25 October 2016
Edward Leung, a candidate from nativist group Hong Kong Indigenous, waves to his supporters after contesting in a LegCo by-election last month. Photo: VOA
Edward Leung, a candidate from nativist group Hong Kong Indigenous, waves to his supporters after contesting in a LegCo by-election last month. Photo: VOA

Why an immigrant can also be a nativist

There are many who snigger at Edward Leung Tin-kei’s assertion that his popularity, as proven in last month’s Legislative Council by-election, shows that Hong Kong’s politics has shifted toward a “three-way race” of Beijing loyalists, pan-democrats and the nativist groups that he represents.

Some, including those from the mainstream democratic bloc, say that in order to make his point more valid, Edward should have garnered at least a third of the vote, rather than his actual share of around 15 percent, in the New Territories East election.

I would advise these people to take a look at the results of last year’s Canadian federal election.

Led by Justin Trudeau, who later became the Prime Minister, Canada’s Liberal Party beat its two major rivals, Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party, and grabbed more seats — 184 in total in the House of Commons — than that of the other two parties combined.

The landslide victory was never anticipated as most observers had expected a neck-and-neck race. In the previous election in 2011, the Liberal Party was a laggard, trailing the other two rivals.

The likelihood of candidates from Hong Kong Indigenous and like-minded groups winning a seat in each geographical constituency citywide in the upcoming Legco elections in September can be higher than you think.

By then everyone will have to admit the formidable rise of the young nativists.

I noted in a previous column 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 for family reunions. One in every eight Hong Kong residents today is from mainland China”.

But these immigrants as a whole do not tend towards patriotism or political allegiance, though there is no denying that some still constitute the voter base of the pro-Beijing parties.

They are not innate opponents of freedom and nativism either. As of now, Beijing cannot claim to have succeeded in a scheme to use new immigrants to water down the local democratic push.

Data from the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion program also reveal that there has been little change, between 1995 and 2015, in the percentage of respondents who regard themselves solely as Hongkongers vis-à-vis those that called themselves Chinese.

The ratio remained at around 2:1 in both the years. This is evidence that the political inclination of new immigrants constantly evolves towards localism.

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.

To nurture localism further, we need to adopt a new “touch base” concept and see the newcomers who have settled permanently in Hong Kong as potential nativists and people who share the same aspirations for democracy.

Edward didn’t hide the fact that he was born on the mainland and that his mother migrated to Hong Kong some twenty years ago.

He is a living example that a nod to the city’s core values makes one a Hongkonger.

There’s no other viable way to differentiate between Hongkongers and outsiders, as otherwise the only “genuine” locals will be descendants of indigenous villagers living in New Territories back in the 19th century.

Japan offers an interesting perspective as to how newcomers are assimilated into the host society.

Though Chinese tourists have tattered reputation in Japan and elsewhere, I found, during my years of stay in Japan, that some of my colleagues from the mainland were equally suave and deferential just like the Japanese.

These mainlanders living in Japan admire and are willing to accept the Japanese ways of conducting oneself and getting along with others.

It’s no exaggeration to say that having spent some time in Japan, even the most hardcore anti-Japan patriots would develop some genuine affection for the country.

Among Chinese expats in Japan, it is almost a cult now to follow Japanese culture and etiquette.

Given the rush of mainlanders into our city, how can we say that Hong Kong will also not have the same effect on newcomers?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 7.

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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