22 January 2019
Protesters gather in front of shops that sell milk powders to parallel traders. Photo: HKEJ
Protesters gather in front of shops that sell milk powders to parallel traders. Photo: HKEJ

How nativism can become a long-running Hong Kong theme

With the rise of a new generation of activists from the Umbrella Movement, nativism is bound to be an issue to reckon with.

These children of last year’s democracy protests have different political beliefs, depending on their indigenous interests, but they have one thing in common — they want nothing to do with traditional pan-democratic forces which have dominated Hong Kong politics for almost 50 years.

Traditional pan-democrats born in the 1950s and 1960s are unlikely to win voters under 40 in the upcoming District Council and Legislative Council elections.

On the other hand, the pan-democratic camp will probably remain divided, again fighting among themselves for council or legislative seats.

In fact, infighting among pan-democrats might be more ferocious than the wider contest between them and pro-establishment candidates.

Ronny Tong’s resignation from the Civic Party, a liberal pro-democracy party he co-founded in 2006, suggests Beijing is succeeding in splitting the pan-democratic camp.

Also, it shows pro-democracy hardliners obsessed with the “Greater China complex” are becoming increasingly isolated.

In the meantime, internal struggles in the pro-establishment camp are also likely to intensify, with the business sector expected to demand more preferential treatment from the government amid a deteriorating economic environment.

The disastrous walkout by pro-establishment lawmakers last week, which resulted in the ignominious defeat of the political reform package, shows they’re rudderless, ill-disciplined and poorly organized; they have their own secret agenda.

It’s only a matter of time before they make another grievous mistake.

New face

Our city has changed a lot since the handover 18 years ago.

Hongkongers nowadays fall into two categories — those born here or immigrated from the mainland in the 1950s and 1960s (often called “old Hongkongers”) and those who came to Hong Kong after the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 (called “new Hong Kongers”).

Old Hongkongers are further divided into two groups.

The first group comprises wealthy people in their sixties and seventies who obtained foreign passports before 1997, and their children.

Many of them are fed up with political turmoil in Hong Kong. They are likely to leave in massive numbers.

The second group includes the underprivileged, mainly under 40, who constitute the main support base for the rise of nativism.

Given deepening conflict between Hong Kong and the mainland, they are likely to be the most alienated from China and the strongest supporters of full autonomy for Hong Kong, if not independence.

New Hongkongers are mainly economic migrants from the mainland.

They have no relatives in Hong Kong and most of them hardly have any sense of identity or belonging.

The majority of these people are neither interested in politics nor registered voters. All they are concerned about is livelihood — the main factor that will determine whether they will continue to live in Hong Kong or not.

One can expect further polarization and antagonism in our society, with political reform at a standstill and attempts to transform our economic structure having failed.

It seems Hong Kong people can count on no one but themselves.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 17.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong’s underprivileged, mainly people under 40, constitute the main support base for the rise of nativism. Photo: Bloomberg

Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe