Mention localism and chances are you’ll get that “dont talk to me” look from government officials.
Fair enough. They’re only trying to toe the official line.
China sees localism as a threat to its sovereignty and the first shoots of an independence movement in Hong Kong.
But there’s no evidence either of that is happening, even though Hong Kong people are increasingly embracing their own identity.
The problem lies in the demonization of the subject, mostly for political reasons.
Fear, after all, is one of the most potent weapons of suppression.
However, not all government officials see localism as a bad thing. Finance Secretary John Tsang thinks it can be a force for good.
“The rise of localism in recent years shows that Hong Kong people are strongly proud of their own identity, traditions and culture,” Tsang wrote on his weekly blog on Sunday.
Such pride in one’s country or school does exist, he said.
It was not the first time Tsang had blogged on the topic.
On March 29, in a post about the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, Tsang wrote he has no objections to localism if it’s aimed at retaining Hong Kong’s unique characteristics.
One of the most important of these is the fusion of eastern and western cultures and values, he wrote.
Tsang, No. 3 in the Hong Kong government, has been relatively outspoken about certain sensitive issues.
For instance, his stance on localism puts him at odds with other top Hong Kong officials.
Their differences, however, are mostly about their respective interpretations of the concept.
While his colleagues have adopted Beijing’s grim view, Tsang has chosen to be positive about the whole thing.
Tsang did not elaborate how localism can be beneficial but he might have been purposely ambiguous to allow Hong Kong people to make up their own minds.
They recognize it as a way to uphold their individual interests and those of Hong Kong society, especially in investment and migration.
That mindset tells them, for instance, that some costly infrastructure projects such as the national high-speed railway is a bad deal for Hong Kong and that the influx of mainlanders is upending daily life.
In fact, Leung Chun-ying carried the banner of localism when he became chief executive in 2012.
Already elected but not yet in office, Leung banned non-permanent resident Chinese women from giving birth in Hong Kong.
That helped usher in his government on a high note.
The following year, amid a public backlash over mainlanders causing a run on infant formula, Leung clamped down on the practice by limiting visitors to two cans a day.
That was perhaps also the last time localism wasn’t a bad idea in the minds of officials.
Somehow, they confused it with the democracy movement last year and began ascribing all sorts of political motives to it.
Leung can put things back in order by acknowledging the importance of localism in government policy.
This government must recognize Hong Kong’s overriding interests in maintaining its uniqueness and way of life.
Most of all, it has to have the guts to tell Beijing that localism is not the two-headed monster it’s making it out to be.
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