28 October 2016
Localists are being blamed from the growing social instability in Hong Kong, but Beijing loyalists may be doing much more harm. Photo: Reuters
Localists are being blamed from the growing social instability in Hong Kong, but Beijing loyalists may be doing much more harm. Photo: Reuters

Who is to blame for deteriorating HK-mainland relationship?

Pro-Beijing groups have been quick to blame localist activists for the deteriorating relationship between Hong Kong people and mainlanders.

They say localists have been stoking hostile sentiments toward mainland visitors and immigrants, and pursuing an ideology that aims to rid the city of any Chinese influence.

For sure, any attempt to separate Hong Kong from China politically is bound to face enormous resistance from Beijing and its loyal followers in the territory, but a recent survey on national identity is very revealing about how Hong Kong people regard themselves in relation to China.

The Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong unveiled its latest ethnic identity indices of Hong Kong people on Tuesday.

The first part of the survey showed the rating for people who regard their identity as “Hongkongers” stands at 8.12, that for “Asians” is 7.85, that for “global citizens” stands at 7.08, while that for “members of the Chinese race” is 7.04, all of which recorded a rise compared with the last survey.

However, the rating for those who regard themselves as “Chinese” is 6.59 while that for “citizens of the People’s Republic of China” stands at 5.75. Both ratings receded compared with the last survey.

The second part of the survey focused on “identity indices”. The higher the index, the stronger the positive feeling of the respondents.

The results showed that Hong Kong people’s feeling is still the strongest as “Hongkongers”, at 78.7 marks, followed by “Asians” at 73.4, “members of the Chinese race” and “global citizens” both at 67.9, “Chinese” at 63.0, and “citizens of the People’s Republic of China” at 55.3.

The identity indices of those who consider themselves as “Asians” and “global citizens” reached the highest since the indices were first used in 2008.

Based on the survey, we could say that  Hong Kong people clearly identify themselves as Hongkongers, as well as members of global community, but refuse to fall under the category of Chinese or citizens of the People’s Republic of China, even after 18 years since the return of Hong Kong to China’s sovereignty.

Such a reflection of Hong Kong people’s view of their identity should provide food for thought for the leaders of Hong Kong and China.  It shows that the government’s pro-Beijing policy direction, as exemplified by the construction of an expensive high-speed railway system connecting the territory to the mainland, may have touched on what Hong Kong people consider as the red line.

They view such policies as attempts to destroy the city’s uniqueness as an independent economy in the global community.

And yet, both Hong Kong and central authorities are trying their best to smear the image of the localist activists and convince the people that they are the source of instability in Hong Kong.

Three members of a localist group were to be charged with conspiracy to commit arson on Wednesday over an explosion in a rubbish bin outside the Legislative Council earlier this month.

It is quite strange that the Hong Kong police announced the arrest of six men linked to the explosion in such a high-profile fashion.

The officials told a press briefing that police would not allow the localists’ radical actions to affect social stability in the territory. Even Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made a similar statement regarding the young protesters.

But have they forgotten that suspects should be presumed innocent unless proven guilty in court? Are the police now playing the role of a judge by ascertaining their guilt?

Hong Kong people want to retain their identity as Hongkongers, rather than as Chinese or citizens of the People’s Republic, because they want to uphold the city’s core values, such as rule of law and judicial independence, freedom of speech and assembly, transparency, fairness and justice, which appear to be threatened by the actions of Hong Kong and Beijing leaders.

Thanks to press freedom, Hong Kong people have a much wider perspective of reality than those living in the mainland, who can only absorb government-filtered information and fear expressing views that oppose government policies.

So it’s not at all surprising that Hong Kong people find it hard to regard themselves as Chinese because they have a different set of values and priorities.

For how could they not be fearful of the way of life across the border when a Chinese court on Tuesday found rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang guilty of trouble-making and inciting ethnic hatred, after he posted outspoken messages on social media?

And while Hong Kong people are distancing themselves from China in a bid to protect the city’s core values, blind loyalists of the Communist Party of China want Hong Kong people to adopt the Chinese way of life.

In fact, it’s not the localists who are driving the wedge between Hong Kong and the mainland but these pro-Beijing followers who are keen on showing their rabid loyalty to the Chinese leaders.

There’s the case of Anna Chan, founder of the pro-Beijing group Caring Hong Kong Power, who filed complaints against pro-democracy artists to stop them from performing in the mainland.

Such actions only worsen the deteriorating relationship between Hongkongers and mainlanders.

Nonetheless, there seems to be a campaign to force Hong Kong people to feel bad about being a Hongkonger and promote their identity as Chinese and citizens of the People’s Republic.

Hong Kong people, however, know their identity, and it is based on their firm belief in the city’s core values. Those are values that are worth fighting for.

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EJ Insight writer

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