are ashamed of the misconduct of mainlanders when visiting foreign countries, and their differences with some of the policies adopted by the Hong Kong and Macau administrations.

To encourage feelings of national consciousness, Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has put national education and Chinese history back on the table. If these are made compulsory in local schools, it will mean students are being coerced to study something that they dislike.

This would have the opposite effect of what is intended, as Hongkongers resent policies imposed with an iron fist. I recall the words of Mahatma Gandhi’s during India’s struggle for independence. He said the British colonial rulers could torture and even kill him, and they “will have my dead body, but not my obedience”.

To win the support of citizens, good leaders must, from time to time, show empathy for their views and indicate that they are being listened to. People should not be forced to adhere to unreasonable policies, as it will have the opposite effect of what is intended.

If President Xi Jinping (習近平) had treated Hongkongers in a friendly manner during his three-day visit to the city to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover, and had made conciliatory gestures towards the opposition parties, it would have lessened the feelings of distrust between Hong Kong and Beijing.

Unfortunately, he chose not to grasp this opportunity. Instead, he adopted a tougher line and, the day before the anniversary celebrations, he inspected the largest military parade in the PLA garrison since 1997.

I do not believe a parade like this can win the hearts and minds of most Hongkongers. In fact, it will exacerbate the divisions which already exist in this badly fractured city.

Most people want to see conciliatory policies instead of tough ones. They are more likely to be proud of a country where the government shows leniency and compassion towards the weak, rather than brute strength.

Barnaby Ieong, Macau