23 February 2019
It's unlikely President Xi Jinping's pledge of support for Hong Kong would have made a difference in a survey that shows Hong Kong people are losing confidence in 'one country, two systems'. Photos: HKEJ, Xinhua
It's unlikely President Xi Jinping's pledge of support for Hong Kong would have made a difference in a survey that shows Hong Kong people are losing confidence in 'one country, two systems'. Photos: HKEJ, Xinhua

How mistrust of China is fueling HK social conflict

Just days after President Xi Jinping reassured Hong Kong that China will continue to support its development, a new survey is out showing most people are losing confidence in “one country, two systems”.

The poll, conducted by the Public Opinion Program (POP) of the University of Hong Kong, predated Xi’s assurances by nearly two weeks but the outcome would have been little changed if the survey had been done after the Chinese leader had made the remark.

The point is, notwithstanding the positive spin, the political gap between Hong Kong and mainland China is wider now than at any time after the handover.

That divide is being exacerbated by Hong Kong people’s mistrust of Beijing.

Nearly six in 10 of 1,000 respondents in the POP survey said they have lost confidence in “one country, two systems”, up from four in 10 in a previous poll.

Less than four in 10 expressed confidence in the Deng Xiaoping doctrine that gives Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after the change of sovereignty. That is down from nearly half previously.

Interestingly, a growing number of younger people are distrustful of Beijing and less confident about its commitment to Hong Kong. They are also more disaffected with their own government, according to the survey.

The survey attributed the gap in opinions between younger people and their elders to their respective understanding of “one country, two systems”, especially after Beijing issued a white paper on its post-colonial policy on Hong Kong.

The document shook the foundations of the 17-year-old governing principle by stating that Hong Kong’s autonomy is the sole prerogative of the central government.

Older Hong Kong people may have an idealized notion of “one country, two systems”, especially after having seen it in action during the years after the handover.

But younger people mostly remember the time when cross-border relations began to deteriorate over moves that have rocked Hong Kong society.

These include attempts to introduce an anti-subversion law and a national education curriculum, opening the property market to mainland buyers, allowing Chinese tourists in ever increasing numbers into Hong Kong and rubber-stamping an election framework for the 2017 chief executive election, a plan Hongkongers have dismissed as fake democracy. 

Increasingly, young Hong Kong people are expressing their frustrations more pointedly.

On Tuesday, the second day of a week-long class boycott, a dozen university students broke through barriers and tried to confront Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, resulting in a brief scuffle and prompting a warning from the police.

Recent clashes and arrests have mainly involved young protesters.

Their generation is facing increasing competition from the opening of Hong Kong to mainland workers and students and from the relaxation of welfare benefits to cover one-way permit holders.

These initiatives are seen by young people as political payoff for Beijing’s support for Hong Kong during SARS when the local economy took a severe beating.

They are increasingly convinced Hong Kong cannot rely on China, let alone its promises. They support the development of a self-sustaining, diversified local economy that does not depend on a single market.

In that sense, they’re at odds with their elders who think their progressive ideas could lead to populism and reckless public spending.   

Beijing and the Hong Kong government view this social conflict as a potential threat to stability.

That is one reason the central government wants tighter control of developments in Hong Kong. But first, it needs to ensure that whoever leads Hong Kong will toe the line.

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EJ Insight writer

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