Xi Jinping

Does Xi Jinping’s talk of ‘organic’ relations signal the end of Hong Kong being treated like a child?

Alice Wu says while some of the politics and ideology of the party congress may be lost on Hongkongers, we should welcome the president’s conciliatory tone, opening the door to more mature relations

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 October, 2017, 9:32am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 October, 2017, 5:30pm

If we can hold off on judging President Xi Jinping’s opening speech at the 19th party congress in Beijing, we may be able to see past the contentious issues testing Beijing-Hong Kong relations. Perhaps that is where we can find our place in China’s “new era”.

However, avoiding judgment is easier said than done. In Hong Kong, we have always watched these party congresses from a distance, as spectators. It’s not so much because of the dialect; they are filled with unfamiliar political and ideological lingo. We do not have a socialist system – something crucial to the “one country, two systems” principle that our way of life is based on.

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Our high degree of autonomy comes with an inherent detachment, and even a dose of dissonance. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” sounds foreign to our ears. Perhaps being on the sidelines of these congresses is the only practical way of steering the “one country, two systems” boat.

But Xi made a point of emphasising Hong Kong and Macau in his lengthy, lofty speech. On the whole, there wasn’t a lot on Hong Kong, yet reiterating “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong and Macau understandably reinforces a sense of fear for many here. But there comes a point when we have to decide whether to resign ourselves to such unsettling feelings.

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For all the idealism of Xi’s speech, it seems evident that he is aware of the practical challenges of “one country, two systems”. Xi acknowledged that Beijing’s comprehensive jurisdiction over the special administrative regions and the high degree of autonomy promised to the SARs require working together “in an organic manner”, which carries a less aggressive tone than expected. It is his recognition that the nature of the relationship is not unilateral, and will need to develop with time.

Unlike the territorial integrity issue, where Xi and his predecessors have always stood hawkishly firm, an “organic” relationship requires interaction and involvement. It hints at an evolving relationship, allowing for unpredictability and messiness. While Xi’s stand against separatist sentiment is unequivocal, he has articulated an important understanding and set a conciliatory tone, which may be encouraging news for Hong Kong.

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This doesn’t guarantee that nothing will go wrong during this “organic” process. But, at the very least, it is a formal recognition, from the “core”, of our inherent systemic differences. It is a work in progress and something that both sides can affect. What we make of it is at least partly up to us. Xi has opened the door to a more sophisticated and mature relationship. We can remain pessimistic or see it as “grandpa” no longer treating us like children.

We can try to appreciate the challenges that Xi must face – and there are many – and understand that “grandpa” can’t pay a disproportionate amount of attention to us. He is tasked with bringing China out of “the primary stage of socialism”, something previous leaders like Jiang Zemin believed would take China 100 years to achieve. By 2050, Xi sees China becoming a “great modern socialist nation – strong, prosperous and democratic – with pioneering global influence”.

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Xi’s “dream of national rejuvenation” is his the ultimate goal to take China out of its century of humiliation. These are sentiments that we may not feel, at least not as strongly. There remain concepts that we cannot comprehend, but we can understand that the country is set on a path that moves on from victimisation to finding its new place in the world.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA