With less than two months to go before Hong Kong marks the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, Beijing is stepping up the propaganda game on nationalism and patriotism.
As part of these efforts, mainland leaders are using Macau as a prop to send Hong Kong a message on the model conduct expected from the Chinese special administrative regions.
Thus, we have seen fresh heaps of praise for Macau, with Chinese officials holding up the former Portuguese enclave as an example of how an SAR should behave and meet Beijing’s expectations.
In a not-too-subtle manner, Hong Kong is being portrayed as an undisciplined and wayward territory, standing in contrast to an obedient and good Macau.
The latest scolding came from Zhang Dejiang, China’s No. 3 leader, as he made a three-day trip to Macau this week.
On Tuesday, Zhang — who heads the National People’s Congress Standing Committee — showered Macau with plaudits, extolling the territory as a successful model for “one country, two systems”.
Macau has been pragmatic and focused on the right issues while keeping national interests in mind, Zhang said, pointing out, among other things, that the territory brought in national security laws.
The former Portuguese colony has achieved success as patriotic values have taken root there, he said, taking an indirect dig at Hong Kong.
In other comments, Zhang, who is the top Chinese official overseeing Hong Kong and Macau affairs, said Macau deserves credit for ensuring that China’s sovereignty and unity are protected.
The remarks assume significance as they came ahead of Hong Kong’s 20th handover anniversary celebrations on July 1, when the city will also see a new administration take the reins of power.
Although Zhang did not name Hong Kong directly during his Macau speech, it was clear that he was sending a message to the incoming administration about Beijing’s unhappiness with Hong Kong, which has seen several anti-China protests in recent years.
Macau, Zhang said, benefited as its people did not waste their energy and time on useless political arguments. Residents of the former Portuguese enclave have been pragmatic, enabling them to seize opportunities and further their economic advancement, he said.
“Patriotic forces” have maintained a leading position in Macau’s society, having correctly understood the implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle, the Chinese leader added.
Zhang’s remarks in Macau, it is now clear, were mostly about sending a message to Hong Kong on how to become a “good child” in the eyes of Beijing.
During a trip to Hong Kong last year, Zhang said he aimed to build a harmonious atmosphere with the democrats in Hong Kong by interacting with some opposition leaders face-to-face.
But this year, he has sent a message from Macau that Hong Kong needs to learn from its neighbor as to how to become a good SAR.
The change in tone suggests that Beijing may be again mulling some changes in its Hong Kong policy. Central leaders seem to believe that improved relations with pan-democrats won’t alone ensure that Hong Kong will become a patriotic place.
So they are now turning to a harder approach by telling Hong Kong how to become a good SAR, suggesting that the territory, among other things, needs to implement ‘national education’ and enact national security laws.
Beijing is no longer stressing the “high degree of autonomy” that the Hong Kong government can enjoy; it is instead instructing Hong Kong to follow the national political and economic planning and integrate more closely with the mainland.
Given such objectives, Hong Kong’s incoming chief executive, Carrie Lam, is set to have a tough time in the next five years.
Lam has said recently that she believes the time is not right to bring the legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law back on the government board.
But Zhang’s words in Macau suggest that Beijing wants the controversial legislation, which was abandoned in the past following a massive outcry in Hong Kong, be put back on the agenda soon.
As the priorities of Lam and Beijing might not match, there will be worries whether Lam can secure full control of her government and policy implementation.
Also, as the city’s outgoing chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, will remain a Chinese state leader after he steps down from Hong Kong’s top job, Lam could face additional pressure on the policy front.
In fact, Zhang’s comments in Macau offer clues as to why Leung, who was appointed in March as a deputy chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, worked so hard to visit Guangdong recently to lead a delegation and support China’s so-called Greater Bay Area plan.
In other initiatives, Leung is preparing to give a speech at a Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, which will be attended by President Xi Jinping and leaders of 28 countries.
Leung is seizing all possible opportunities to show his loyalty and commitment to implementing Beijing’s game plan in the region, so as to build his prospects as a state leader.
But in doing so, he is making things more difficult for his successor.
Leung’s feverish activities toward the fag end his term, and now Zhang’s comments on what makes for a “good” SAR, means that a new goal post has been set for Lam.
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