If not for extreme leftist Cheng Yiu-tong, retired mainland official Chen Zuo’er might have gone unnoticed when he weighed in on Hong Kong’s declining competitiveness.
Last week, Chen told a forum in Hong Kong that its failure to “decolonize” and the trend toward “de-sinofication” are the main drag on its development, causing it to lag its neighbors.
Chen’s remarks were largely ignored by the establishment media and Legco President Jasper Tsang dismissed them as groundless.
The reaction was not surprising.
Chen has been largely out of the spotlight after his days as deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. He has little political influence.
But when Cheng jumped to his defense, the issue gained currency, although not in the scale of the controversy over Leung Chun-ying’s so-called “superior” constitutional status.
Obviously, Beijing hardliners are deliberately stirring up controversy with provocative statements ahead of the first anniversary of the democracy protests.
Their remarks appear to be part of a well-organized and carefully executed offensive against the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
It also looks like a desperate attempt by the indigenous communist camp to swing public opinion in its direction.
That’s how pro-establishment politicians lined up behind Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, after he made controversial comments regarding Leung’s “overriding” authority over all three branches of government.
Chen was not entirely wrong when he previously described Hong Kong’s socio-economic growth as “sluggish” and that its economy was behind its regional competitors.
But he was completely wrong to blame our economic performance on a failure to “decolonize” and on “diehard colonialists promoting de-sinofication”.
Rather, what is going on is exactly the opposite.
The underlying reason Hong Kong is in decline since the handover is that Beijing and its proxies have been working to undo Hong Kong’s colonial gains.
These include judicial independence, rule of law and a politically neutral police force.
Another reason is that Hong Kong has been undergoing “mainlandization” since 1997.
The unilateral decision by Shenzhen in 2009 to issue multiple entry permits to its citizens and the incorporation of Hong Kong into the 12th Five-year Plan deepened its economic dependence on the mainland.
As a result, Hong Kong not only missed an opportunity to undergo industrial restructuring but also lost its edge in innovation and economic viability.
To make matters worse, Shenzhen’s multiple entry permit policy has changed the nature of the individual visit scheme, leading to rampant cross-border parallel trading and ramping up the scramble for basic daily commodities by mainlanders.
Ironically, the forced integration of Hong Kong into the mainland has not only exacerbated conflict between Hongkongers and mainlanders but also given rise to nativism and anti-mainland sentiment, something the communist leadership very much wants to avoid.
The only way to reinvigorate Hong Kong is to strictly enforce the high degree of autonomy guaranteed under “one country, two systems”.
That will make it harder for Beijing to interfere in our domestic affairs and force it to acknowledge — and respect — the differences in the social and economic systems between Hong Kong and the mainland.
We must preserve the values left behind by the British and stem the tide of mainlandization that is in full swing under Leung Chun-ying.
That means de-sinofication is our strength, not our weakness.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 23.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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