24 October 2016
Students participate in the May Fourth Youth Festival last month. Beijing and Hong Kong authorities are stepping up efforts to inculcate a spirit of 'nationalism' among Hong Kong youth. Photo: CNSA
Students participate in the May Fourth Youth Festival last month. Beijing and Hong Kong authorities are stepping up efforts to inculcate a spirit of 'nationalism' among Hong Kong youth. Photo: CNSA

HK youth won’t be swayed by Beijing’s new ‘soft’ approach

Following the pro-democracy protests last year and the more recent campaigns against mainland traders and visitors, China has realized the need to focus more on Hong Kong’s young people.

Several high-ranking mainland officials have openly said that a key task for authorities is to change the mindset of Hong Kong youth and help them shed their antagonistic attitude toward Beijing.

Taking the cue, Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying pledged in his policy address earlier this year extra funding for student exchange programs with the mainland.

Now, the Communist leadership across the border is following up on the initiative by unveiling an ambitious new plan to foster greater interaction between the two sides. 

The Guangdong Communist Youth League has just announced that it will team up with dozens of pro-Beijing organizations in Hong Kong to host hundreds of cross-border activities this year.

The program will target more than 40,000 youth in mass-scale exchanges between young people from Guangdong and those from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

The focus will mainly be on youth exchanges with Hong Kong.

The activities, which have the Communist Party as the major driver, have already been dubbed by some Hong Kong political activists as a fresh attempt by Beijing to “brainwash” the territory’s youth.

According to a document from the Guangdong Communist Youth League, the activities will fall under three themes — kinship, friendship and business. As many as 160 activities are being planned under the program.

While it is quite normal for people from different countries to meet each other for cultural exchanges, the ones held by the Communist Youth League have a clear political agenda.

Fostering nationalism, turning peoples’ hearts and “boosting their national pride” is the stated objective.

Major Hong Kong organizations joining the program include the Hong Kong Youth Association, the Federation of Hong Kong Guangdong Community Organisations, the Hong Kong Volunteers Association, and the Hong Kong United Youth Association.

All these groups, which are seen as pro-Beijing entities, will be helping Beijing authorities in their efforts to win the support of Hong Kong youth and make the youngsters “love China”.

Beijing is getting desperate as it is aware that it has been losing the support of the younger generation of Hongkongers in recent years.

With a series of political and social issues denting the hopes and aspirations of local youth, questions have been raised about the future of Hong Kong.

As the Chinese leadership has denied promised free elections in the city, and is also pushing for greater integration of Hong Kong with the mainland in various aspects, many locals feel that the territory’s independence as a special administrative region has been undermined.

Recent developments have only added to the mutual trust between the two sides.

While Hongkongers point fingers at Beijing, the latter, on its part, feels that Hong Kong’s youth lack patriotism towards the motherland as well as gratitude for all the economic benefits showered on the special administrative region.  

The Chinese leadership feels that Hong Kong youth have been deeply affected by Western culture and ideas, prompting them to adopt a hostile attitude toward the mainland and harbor a negative feeling about the Communist Party.

Given this situation, Beijing is now taking a “soft approach” to influence the minds of the youngsters through a cross-border exchange program.

As the students spend time in China, they will gain better understanding of the country and also realize the strength of their motherland, authorities hope.

One of the activities listed on the Guangdong Communist Youth League website is to organize volunteer teams to go to the inner cities and villages of Guangdong to support local schools and to promote technology and environmental protection concept to the Chinese students there.

Another activity is “home return” trips for the Hong Kong youth under which they will be encouraged to visit the places where their forefathers had lived before migrating to Hong Kong.

Such visits, mainland officials hope, will make the youth learn about their Chinese roots and culture.

In other initiatives, organizers will pair up each Hong Kong student with a counterpart from the mainland to help them understand each other’s backgrounds and common cultural roots and heritage.

Beijing is trying hard to “educate” Hong Kong youth, but it is likely to discover that changing the entrenched perceptions about the Communist regime won’t be easy. 

It will take more than just exchange programs and cultural initiatives to get the Hongkongers to develop a new attitude towards Beijing. 

In fact, the “brainwashing attempts” could even prove counter-productive, as they may only reinforce the prejudices and fears about the Chinese government.

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EJ Insight writer

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