Hongkongers view Washington worse over past year than Beijing, as US-China trade war fears loom

Poll also finds local residents viewed central government less favourably than how they saw their mainland counterparts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 6:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 4:37pm

Local residents have viewed the United States government more negatively over the past year compared with how they felt about Beijing officials, according to the University of Hong Kong’s latest poll, as commentators said the results reflected local worries over the two countries’ trade war.

However, the university also found that Hongkongers had continued to regard Beijing less favourably than how they saw mainland Chinese, as central government officials take a tough stance on local hot-button issues such as advocacy of the city’s independence or self-determination.

The HKU public opinion programme interviewed 502 Hong Kong residents earlier this month for their views on the governments and peoples of mainland China, the city and 12 other countries or regions around the world.

Why are Hongkongers obsessed with Singapore?

Only 31 per cent expressed positive sentiments about mainland Chinese, while 29 per cent said they felt negatively towards their counterparts over the border. This resulted in a net score of 2 percentage points, down from 4 percentage points a year ago and ranking last on the chart when it came to Hongkongers’ feelings towards different peoples.

As for their views of the Beijing government, 31 per cent said they felt positive while 39 per cent voiced negative sentiment. That meant a net score of -8 percentage points, or a drop from -3 percentage points a year ago.

Hongkongers view Beijing worse (-8 percentage points) than they saw mainland Chinese (+2 percentage points).

Hongkongers’ positive rating and net value of mainlanders and Beijing this year were lower than their feelings for the governments and peoples of their hometown, Macau and Taiwan.

However, it was the US that came last on the chart in terms of feelings towards governments.

As a rule, Hongkongers have typically felt more positive towards Beijing than Washington. But since November 2016, when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the US presidential election, the difference has become more pronounced in favour of the central government.

This time, only 15 per cent said they harboured positive feelings towards the US government, while 56 per cent said they felt negatively about it. That total amounted to a net value of – 41 percentage points, down from -35 percentage points a year ago.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a Beijing-backed think tank, said Washington’s international image had deteriorated in different countries.

Trump’s antagonism towards China has evoked nationalistic and patriotic feelings in many Hongkongers
Lau Siu-kai, think tank vice-chairman

“Trump’s antagonism towards China has evoked nationalistic and patriotic feelings in many Hongkongers ... who used to see the US as a democratic and liberal country that abided by rules and safeguarded international order and multilateralism,” Lau explained.

Veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said even before Trump’s election, Hongkongers had already been unhappy with how Washington was pressuring Beijing and other governments in its diplomatic policies.

“The US enjoyed a large bilateral trade surplus with Hong Kong ... but Trump’s tariff measures are hurting the city, which relies on trade,” Lau noted.

Following tit-for-tat 25 per cent tariffs on US$34 billion worth of goods on July 6, Washington announced a 10 per cent levy on another US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods last week, pending congressional approval.

Local officials estimated that with the second round of tariffs proposed by Washington, nearly half of the Chinese exports to the US via Hong Kong – or about 3.5 per cent of the city’s total exports – would be affected. The tariffs were also likely to directly cost about 0.1 to 0.2 per cent of the city’s GDP growth.

Many Chinese firms ‘will go bankrupt, if US delivers on tariff threat’

Lau believed Hongkongers viewed Beijing worse than they saw mainland Chinese because the country’s policies towards the city “were made by its government, not its people”.

This month, local police announced they would seek to ban the separatist Hong Kong National Party in the name of protecting national security.

Critics questioned whether the government had come under pressure from Beijing to do so, while some legal experts condemned the authorities for “political oppression”.

But Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor previously rejected their concerns.