Hongkongers who chose to stay when the city was returned to mainland rule in 1997 were prepared to recognize China as their sovereign.
After all, they hold Hong Kong passports with the Chinese national emblem on the cover.
Most Hongkongers just want a stable and harmonious place to live without engaging in political arguments with Beijing.
Still, last year’s Occupy movement changed the mindset of some Hongkongers.
They became aware of the need to uphold and fight for traditional core values of Hong Kong such as the rule of law, a transparent administration and fair elections.
But such efforts have been condemned by some Chinese politicians as attempts to oppose Beijing’s rule.
Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, fired the first shot a week ago, attempting to promote the idea of the chief executive’s supremacy over the administrative, legislative and judicial branches of government, a concept found nowhere in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
A former senior official in Beijing then criticised Hong Kong on Sunday for maintaining its colonial legacy and failing to fully embrace Chinese rule, again displaying an eyebrow-raising ignorance of the provisions of the Basic Law.
Chen Zuo’er, chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies and a former deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told a forum in Hong Kong that the city has been lagging behind regional competitors such as Singapore and Macau.
He blamed this on two specific factors: Hong Kong’s failure to “decolonize” according to the law; and the resurrection of what he called a “desinification” movement that he said the colonialists had initiated in the 1980s.
Without elaborating, Chen said this resistance to China is a historical anomaly that has damaged the “one country, two systems” principle.
Chen is no longer a central government official, but his comments should not be ignored, as they could still be seen as representing the stance of some officials in Beijing who continue to be responsible for Hong Kong affairs.
Beijing’s blind spot with regard to Hong Kong is that it assumes all Hongkongers enthusiastically welcomed the transfer to Chinese rule in 1997.
This assumption is groundless, since the people of Hong Kong were never given the opportunity to express their view on the historic arrangements Britain and China reached in 1984.
Some Hongkongers chose to emigrate for the sake of their future and that of their children, but it should not be assumed that all who remained heartily welcomed rule by Beijing.
Many were unable to leave the place where they grew up.
Yet they still want to maintain the best of Hong Kong for the future of the next generation.
At first, Hongkongers did not loudly oppose unfair policies that Beijing introduced, such as the daily quota for 150 mainlanders to migrate to the city, the individual travel scheme for mainland residents, as well as the mandatory investment of trillions of Hong Kong dollars in infrastructure to connect Hong Kong and Guangdong province.
They kept their silence over the years, hoping Beijing would respect the interests of Hong Kong.
They hoped Beijing would respect the principle of “one country, two systems”, which is enshrined in the Basic Law and guarantees that Hongkongers’ way of life will be maintained for 50 years after Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule.
China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping created the principle to win the trust of the people of Hong Kong and the world at large, in an effort to convince them that the city’s new rulers would not immediately attempt to turn it into just another mainland city.
But now, some officials in Beijing may believe China has grown strong enough to cast aside commitments made by its leaders.
Indeed, if China wants, it has the power to abolish Hong Kong’s political system, a legacy of British colonial rule.
It could replace the chief executive with a Communist Party secretary.
It could replace the Legislative Council with a local people’s congress.
It could make the judiciary, whose independence is guaranteed by the Basic Law, and the civil service subservient to the party.
It could send the free press packing.
In other words, it could transform Hong Kong from a rebellious special administrative region into a loyal city like most of those in the mainland.
But it would do so at everlasting cost to its reputation for keeping its word as a member of the community of nations.
Beijing officials will every now and then admonish Hongkongers to think about how the city can contribute to China.
Ironically, however, Hong Kong’s biggest contribution to the country is maintaining its uniqueness and core values.
That allows rich mainlanders to keep their assets in the city to avoid official investigation and also to channel them overseas.
And it allows state-owned and other mainland enterprises to tap into international capital in a credible setting.
Hong Kong remains the only Chinese city that can make such a contribution to the country, with the likes of Shanghai some distance behind.
So, it is quite ridiculous for former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung to say, “Hong Kong needs to prove it can make a contribution to the nation if it wants to keep its core values, like freedom and the rule of law, beyond 2047.”
What can you expect? Our pro-Beijing politicians know only how to echo the officials from up north.
Starry Lee Wai-king of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and Michael Tien Puk Sun of the New People’s Party are too willing to lecture Hongkongers that they should reflect on “how patriotic” they are, but they remain silent about what Hong Kong and its people have been doing for China all these years.
In the face of the senior officials’ apparent forgetfulness or lack of understanding about how the principle of “one country, two systems” benefits China because it safeguards Hong Kong’s core values, the people of Hong Kong and their political representatives should speak up to remind and educate them.
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