‘China’s loss is not Hong Kong’s gain’: scholar warns gloating of Chinese athletes’ bad form at Games is a worrying sign of social climate

He says the city has more to lose if relations with the mainland deteriorate

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 August, 2016, 11:16am

The ongoing Olympic Games in Rio have sparked a new round of discussions on Hongkongers’ sense of identity in relation to mainland China, after a number of them gloated over the ­disappointing performances of China’s athletes.

Scholars attributed the ­trend to drastic change in the city’s social and political climate in recent years, especially with the rise of localism.

Mean-spirited comments on social media surfaced after China’s athletes ended the opening day of the Games without any gold medal – only the ­second time since 1984 when China started competing in the Olympics.

After Chinese swim star and defending champion Sun Yang lost the gold to his Australian rival Mack Horton in the 400 metres freestyle final, an internet user mocked: “It must be because of the time difference, bad water quality and interference of foreign ­forces!”

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China’s Olympic gold medal haul used to be a source of national pride even for Hong Kong. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 51.9 per cent of Hongkongers identified themselves as ­“Chinese” – the peak percentage recorded since the Hong Kong ­University started the survey in 1997. The number has since dropped to 30.7 per cent in June this year.

“I am not happy for the losses of China’s national teams. I am not glad for their success either. I used to cheer for Chinese athletes and feel anxious about their competitions, but now I don’t,” a ­Facebook user from Hong Kong said.

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Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies said in an RTHK radio interview yesterday the rise of localism and anti-mainland sentiments in Hong Kong in recent years, had ­prompted the spate of ambivalence and gloating towards China’s athletes in Rio de Janeiro.

But he believed this is only ­limited to a small group of people in Hong Kong.

However, Lau said this year’s reactions by Hongkongers to the Olympics ­reflected the widening emotional gap between the city’s youth and those on the mainland.

“In the past decade, there has been a surge in nationalistic ­sentiment on the mainland,” Lau said. This is in stark contrast to the localism and pro-independence ideas that had emerged in the city during the same period, he added.

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Lau said the emotional ­difference was likely to become a source of conflict between the two sides in the future.

“The mainland Chinese have not yet become hostile towards Hong Kong,” Lau pointed out, adding the city would have more to lose if the ­relationship between the two groups deteriorated.

“Whether the ‘one country, two systems’ principle can ­continue, to a large extent, depends on the attitude of the mainland Chinese.”

He added the collective will of those on the mainland has a larger say on the city’s future now compared to over 30 years ago.