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John Tsang said localism can be a “strong and constructive force” that binds Hong Kong society together. Photo: Reuters

The bright side of localism: Hong Kong’s finance minister sees a constructive sense of pride

John Tsang says localism can be a force for good, contrasting sharply with government’s usual stance against protectionism and pro-independence trend

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah has put a positive spin on the rise of localism in Hong Kong, citing its potential to become a “strong and constructive force” that binds society together, rather than looking at it as a destructive trend.

The unexpected remarks published on his blog yesterday were in stark contrast to the confrontational approach of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who slammed localist protests against mainland visitors and attacked student leaders for discussing self-determination for the city.

Tsang’s line also contrasted sharply with Beijing’s preference for nationalism over localism, but he stopped short of addressing the anti-mainland, pro-independence trend among the youth which has particularly alarmed both the local and central governments.

Tsang compared localism with the alumi’s sense of belonging at his secondary school, La Salle College, in Kowloon City.

“They are common ... [in that it is] a strong passion and sense of pride for one’s own identity, tradition and culture. Such a sentiment exists everywhere – from as big as a country and a race to as a small as a school,” Tsang wrote.

“I believe this emotional attachment and sense of pride, too, exists among all Hongkongers. Our deep sentiment in Hong Kong can be united as a strong and constructive force.”

This could drive Hong Kong towards the better, rather than be “merely a seclusive, negative and even destructive protectionism”, he argued.

Hong Kong fans during the World Cup qualifier in November declared

The conciliatory approach raised eyebrows in local political circles yesterday, given Beijing’s growing emphasis on patriotism.

Gary Fan Kwok-wai, the NeoDemocrats lawmaker who took a localist line, noted: “Tsang has shown much higher political prowess than Leung.

“Leung shores up his own power through confrontation. But Tsang is more pragmatic in reviewing the rise of localism.”

Executive Council convenor Lam Woon-kwong echoed Tsang’s views, saying it was “very normal” for Hongkongers to have a sense of pride and belonging.

“I have got in touch with a lot of teenagers. They all have much deeper and wider views on national and international developments than in the past,” said Lam.

But he added that the younger generation should not be “excessively localist” and should widen its horizons.

Open discussions about independence for Hong Kong and the waving of British colonial flags in nativist rallies have prompted Beijing officials to stress the need for Hong Kong’s youth to love the motherland and develop a sense of national pride.

In September, former Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office deputy director Chen Zuoer (陳佐洱) sparked controversy by asking the city to “decolonise” itself, saying: “If one loves only his home and forgets about the country, this sentiment, though a good one, needs to be deepened.”

READ MORE: Hong Kong’s failure to ‘implement de-colonialisation’ has caused serious problems, says former Beijing handover official

Earlier this year, Leung criticised Fan and Civic Party lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching over their support for the localist movement, as anti-mainland sentiment degenerated into radical protests that saw Hongkongers clash with mainland visitors in shopping malls.

The two pro-democracy lawmakers had suggested people protest with suitcases – mocking the visitors’ tendency to wheel around their luggage while shopping in Hong Kong.

In his last policy speech Leung criticised the University of Hong Kong student magazine Undergrad and a book it published for advocating self-determination for the city.