19 February 2019
"Apartheid" seems to be emerging in Hong Kong amid moves to separate locals and mainlanders, but new immigrants are not more inclined toward patriotism or political allegiance to Beijing. Photo:
"Apartheid" seems to be emerging in Hong Kong amid moves to separate locals and mainlanders, but new immigrants are not more inclined toward patriotism or political allegiance to Beijing. Photo:

Is apartheid rearing its head in Hong Kong?

The Hong Kong-China World Cup qualifier last month saw the emergence of “apartheid” in the territory in which local and mainland soccer fans were allotted separate seats in the stadium. There were even separate toilets for the two camps.

Antagonism between the two sides is reaching a boiling point so much so that event organizers, and even the government, may have to come up with some extraordinary measures that bear all the hallmarks of “apartheid”.

Now here comes one more example: a four-day running race organized by sports magazine Runner’s World.

To be held during the Lunar New Year break at the Hong Kong Science Park in Sha Tin, the race appears to be open to mainlanders only: China-registered credit cards and mobile phone numbers – not Hong Kong cards and numbers – are accepted for registration.

The event, to be held in Hong Kong but not for Hongkongers, may turn out to be another source of bickering between the two sides.

The question may be raised: Can we organize sports competitions or commercial events that exclude non-locals, in particular mainlanders?

It’s also unclear if the magazine has applied to the SAR government for road occupation as there is yet no detailed information on the race route and how to minimize nuisance and inconvenience to residents.

If mainlanders-only events can be held in Hong Kong in such an arbitrary fashion, then surely we can expect nativists to launch campaigns to defend Hong Kong’s “sovereignty”, which has already been a hot topic of debate.

Apartheid first took form in South Africa as unintentional, ad hoc arrangements, yet with the tacit connivance of the government, segregation based on race or country of origin was later made legal.

Will this happen in Hong Kong?

As revealed by polls under the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion program, the percentage of respondents regarding themselves simply as Chinese has been hovering at low levels in recent years, despite peaks around 2008 when Beijing hosted the Olympic Games and sent taikonauts into space.

One fact worth noting is that Hong Kong people’s national recognition has been waning alongside the influx of mainlanders totaling 900,000 since the handover – immigrants who settle down in the territory under the 150 per day, one-way permit scheme implemented mainly for family reunions. One in every eight Hong Kong residents today is a mainland immigrant.

But mainland immigrants as a whole are not more inclined towards patriotism or political allegiance, though there is no denying that some of them are still the ballot base of the pro-establishment bloc.

Mainland immigrants are not innate opponents of freedom and nativism. Up to now Beijing cannot claim success for its scheme to use new immigrants to water down the local democratic push. On the contrary, we have seen throughout last year’s Occupy movement that many of the participants were mainland immigrants and their descendants born in the territory.

Thus we need to abandon the mistrust and adopt a new mindset – like a “touch base” policy – that as long as they settle permanently in Hong Kong, immigrants from the mainland also share the same aspirations for democracy.

No one likes to live in complete subservience to the state. Longing for freedom is something inherent; one cannot buy people’s hearts and minds and make them more “patriotic” by giving out banquets and freebies.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 24.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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