Xi Jinping vows to strengthen national identity and patriotism in Hong Kong and Macau

In closing speech at NPC’s annual congress, Chinese president pledges to support integration of both cities into national development strategies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 1:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 11:30pm

President Xi Jinping on Tuesday vowed to strengthen the national identity and patriotism of the people of Hong Kong and Macau, as Beijing implements its “one country, two systems” governing principle in the two cities “comprehensively and accurately”.

Speaking at the close of the National People’s Congress’ annual session, Xi also pledged to support the integration of Hong Kong and Macau into national development strategies, in a reference to the “Greater Bay Area” project, which aims to transform the two cities, along with nine others in mainland China, into one of the world’s strongest economic powerhouses.

Premier Li Keqiang said separately that Beijing would observe one country, two systems when implementing the bay area plan so that Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau could benefit each other with their own unique strengths.

Six key points from Xi Jinping’s speech wrapping up China’s national congress

Xi started his 37-minute speech, the first after his re-election as China’s president on Saturday, by praising the Chinese people for their innovative spirit, courage in the face of difficulties, unity and willingness to dream.

The president also identified economic reforms, governance, culture, livelihood and the environment as five key policy areas that the central government needed to work on.

Moving on to Hong Kong and Macau, Xi said: “We will comprehensively and accurately implement the principles of ‘one country, two systems’, ‘Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong’, ‘Macau people governing Macau’ and ‘high degree of autonomy’.”

Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, Beijing has guaranteed that the city, as a special administrative region, will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, and China’s socialist systems will not be implemented in Hong Kong for 50 years after its 1997 return from British to Chinese rule. But incidents such as the missing booksellers saga of 2015 have sparked fears about the erosion of civil liberties and freedoms.

Earlier this month, Li mentioned one country, two systems but left out the phrases “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and “high degree of autonomy” during his annual work report, raising questions as to whether Beijing was less keen on ensuring Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy.

Xi continued in his speech: “[We will] strictly follow the constitution and the Basic Law, and support the SAR governments and chief executives in proactive governance in accordance with the law.

“[We will] support Hong Kong and Macau in integrating into the country’s development strategies, strengthen the national identity and patriotism of compatriots [in the two cities], and maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macau.”

Changing Hong Kong people’s traditions won’t make them love China

Xi also pledged in October last year to strengthen Hong Kong people’s national identity as he delivered his five-yearly work report at the opening of the Communist Party’s 19th congress.

“We will develop and strengthen the ranks of patriots who love both our country and their regions, and foster greater patriotism and a stronger sense of national identity among the people in Hong Kong and Macau,” Xi said at the time. 

But just two months after the party congress, the University of Hong Kong released the results of a poll that found almost no young people in the city considered themselves Chinese. Only 0.3 per cent of those aged 18 to 29 identified as “Chinese”, compared with 69.7 per cent who considered themselves to be “Hongkongers”. Commentators interpreted this as a reflection of resentment against the central government rather than an identity crisis.

Li said at a press conference after Xi finished his speech: “There can be mutually beneficial cooperation and common development between us and other countries, not to mention among Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland, which belong to the same country under the one country, two systems principle.”

Responding to a question on whether Hong Kong’s uniqueness and one country, two systems would be compromised under the integration drive, the premier said the Greater Bay Area could not become “world-class and be competitive internationally” unless Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau capitalised on each other’s strengths.

“We have confidence that these three areas will draw upon each other’s comparative strengths and work together in building a new and strong area of growth,” he added.

Li also promised that Beijing would gradually introduce new policies so that Hong Kong people could enjoy “national treatment”, or the same benefits as mainland Chinese, while living, studying or travelling in the Guangdong cities. The project’s outline is expected to be rolled out as early as next month.

On Li’s remarks, NPC deputy Peter Wong Man-kong agreed that the bay area scheme had “very bright” prospects as different cities could work together to create synergy.

Wong said the key to success was whether the cities would cooperate and communicate well. Potential competition from Shanghai and other cities in the Yangtze River Delta would also have an impact, he added.

How does Hong Kong love China? It’s better not to be forced to count the ways

On Xi’s pledges, Wong Yuk-shan, spokesman for Hong Kong’s NPC delegation and president of the Open University of Hong Kong, said the city should do more on national education, to enhance patriotism and national identity among Hongkongers, especially young people and students.

The central government hopes that Hong Kong people can have a stronger sense of national identity, but it is unlikely to spell out what policies the local government should adopt
Lau Siu-kai, think tank vice-chairman

“Primary and secondary schools should provide more training about national development, history and culture,” Wong said. “Universities should also offer more related liberal studies courses, assisting students to better understand the country.”

Hong Kong-based China watcher Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Xi’s message was for the whole of Hong Kong.

“Beijing officials had said previously that Hong Kong young people should have a better understanding of the country. But Xi’s message was not meant only for the education sector – it was for different sectors and the local government as well,” he said.

“The central government hopes that Hong Kong people can have a stronger sense of national identity, but it is unlikely to spell out what policies the local government should adopt.”

NPC deputy Ip Kwok-him said: “As Chinese people, it is obviously necessary for Hongkongers to have a sense of national identity … The Chinese dream has to be realised by all Chinese people.”

Kimmy Chung is reporting from Beijing. Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam and Phila Siu in Beijing.