Minority report: mainland Chinese official says Hong Kong separatists do not represent the mainstream

Feng Wei from Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office says he can understand the frustrations of local youth amid economic problems

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 March, 2016, 5:20am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 March, 2016, 5:40am

Advocates of separatism and Hong Kong independence are a minority who do not represent the mainstream but their views have been “magnified”, according to a top Beijing official in charge of Hong Kong affairs.

“We don’t see Hong Kong and the city’s young people in that way,” said Feng Wei, the deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

“The absolute majority of Hong Kong people are patriotic. Hong Kong people are pragmatic and full of wisdom. I always adopt a positive and optimistic attitude towards Hong Kong. We are patient enough in handling Hong Kong affairs.”

Such was the positive note that Feng struck during an exclusive interview with the Post earlier this month.

In the wide-ranging session, he also acknowledged that there were areas the central government could improve on, chiefly in communicating its position and in understanding Hong Kong people.

READ MORE: Several young Hong Kong radicals likely to get elected to Legislative Council, says top Beijing official

The central government, Feng said, needed to learn to express its thoughts in language Hong Kong people could comprehend and were acquainted with, and in ways acceptable to them.

“The country has done a lot of things for Hong Kong which we didn’t mention. Sometimes we didn’t talk about them properly,” he said. “We need to make improvements in this aspect.”

Feng’s view was similar to that offered by Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing. Commenting last August on the white paper issued by the State Council in June 2014, which stressed the central government’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong in spelling out electoral reform, Tsang said this had sent a key message to Hongkongers in “an unruly and unsophisticated manner” and had sparked a backlash among some Hong Kong people.

The controversial document sparked fears the high degree of autonomy Hong Kong enjoyed would be undermined and led to the 79-day Occupy protests and eventually the rejection of the electoral reform package.

Feng is no stranger to taking a pragmatic approach. Last August, after the electoral reform was rejected by Legco, Feng reached out to meet leaders of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong.

During the interview, Feng also set out the central government’s view of the rise of localism and the Mong Kok riot, which broke out on the first day of the Lunar New Year.

He said that the government was looking into the reasons behind the growth of radicalism and the tendency of activists to resort to violent protest methods.

He attributed the trend to sluggish economic growth in Hong Kong, noting that Hongkongers’ median income had barely increased in the past two decades while property prices had surged.

“Problems with the economy certainly affect people’s livelihood and give rise to social conflicts,” Feng said.

He also noted internet-savvy young people in Hong Kong generally adopted a critical stance on social and political issues.

“They are more inclined to challenge authority and act on impulse. In this context, it’s not difficult to understand the behaviour of youngsters in Hong Kong and the fact that a tiny minority of young people are influenced by separatism,” he said.

“This phenomenon is not unique in Hong Kong and is also notable in other countries,” he said.

A week after the Mong Kok riot, Beijing branded the instigators “separatists”, a classification that appears to place them in the same category as separatists from Tibet and Xinjiang who are considered a threat to national security.

Localist candidate Edward Leung Tin-kei also stunned pundits by clinching more than 66,000 votes in last month’s Legislative Council by-election in New Territories East.

The subject of the Mong Kok riot was on the minds of Hong Kong delegates to the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference as they wondered whether Beijing would take a hardline approach.

In the end, that was not the case, as NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang, who oversees Hong Kong affairs, told the city’s CPPCC deputies two weeks ago that the “one country, two systems” principle would remain unchanged, although he urged the city to safeguard the rule of law. His address was described as relatively moderate as he made no mention of localism or the Legco by-election.

And significantly, Zhang did not repeat the tough line he sounded in March last year, when he issued a stern warning against advocates of independence and self-determination for the city.

He said last year their calls were “intolerable” and would seriously jeopardise overall national interests.

On the “one country, two ­systems” principle, CPPCC delegate Samuel Yung Wing-ki quoted Zhang as saying: “There are new situations and new problems in Hong Kong, and some people are worried that the principle would change ... but these worries are unnecessary.”

Zhang also said on March 6 that Hong Kong was not unique in witnessing social conflicts and young people’s grievances, noting that “young people in many countries are unhappy” with problems such as unemployment and housing.

Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, stressed last Wednesday the continuity of the central government’s policies towards Hong Kong despite “recent events” in the city.

Feng himself also took the trouble to put the recent assertiveness of young people to a development that went hand in hand with the rise of social media. “This phenomenon is not unique in Hong Kong. It is also notable in other countries and may be a worldwide trend.”

A rising moderate star among mainland officials

Feng Wei, seen as a rising star among mainland officials handling Hong Kong affairs, has been making the headlines in the past few years.

A graduate of Peking University’s law school, he studied at the London School of Economics in the early 1990s, and at the law schools of the University of Hong Kong and City University in the mid-1990s. In 1997, he became the first legal affairs department spokesman of the PLA Hong Kong garrison.

The senior colonel later joined the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong and was promoted as director of legal affairs.

In April 2010, Feng held a meeting with Democratic Party leaders. It paved the way for the historic talk between the Democrats and liaison office deputy director Li Gang a month later, which led to an agreement allowing 3.2 million people without a vote in a functional constituency to elect five super-seat lawmakers.

Feng, 58, who was present at the closed-door meeting, became deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in July 2014.

He is seen as a moderate among the central government corps that favours dialogue with moderate pan-democrats. In August, Feng met Democratic Party leaders to discuss Hong Kong’s governance and constitutional reform. The meeting was seen as an olive branch from Beijing after the reform plan was voted down last June.