27 May 2019
Any political party in Hong Kong that refuses to pay heed to nativism sentiments is bound to be sidelined by voters. Photo: HKEJ
Any political party in Hong Kong that refuses to pay heed to nativism sentiments is bound to be sidelined by voters. Photo: HKEJ

Political parties can ignore nativism only at their peril

Recently there have reports that the Democratic Party and the Civic Party are reviewing their political platforms and considering incorporating more indigenous elements in order to broaden their support base. It is said that some senior party stalwarts remain skeptical about the initiative, but many young party members welcome the change.

While it remains to be seen whether the two parties can eventually transform themselves into truly indigenous parties, there is no doubt that the rise of nativism among the general public has proven to be unstoppable and that it is re-shaping our political landscape.

The degree to which mainstream political parties are able to adapt themselves to the prevalence of such popular sentiment will determine their chances of survival in the days ahead.

In fact the remarkable upsets pulled off by the young and first-time candidates arising from the Occupy Movement, or the so-called “paratroopers”, and the landslide victory of the Neo Democrats in the District Council election last November spoke volumes about how nativism has struck a deep chord with voters, especially the younger ones.

It has become crystal clear that the Occupy Movement has turned out to be a political awakening for the local public, and that in the post-Occupy era voters have become much more Hong Kong-centric and increasingly vocal when it comes to defending our core values, our public interests and our way of life.

Under such changing political atmosphere, people are expecting the political parties to take a clear stance on safeguarding the interest of native Hongkongers in the face of “mainlandization”. Any political party that remains ambiguous on this critical issue or refuses to be drawn to the nativist theme is bound to be sidelined and shrugged off by voters in future elections.

Riding the tide of nativism and indigenization is not just a question of ideological shift, but indeed a matter of life and death for pan-democratic parties. Any party which still hangs on to the so-called “Greater China Complex” or stresses the “brotherhood” between Hong Kong and the mainland can no longer find a substantial audience among local voters.

The rise of nativism in Hong Kong has its roots in Beijing’s increasingly aggressive intervention in the territory’s internal affairs.

To make matters worse, the recent controversy related to the appointment of a pro-vice chancellor at Hong Kong University and the acquisition of some local newspapers by mainland tycoons have only fueled public suspicion about Beijing’s secret agenda on Hong Kong.

As a result, the confidence in “One Country Two Systems” among Hong Kong people has hit record low. Nativism, which is to some extent an immune system reaction triggered by Beijing’s mounting aggression, will only grow stronger unless the central government ditches its “celestial empire” mindset.

For political parties in Hong Kong, riding with the tide of nativism seems to be the only option available because any approach otherwise is likely to cost them popularity and votes.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 05.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Research fellow at SynergyNet

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