Hong Kong will never be Macau. Beijing’s comparison of the two shows it is in denial
- A big part of Beijing’s problems with Hong Kong is its consistent misreading of public sentiment. Calls for it to be more like trouble-free, compliant Macau only show that China’s leadership remains out of touch
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council minister Chen Ming-tong, in speaking against fake news and political interference, cheekily told Beijing recently not only to respect the island’s democratic election system but also to learn from it. It’s almost hard to recall – or even imagine – that it was only a little over a year ago that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party suffered a humiliating defeat in local elections.
Raise the issue of sovereignty with Beijing and it’s as certain as the law of gravity that it would go berserk. And an agitated hardline-leaning use-of-force-threatening Beijing would deliver exactly what Tsai needed: ammunition to evoke the visceral fear among her people. And when it comes to elections, nothing is more effective than instilling emotions – anxiety against a threat. Maybe Chen wanted Beijing to take note of that.
Macau won the hearts of Beijing’s leaders by enacting national security legislation without incident, unlike Hong Kong, and by having more “patriots” in leadership positions. There is nothing wrong with praising Macau and appreciating and celebrating this former Portuguese colony, of course. It is most unwise, however, to want Hong Kong, or anyone else, to be more like Macau.
Hong Kong could not be Macau, even if it wanted to. We don’t need to dive into the inherent differences – geographical, demographical, historical, cultural – and realities that render that impossible. Macau deserves to be celebrated for its distinct character, just as Hong Kong should be.
An integral part of “one country, two systems” is making distinctions – Macau, just like Hong Kong, is unique and cannot be emulated. At the epicentre of Hong Kong’s current turmoil is the people’s rage against the threat of mainland encroachment, of their identity being erased. It’s an existential crisis that is fuelled by this very sort of rhetoric.
The people of Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the mainland lead very different lives. “One country, two systems” is supposed to protect, honour and celebrate those differences. To demand for people to fit into some sort of “one country, two systems” cookie cutter defeats its purpose.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA