A few things stood out during a visit by President Xi Jinping to Macau on Friday to preside over the handover anniversary celebrations.
First was his praise for Macau as a model of “one country, two systems”.
Second was his support for Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the Hong Kong police.
And third was a subtle warning that Hong Kong’s political development must conform to “one country, two systems” and the Basic Law.
Xi held up Macau as an example of the “full and correct implementation” of these pillars of post-colonial governance.
In addition, he said economic development should follow Beijing’s agenda and all politicians should recognise Communist Party rule.
People should be educated in patriotism rather than encouraged to have an independent mindset on democratic development.
The contrast with Hong Kong could not be starker in the wake of the two-month-long democracy protests.
In a closed-door meeting with Leung, Xi commended the Hong Kong leader and the police for their handling of the protests, according to state news agency Xinhua.
It’s not clear whether Xi also meant to praise Leung’s two-year-old administration.
We cannot know what else was said outside of the official media but it’s safe to say the democracy movement was a serious talking point.
In the 79 days of street occupation by democracy activists, Xi learned more about Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations than in any political exercise.
But as events showed, this understanding did nothing to move Beijing to hear the voices of Hong Kong people.
Their distrust of Beijing today is being compared to the fear and loathing of mainlanders who fled the 1949 communist takeover and the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.
Such distrust cannot be solved by economic incentives from Beijing. Hong Kong people want Beijing to respect their core values and their government to be more transparent.
The central government has been struggling to make “one country, two systems” work, especially after anti-government protests forced Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s first post-colonial leader, to step down in 2003.
The recent sit-ins were not an isolated example but a reflection of longstanding public discontent.
Curbs on Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms are just one issue in a slew of grievances that will make it that much harder for Hong Kong people to embrace the motherland.
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