20 October 2018
Beijing repeatedly asks Hong Kong people to love the country. Photo: Youtube
Beijing repeatedly asks Hong Kong people to love the country. Photo: Youtube

Talk less about patriotism, more on mutual benefits

It’s easy to get mixed up in a certain subject if one does not fully understand it.

China’s recently released white paper on Hong Kong is an example of how easily Beijing can misjudge its people.

Yet, without reflecting the true views and feelings of Hong Kong, the central government released the document in seven languages.

In an instant, it became a catalyst for an informal referendum in Hong Kong on democratic reform. More than 700,000 people turned out and more are expected to take to the polls by the time the exercise ends on June 29.

Already, organizers of the July 1 pro-democracy march are expecting a bump in numbers. 

Beijing hasn’t learned from recent history. Instead of taking the bull by the horn, it created its own bogeyman — foreign powers — and blamed the problems on it.

In 2003, the central government suffered a serious setback when it failed to bring a national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution. It pulled the measure after 500,000 people protested against it.

During the past decade, Beijing has tried to increase its knowledge about Hong Kong by setting up the Hong Kong and Macao Work Coordination Group, frequently sending researchers to the city and strengthening the resources of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong.

Still, Beijing officials rely on the chief executive and local officials to tell them about the situation in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, these officials are quite handicapped in understanding the real sentiment of the public.

This is why Beijing has miscalculated Hong Kong again and again. In 2012, it ordered the Hong Kong government to introduce national education courses in the primary and secondary school curriculum but was forced to back down after 120,000 protesters took to the streets to voice their objection.

Now comes the white paper which spells out the “one country, two systems” doctrine under which Hong Kong is promised a high degree of autonomy. 

The key message in the document is that “one country” is more important than “two systems” and that Hong Kong’s core task is to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

For Beijing, such interpretation is the most natural thing but Hong Kong people have never heard such an important anchor of their way of life put in such a strange manner.

Ten years ago, a Beijing official asked a group of Hong Kong reporters in an off-the-record chat about what Hong Kong’s core values are.

Some reporters mentioned rule of law, freedom of speech, level-playing field and human rights, all of which would make sense to a Hong Kong person.

“You were all brainwashed by [Democratic Party's Martin] Lee Chu-ming… Hong Kong’s core value is to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the official said.

Most reporters at that time were astonished by the official’s comment. “Is he insane?” some of them thought.

From Hong Kong people’s perspective, Beijing has already taken control of Hong Kong militarily, politically and economically after the 1997 handover.

Why does Beijing have to always remind Hong Kong people to love the country and help safeguard territorial integrity? Was it not patriotic enough for Hongkongers to invest in the mainland and help grow its exports?

Without core values such as rule of law and freedom of speech, can Hong Kong continue be a viable economy strong enough to contribute its share to the country?

By repeatedly asking Hong Kong people to love the country, Beijing assumes they’re unpatriotic. The white paper amplifies that but did it take Beijing all this time to conclude Hongkongers don’t love the country?

If anything, Beijing’s move proves one thing — it has a centuries-old perspective on Hong Kong that ignores the fact that it is a major international city. And it fears a Sun Yat-sen in Hong Kong at that.

This is not a joke. Beijing actually believes that western powers are using Hong Kong to subvert China and the Communist Party.

Granting Hong Kong people are not the most patriotic or nationalistic in the world, they have no wish to bring about the collapse of the Chinese government or its economy.

So what is Beijing afraid of?

As a public relations strategy, Beijing’s bullying of Hong Kong about patriotism doesn’t work. It’s better off talking less about patriotism and more about upholding core values that resonate with Hong Kong people.

There are no Sun Yat-sens in Hong Kong, only millions of people who appreciate the value of harmonious cross-border relations.

Related story:

Beware of Hollywood movies, they’d turn you into pan-democrats

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Chief reporter at EJ Insight

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