Objective debate the best for our future

We should avoid irrational debates over the threat to our identity and look at what benefits we may also gain

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 August, 2017, 12:46am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 August, 2017, 12:46am

An offer of privileged access for Hong Kong people to mainland benefits tends to get a mixed reaction on both sides of the border. Local mainland officials who have to foot the bill ask what they get in return for reallocating social resources, while many in this city who remain reluctant to visit the mainland, or accept that their perceptions may be outdated, suspect the motive.

These sentiments persist in reactions to the news that Beijing is planning to offer Hongkongers the same privileges as their mainland counterparts when studying, working or living across the border, beginning with free education, help to find jobs and some social benefits. The announcement in a Xinhua report coincided with calls by President Xi Jinping to make it “more convenient” for Hongkongers to “study, work and live on the mainland”. This comes after Shenzhen recently relaxed residency rules to allow Hong Kong students to apply to study in government-funded schools. Much remains to be revealed about a number of issues, including tax arrangements, the extent of access to benefits and rights to buy property.

Hong Kong gives nothing in return and there are no strings attached. For Beijing this is a political mission, to endear the mainland to Hong Kong people and reach out to the new generation. As such it is part of Beijing’s push for greater national integration, but the bill for social benefits remains the responsibility of local governments.

Work, study and play: will Hong Kong residents be tempted by equal rights in mainland China?

The proposal is welcome for making it more convenient for Hong Kong people to work over the border. But this alone will not make integration happen, although it will help improve understanding of the mainland. More is needed to change a mindset trapped in the 1980s or 90s, unaware for example how much the mainland has changed and how many educational options there are in considering what is best for a child’s future.

That said, cross-border interaction in Hong Kong is confusing, with a large number of its people living in or having some connection with the mainland, many commuting daily in either direction for work or education, yet others still wanting to have nothing to do with China. This is an example of society having become increasingly fragmented by conflicting perceptions of Beijing’s motives.

Even so, there is room to look at what is on offer objectively in terms of what is best for the city’s future. All too often reaction heads off in an irrational direction, for example that something offered by Beijing undermines our identity. We should at least strive to steer away from this kind of debate and focus on how to make the best of what is on offer, whether it be the high-speed rail or the proposed equal-status benefits. Hongkongers’ identity is built on seizing opportunities.