25 October 2016
While Hong Kong-born people recognize themselves as Hong Kong citizens first and foremost, the immigrants adhere zealously to their Chinese identity. Photo: Bloomberg
While Hong Kong-born people recognize themselves as Hong Kong citizens first and foremost, the immigrants adhere zealously to their Chinese identity. Photo: Bloomberg

Why new immigrants don’t support democrats

With the Legco election just a few days away, the pan-democrats find themselves in an uphill struggle to win enough votes to ensure that they get enough seats to make a difference in the Legislative Council.

While traditional democrats blame their lack of resources for their difficulties in competing with their well-funded pro-Beijing rivals, some observers are saying that they are not trying hard enough.

For example, have they exerted any effort to try to win the support of new immigrants from the mainland?

A study by three political science scholars found that 56 percent of those who supported the pro-establishment camp in past elections were new immigrants from the mainland, while two in every three of those who supported the pan-democratic camp were born in Hong Kong.

The academics also said support for the pro-establishment camp has increased since the Occupy protests of 2014 even as the demand for more democracy has been rising.

According to a government document published in November last year, Hong Kong has accepted around 880,000 new immigrants from China since the 1997 handover, accounting for 12 percent of the local population.

That’s a sizeable chunk of the populace and could make a difference in the results of local elections.

But is it fair to conclude that the new immigrants favor the pro-Beijing camp rather than the pan-democrats?

Independence advocate Edward Leung from Hong Kong Indigenous was born in the mainland and is a new immigrant in the territory.

His case argues against the notion that new immigrants from the mainland belong to the pro-establishment camp. But is he an isolated case, an exception to the rule?

First of all, it may be worth the democrats’ while to try to find out why most immigrants from the mainland do not support their camp, even though most of the democrats have adopted a friendly attitude toward them.

Based on past election results, the pan-democrats won around 55 to 60 percent of the geographical constituency votes in Legco elections, while the pro-Beijing camp captured the remaining 40 to 45 percent.

But that could change as the number of votes favoring the pro-Beijing camp has been rising since the 1997 handover.

Immigrants from the mainland are becoming an increasingly important factor in the elections.

A major reason for their support for the pro-Beijing camp is their sense of nationality. While Hong Kong-born people recognize themselves as Hong Kong citizens first and foremost, the immigrants adhere zealously to their Chinese identity.

Meanwhile, the gap between locally born Hong Kong citizens and mainlanders is getting wider as the Leung Chun-ying administration implement “Beijing first” policies.

Many Hong Kong people want to uphold the uniqueness of Hong Kong and maintain its autonomy under Chinese rule.

However, most of the new immigrants from China could barely appreciate this sentiment. They have no problem with the Communist Party ruling over Hong Kong.

They migrated to the city in search of a better life, and better social welfare support. They probably couldn’t care less about Hong Kong’s uniqueness.

So how should politicians from the pan-democratic camp deal with immigrants from the mainland?

The democrats believe in fairness and equality when it comes to the use of government resources for all Hong Kong citizens, whether they were born in the city or they migrated from the mainland.

That’s well and good, but the question is, how do the democrats win the support of these immigrants who have a strong sense of Chinese nationality and recognize the supremacy of the Communist Party?

Traditional democrats embrace the concept of Greater China, and promote the building of a democratic China. The commemoration of the June 4 massacre is part of their belief that one day China could become a democratic society.

But such a stance has failed to lure the Chinese immigrants, who probably believe that such an advocacy is useless in the same way that challenging the rule of the Communist Party is futile.

Although they now live in Hong Kong, they could still embrace Communist Party rule. 

Meanwhile, the localist movement is growing as its advocates focus on upholding the unique values of Hong Kong.

They are accused of being hostile to mainlanders, but they would rather rely on the support of Hong Kong-born citizens rather than invest time and effort in migrants from the mainland whose allegiance is still leaning towards Beijing.

That’s something that the traditional democrats should be taking into account as the election nears.

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EJ Insight writer

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