21 July 2018
Wen Wei Po has renewed its criticism of former HKU law dean Johannes Chan with a full-page report questioning his academic integrity and political views. Photo: Wen Wei Po
Wen Wei Po has renewed its criticism of former HKU law dean Johannes Chan with a full-page report questioning his academic integrity and political views. Photo: Wen Wei Po

How Beijing is exporting its problems to Hong Kong

In the past 10 years, leftist upheavals in Hong Kong have been almost always attributed to the mainland.

The latest strife, involving the University of Hong Kong law faculty, is no different, with pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, leading the charge.

It all began when the Communist Party and the State Council jointly announced in October a directive to strengthen ideological education in higher institutions nationwide.

Party mouthpiece People’s Daily hailed the document as “a bugle call to purge college campuses of incorrect, retrogressive and defamatory thoughts and mindset against the party and the government”.

A month later Liaoning Daily, the official publication of the Liaoning provincial party committee, ran a series of reports with a letter titled “Professors: Please do not smear China like this”, targeting unpatriotic lecturers and professors in the nation’s colleges and universities.

For two months, the daily is said to have sent reporters to key cities such as Shenyang, Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Guangzhou to observe lectures and discussions in universities.

Last month, the Communist Party’s official magazine Qiushi, accused some well-known members of the intelligentsia such as Peking University law professor He Weifang and influential painter Chen Danqing of “constantly tarnishing the party and the government in their lectures and publications”.

Then came Wen Wei Po’s two-page report on the HKU law school in which it criticized former law dean Johannes Chan for incompetence ahead of his expected appointment as HKU executive vice president.

The newspaper blamed Chan for the supposed deterioration of the law faculty’s academic standards, saying Chan was “derelict” in his duty to uphold the quality of the law faculty’s legal research.

Also, it accused Chan of giving aid and comfort to associate law professor Benny Tai, a founder of the Occupy Central movement who played a key role in last year’s pro-democracy street protests.

It’s no secret that Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing newspapers are organs of the party’s propaganda department, working in tandem with underground party members under the direction of mainland mandarins.

When their bosses in Beijing pick a target, they are typically deployed to the front line.

This is not the first time the mainland has exported its troubles to Hong Kong.

In 1966, when Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution, local leftists and underground communists went to work, resulting in bloody rioting the following year.

China has experienced two major political and economic shifts since the new millennium — the first was from 2001 to 2008 and the second, which began in 2008, is under way.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics was a turning point.

After China was awarded the Summer Games in July 2001 and became a member of the World Trade Organization later that year, its economy soared.

The country surged past some advanced economies in gross domestic product. And somewhere between its economic achievements, it managed to send a man into space.

This golden period culminated in a dazzling Olympic extravaganza on Aug. 8, 2008.

In the Olympic glow, Hong Kong people warmed to the mainland. A devastating earthquake in Sichuan three months earlier, did little to cloud the party’s image.

That makes the comparison between then and now all that much starker.

When a national scandal broke out over contaminated milk and infant formula in 2007, it remained hidden until after the Olympics.

Once out in the open, it drove mainlanders into Hong Kong to buy the goods, creating shortages and ratcheting up prices.

The second seismic shift involved internal security and demographic challenges. 

Since 2009, China has been rocked by more than 100,000 protests, prompting the government to significantly ramp up its internal defense budget in 2011 to maintain social stability.

Meanwhile, China’s labor force has been shrinking since 2012 thanks to its aging population and negative birth rate. The manufacturing sector has probably seen the last time labor supply was cheap and abundant.

Corruption is getting out of control with sprawling, interwoven cases such as those within the former Ministry of Railway and the People’s Liberation Army.

The problem is so endemic even low-ranking officials have amassed huge unexplained fortunes.

Factionalism is rife, with party infighting pitting princelings and the second-generation elite.

Economic growth has tumbled to 7.4 percent, half of what it was during the 2007 peak, exacerbated by issues such as pollution, income disparity, tepid consumption, overcapacity and inefficient investment.

Former premier Wen Jiabao’s quantitative easing helped China sail through the 2008 financial tsunami but the side effects, notably soaring credit and debt/GDP ratio, are now being widely felt.

When commenting on the status quo, communist cadres no longer brag about the “China model” of economic development. Instead, they describe it as “the new normal”.

January’s figures are gloomier despite rounds of credit easing: import and export both contracted. Shanghai, a locomotive of the Chinese economy, did not even announce its GDP growth target for this year.

All other regional economies have released their targets with projected growth rates 0.3 percentage point to 3 percent lower than last year’s levels. If Shanghai were to set a realistic goal, it would have to be under 7 percent, probably too embarrassing for the mainland’s financial capital.

The Communist Party has largely built a dictatorship on crackling economic growth. Now, however, cracks are appearing in the economy.

The top leadership has a somewhat contradictory thinking about the new reality — somewhere between arrogance (from being an emerging superpower) and fear (from an encroaching ideological threat from the country’s intellectual elite).

In foreign affairs, Beijing has been quietly recalibrating its stance. It scrapped a plan for an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea and agreed with Japan to break a diplomatic impasse over disputed territory.

When President Barack Obama authorized the sale of four missile destroyers to Taiwan in December, the Chinese defense ministry meekly protested.

Internally, however, Beijing is maintaining a hard line — from an unremitting anti-corruption campaign to a Cultural Revolution-style crackdown on free speech.

That mindset could have been the reason Leung Chun-ying was handpicked by Beijing to become chief executive in 2012 to curb Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations.

Tung Chee-hwa once said that if China suffers, so will Hong Kong.

True, but so is the reverse, because now, Hong Kong people are increasingly sympathetic toward their cousins in Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia who are all on the receiving end of suppression.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 12.

Translation by Frank Chen

– Contact us at [email protected]


Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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