Date
27 July 2017
Beijing hopes to use Chinese Olympic stars to promote a sense of national identity among Hong Kong people, but it will find the goal difficult. Photo: CNSA
Beijing hopes to use Chinese Olympic stars to promote a sense of national identity among Hong Kong people, but it will find the goal difficult. Photo: CNSA

Olympic athletes as goodwill ambassadors: Why Beijing will fail

Almost immediately after the summer games in Rio, the Chinese national Olympic team paid a flying visit to Hong Kong.

Under most circumstances, this type of initiative does help boost the sense of national identity among the public and enhance cohesion in society.

However, it appears the universal formula no longer applies to Hong Kong today, as the sense of Chinese identity among the citizens in the city has hit rock bottom following mounting cross-border tensions in recent years.

As Beijing has denied Hong Kong true democracy and continued to interfere in the city’s affairs, it has alienated a lot of people who earlier used to regard the mainland and Hong Kong as one big family.

Frustrated, disaffected and disillusioned, many people in Hong Kong simply find themselves no longer able to relate or feel attached to the Chinese Olympic team, let alone be proud of them. Simply put, many have found the Chinese Olympic team no longer relevant to them.

According to a study conducted by the Hong Kong University in 2008, 38.6 percent of Hong Kong people saw themselves as “Chinese”, while 13.3 percent regarded themselves as “Hong Kong Chinese”. In other words, a total of 51.9 percent of the population in the city identified themselves as “Chinese” eight years ago.

However, since then Hong Kong-mainland relations have seen stark deterioration, causing the figure to plummet to 30.7 percent this year. In other words, only less than one-third of the people in this city still consider themselves “Chinese” at present. Rather than seeing themselves as “Chinese”, more and more people have begun to regard themselves as “Hongkongers” instead.

Moreover, the rise of nativism in the city has resulted in a surge in support among the local public for the Hong Kong team rather than the Chinese national team at the recent Olympics.

As an increasing number of people don’t consider themselves “Chinese” any more, China’s achievement in the Olympics can no longer resonate with the people in Hong Kong. Hence, the reduced public enthusiasm for the visit of the Chinese Olympic team last weekend.

As long as relations between Hong Kong and the mainland remain tense, and the confrontation between locals and Beijing leaders over the issue of democracy continues to escalate, visits of Chinese athletes are unlikely to boost any sense of national identity among Hong Kong people.

However, Beijing will probably continue with these kinds of publicity stunts, because from their point of view, anything is still better than nothing.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 31.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

RC

Researcher at SynergyNet

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