23 February 2019
While Brexit vote came as a surprise, grievances among UK citizens against an influx of legal and illegal immigrants had been building up for many years. Photo: Reuters
While Brexit vote came as a surprise, grievances among UK citizens against an influx of legal and illegal immigrants had been building up for many years. Photo: Reuters

Xenophobia in Hong Kong? We are far from it, thankfully

Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump as the US president were seen by many as two of the biggest voting upsets in history, events that mark the beginning of a new chapter in world politics where xenophobic sentiment is coming back with a vengeance in western democracies.

In fact, the massive comeback of xenophobia in the West didn’t take place overnight. Anger at an influx of foreign immigrants has been building up slowly among western voters over the past few decades, until it finally reached the tipping point in recent years.

For example, in Britain, local grievances against the continued influx of both legal and illegal immigrants date back to a long time. According to a recent poll, 64 percent of Brits believe new immigrants are causing problems to society, while 45 percent take the view that the influx of new immigrants will be doing more harm than good to the country’s economy in the long run.

Even among immigrants themselves, the longer they have settled in Britain, the more they are in favor of curbing the number of new immigrants into the country.

In comparison, general dislike for new immigrants among the local populations in Portugal and Spain may seem less intense than that in Britain. However, xenophobic sentiment among the Portuguese seems to be growing in recent years, with 50 percent of them believing that new immigrants are bringing negative impact to their national economy.

In the meantime, even though the Netherlands and Germany remain the most immigrant-friendly countries on the European continent at present, an increasing number of Dutch and German people are getting impatient with new immigrants, not least due to some recent unpleasant events such as indecent assaults by refugees against local women in several German cities.

Even in western countries that were built by immigrants, such as Canada and the US, more and more local people have stopped buying into pluralism and are worried that the continued influx of immigrants may undermine their Christian and English-speaking culture.

While President Trump in the US is trying to ban nationals of seven Islamic countries from entering the country, Canada has also witnessed growing tension between the local population and foreign immigrants in recent years.

According to a recent local poll, 51 percent of Islamic Canadians, 31 percent of Black Canadians and 47 percent of Aboriginal Canadians said they feel they have been subject to racial discrimination in their daily lives.

Now, coming to our own place, a recent poll showed that only 26.5 percent of new mainland immigrants said they have come across discrimination against them by the local people in Hong Kong.

This suggests that Hong Kong could be a true paradise for immigrants compared to Europe and North America.

That said, in recent years our city has also witnessed the rise of nativism and xenophobic sentiment that is predominantly directed against mainlanders.

Now, one of our chief executive candidates might have the answer to the question as to how to alleviate the growing tension between mainland immigrants and the local people of Hong Kong.

According to Woo Kwok-hing’s election platform, the retired judge plans to immediately propose the enactment of Article 22 of the Basic Law if he is elected to the top post.

The Article stipulates that central authorities and their representatives in Hong Kong must not interfere in the local affairs of the city, and that “the number of persons who enter the SAR for the purpose of settlement shall be determined by the competent authorities of the Central People’s Government after consulting the HKSAR government”.

Woo believes the enactment of Article 22 can not only reassure the people of Hong Kong that Beijing remains fully committed to upholding “One Country Two Systems”, but can also clarify the constitutional relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong, thereby helping to allay public suspicion in our society that Beijing is trying to turn Hong Kong into just another mainland city.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 3

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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