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Hong Kong Basic Law

Spirit of ‘one country, two systems’ key to national identity issue in Hong Kong

Every effort must be made to keep to the formula after research has shown that the problem is more a lack of trust in Beijing rather than a lack of patriotism 

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 April, 2018, 4:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 April, 2018, 4:30am

The national identity of Hongkongers, or the lack of it, has been put under the spotlight again. There can be no dispute that a lot more needs to be done to nurture a greater sense of belonging to the country. But instead of just focusing on what measures may be adopted, we should also reflect on the reasons behind the situation. 

If an analysis by researchers from the City University is any guide, the problem is more a lack of trust in the central government rather than a lack of patriotism.

Based on data collected by the public opinion programme of the University of Hong Kong since 1997, researchers found that a rise in local identity did not necessarily result in a fall in national identity. The fluctuations in the latter were more correlated to changes in the level of trust in Beijing. 

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Another study by the New People’s Party showed that Hong Kong students were aware of developments on the mainland and did not resist its culture, but few wanted to work across the border. About 10 per cent of respondents believed that local and national identities were compatible, although the majority gave an equivocal response. 

The findings have provided some food for thought. Indeed, localism and national identity need not be mutually exclusive. This was also recognised by Zhang Dejiang, the then chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee during his visit to the city in 2016.

Referring to his background as a native of northeastern China, Zhang said one could love one’s hometown and the motherland at the same time. But there is a clear difference between promoting localism and separatism. The advocacy of independence will not be allowed under any circumstances.

The reason why the Hong Kong identity remains stronger than the national one owes much to the way “one country, two systems” has been implemented.

Since the handover, our identity has, until recent years, been shaped by the distinction of the two systems. Now there is stronger emphasis on one country, and the shift has aroused concern as to whether there is less room for the city to manage its own affairs.

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This has prompted a robust defence of our two systems, so much so that it has sometimes given the impression that one country has not been given due regard. 

The Basic Law states clearly that the city is an inalienable part of China. We should not allow localism to become a collective psyche of resistance and denial of our connection with the country.

Similarly, it should be recognised that Hong Kong’s strengths and values lie in its ability to maintain its own system while leveraging on the opportunities arising from one country. Every effort has to be made, here and on the mainland, to ensure that the spirit of one country, two systems is well understood and respected.