“Take the island, not the people.” You may or may not be familiar with this Chinese phrase. But it has several controversial meanings among people in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Chip Tsao, the commentator and writer, has recently resurrected this long-standing row about Beijing’s true intentions towards both places. In a novel twist, he claims Britain’s offer of the BN(O) scheme for Hongkongers to become citizens there is to help Beijing succeed in governing the city. Really! Speaking at RTHK’s City Forum, he said if around 300,000 people take up British residency, it would be good for Hong Kong in terms of “human resources” – making room for new talent – as well as the local property market. Without directly mentioning the Chinese phrase, he is effectively arguing for its substance: let go of those who don’t want to stay. His “analysis” has provoked anger within both yellow and blue camps. The yellows think it’s absurd that the British would try to help Beijing because they love Hong Kong people; the blues think it’s absurd that Beijing would want to get rid of everyone just to keep the city when the central government loves Hong Kong people. It all gets rather emotional. I am not sure Tsao wasn’t being his usual sarcastic self and delighted to get everyone fired up. But he might have stirred up a hornets’ nest. Before it gained currency in Hong Kong, especially after the 2019 unrest, the Chinese phrase had long been used in Taiwan with a bloodthirsty meaning. Roughly, the most violent version has the mainland invade the island, and then kill and exile the people. This seems to be a real if paranoid belief among segments of the population seeking independence. There is even a popular if very rude pro-independence rap song in Mandarin that carries the lines: “Kill the people/Take the island/F*** your mother.” Tsao does have a point, though. As I have argued in this space, those who wish to leave Hong Kong should be free to do so without penalty, and those who want to come here – especially from the mainland – should be encouraged. Stripping BN(O) passport holders of Hong Kong residency could spark chaos For much of its existence as a modern city, Hong Kong has been a city of migrants. People come to take up opportunities; others leave for greener pastures. Let’s not stop this fine tradition now.