When an overseas Chinese visits Hong Kong, he is dazzled by wonderful malls and bookshops where he can find titles as diverse as the opinions he hears on the street and the dishes he can eat in the restaurant.
But when officials of the United Front Department from Beijing arrive, they see different things. They see members of Falun Gong, banned in the mainland since 1999, handing out leaflets that call Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao “war criminals” and inviting them to sign a petition to leave the Communist Party.
When they ask the taxi driver how often he goes to the mainland, he may tell them the Communists confiscated the family land and property and he never wants to go. “For holidays, I go to Taiwan, Thailand or Philippines — anywhere but the mainland.”
The officials ask themselves: “15 years after the handover, is this city really part of China?”
Concern over national security as defined by the party is one reason for the decision of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on the form of election of the chief executive in Hong Kong in 2017.
“We cannot allow the person who becomes chief executive to oppose the central government,” said the People’s Daily in its commentary on Monday. “That is the principal demand of the Basic Law.”
In May this year, the government issued a Blue Paper on National Security which said that China faced “serious threats” in many sectors from western powers.
To Beijing, one centre of “subversion” for these threats is Hong Kong, which has the largest foreign population, highest concentration of NGOs, freest media and freedom to organise of any city in China.
Beijing sees some Hong Kong democrats as agents of foreign powers who wish to overthrow the Communist Party, as they did the regimes in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Iraq.
Critics say that, to combat this, Beijing has adopted several policies. They say that it is “colonising” Hong Kong with mainlanders, as it has done in Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Xinjiang and other minority areas.
Since 1997, 760,000 mainlanders have migrated here on one-way visas. Add the number of investor and “talent” migrants and the total is close to one million, by some estimates.
By 2047, the end of the 50 years of one country, two systems, they may outnumber the original Hong Kong inhabitants.
Another policy is to put economic pressure on the business community to support the initiatives of Beijing. The vast majority have come out in support of the NPC decision.
The pressure is also evident in the media where proprietors are changing their editorial line and sidelining or dismissing reporters and columnists too critical of Beijing.
It is a matter not so much of censorship as self-censorship; the proprietors do not wish to jeopardize their investments in China or advertisements from mainland-owned companies in Hong Kong.
A third is to increase “national education”, encouraging schools to organise study tours for its students in China.
Beijing also promotes the use of Putonghua; it is now spoken by 48 per cent of Hong Kong residents, up from 33 per cent in 2001, according to the most recent census.
It has for the first time surpassed English as the second most commonly spoken language in the city, after Cantonese. For the last 10 years, students must learn Putonghua in primary and secondary school.
Beijing regards Cantonese as a dialect, like Sichuanese or Hunanese, and wants to make Putonghua the principal language of education, business and the government here, as it is in the rest of China.
This will take time but more than half the primary schools and 40 per cent of the secondary schools use it to teach Chinese instead of Cantonese, despite the protests of many parents.
The Education Bureau said on its website earlier this year that schools would receive greater subsidies if they adopted Putonghua as the medium of instruction.
Beijing is able to implement these policies in part because of the profound changes since 1984, when it signed the Joint Declaration with Britain for the return of Hong Kong.
At that time, it was a weak power and desperately needed foreign capital, technology and management to improve its economy; Hong Kong was the only gateway for this investment.
Today China is the world’s second largest economy, the biggest trading nation and an international superpower; Britain has become a second-rate nation with a high debt and a shrinking military. It has negligible leverage over Beijing.
China has an abundance of foreign investment. In two to three years, it will invest more overseas than it receives at home.
Hong Kong remains important as a centre of finance, securities, transport and tourism. But it is only one of many gateways for investment; its significance for the national economy has diminished.
Its people should be grateful for this offer of universal suffrage, limited as it is, because it guarantees the security of the motherland – that is the view of Beijing.
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