Come July 1, Hong Kong will mark the 20th anniversary of its establishment as a special administrative region of China.
Carrie Lam and her cabinet will take their oath in front of central government officials in the morning. Then thousands of protesters will take to the streets in the afternoon to voice their anger at Lam’s inauguration and Beijing’s growing interference in local affairs.
Lam, who promised to heal divisions in society, would do well to put more effort into improving her image, following a recent poll showing that she had negative support rating after she won the chief executive election last month.
According to the latest survey conducted by the Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong, Lam only had a support rating of 55.6 after the election.
Her approval rating stood at 43 percent while her disapproval rating was 50 percent, giving her a net popularity rating of negative 8 percentage points.
Such public perception could mean a tough start for Lam.
Nonetheless, the outgoing administration of Leung Chun-ying has kindly set aside HK$640 million to celebrate the territory’s two decades under Chinese sovereignty and the inauguration of his successor.
In a document submitted to the Legislative Council, the government revealed that more than 300 events will be held across the city and another 200 events will be organized in mainland China and other places all over the world to mark the occasion.
The theme of this year’s celebration is “Together, Progress, Opportunity”, which sounds very much like Lam’s election campaign slogans.
Still, it is difficult for the general public to understand why the government has decided to boost its spending for the occasion by more than nine times the HK$69 million spent for the 10th anniversary of the handover in 2007.
About HK$200 million of the huge budget will be spent by the Leisure and Cultural Department, which has organized several major exhibitions such as Inventing le Louvre: From Palace to Museum over 800 Years, in collaboration with the Musee du Louvre; Eternal Life – Exploring Ancient Egypt, with the British Museum; Celebrating Imperial Birthdays in the Qing Dynasty and the Yangxindian Exhibition from Palace Museum, co-organized by the Beijing Palace Museum, as well as several major sports events.
Some people may say the 20th anniversary of anything is worth celebrating in a grand style. But most Hong Kong people are likely to have a cool response since over the past 20 years they haven’t really felt happy about their city’s return to Chinese sovereignty.
In fact, cross-border relations have been far from being hunky-dory. When Hong Kong people protest against Beijing’s meddling in local affairs, Chinese state-owned media will remind them of the territory’s special status, compared with other mainland cities, and urge them to focus more on “one country” rather than “two systems”.
Against such a backdrop, many Hong Kong people can’t understand why the city’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, for example, is spending around HK$43 million in China to celebrate the handover ceremony.
The speculation is that the Hong Kong government simply wants to maintain good and friendly relations with other local governments across the nation to facilitate future projects that would benefit the city.
And so the bureau is organizing various exhibitions, arts and cultural activities, gala dinners and receptions, youth and student programs as well as film festivals to mark the occasion.
That said, such events can be organised at anytime and celebrating the handover anniversary could be an excuse to secure public funding to push for these events.
Another controversial initiative, which is indirectly connected with the handover anniversary celebrations, is the sponsorship of local students to visit China and countries along the Belt and Road area.
The Home Affairs Department has set aside HK$112 million to subsidize more than 20,000 local students to visit the mainland, which is obviously part of the government’s policy of fostering patriotism among Hong Kong youth.
The question remains: Does Hong Kong really have to splurge to celebrate the occasion?
We may have the money to do so, but we are certain it will do little in bridging the gap between the authorities and the general public.
As Hong Kong’s new leader, Lam should focus on how to improve the daily life of ordinary people, such as boosting the budget for education and healthcare, rather than spending public money to celebrate her victory and that of her Beijing loyalists and benefactors.
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