18 July 2019
It is quite clear that Beijing and Hong Kong authorities are trying to find a way to reach out to young people -- but in a wrong way. Photo:CNSA
It is quite clear that Beijing and Hong Kong authorities are trying to find a way to reach out to young people -- but in a wrong way. Photo:CNSA

Beijing playing the nationalist card and doing it wrong

Most Hong Kong people are ethnic Chinese. They are are not ashamed to be Chinese but it doesn’t mean they recognize their national identity — that of being citizens of the People’s Republic of China.

When abroad, they would stress their Hong Kong identity rather than label themselves as Chinese.

The reason is simple. Hong Kong people are a separate member of the international community. They have their own passports and enjoy visa-free travel to more than 100 countries.  

Mainland Chinese don’t enjoy the privileges that a Hong Kong passport commands. That’s exactly why Hong Kong is not China from a diplomatic perspective.

Of course, under the “one country, two systems” structure, this is not news. It’s a fact that Hong Kong enjoys a special status under Beijing’s rule.

However, Beijing officials and pro-Beijing loyalists seem to have forgotten this. And now, 20 years after Beijing resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong, it is forcing young Hong Kong people to accept their national identity and deny their Hong Kong identity in a bid to suppress the rise of separatism or localism which advocates Hong Kong independence.

On Tuesday, Zhang Xiaomin, director of Beijing’s Liaison Office, told a youth forum in Hong Kong that the only way for ambitious young people to excel in life is to “look north”.

Zhang said young people must understand the relationship between Hong Kong and China if they want to succeed, and they need to have a “national vision”.

He blamed the recent surge in localism and separatist ideas for misleading some young people and urged them to get a better understanding of the “one country, two systems” principle.

Prior to Zhang’s speech, outgoing Chief Executive and now state leader Leung Chun-ying urged Hong Kong people to think how they can contribute to the nation’s future development. He said foreigners will treat them as Chinese, no matter which passports they hold.

Leung said that while there is freedom of speech in Hong Kong, young people need to think things through clearly. He said young people are Chinese “no matter what they think”, and this is how the whole world sees them.

“I believe that if they can ponder it for a moment, they’ll know Hong Kong is a part of China. No matter what they think, people in society, including the international community, will treat you as Chinese,” Leung said.

“That includes Hong Kong people holding foreign passports. When you travel to other countries, people there will treat you as Chinese by looking at your name, your cultural background and upbringing.”

It is quite clear that Beijing and Hong Kong authorities are trying to find a way to reach out to young people — but in a wrong way.

Beijing’s insistence that all Hong Kong people are Chinese shows its weakness in this internet era. Who cares about the nationality of an individual if he or she has talent?

Hong Kong people who refuse to look north surely lack confidence in the Chinese system. Here, they can choose the best place to work as well as their own career path without having to worry about Beijing’s political agenda.

The argument over whether Hong Kong people should contribute to China could be an endless debate as different people have different considerations.

But putting nationalism and patriotism on top of individual interests is quite a dangerous move. The authorities may want to force people to do things according to their agenda.

This sort of brainwashing might work for mainlanders but not for Hong Kong’s young people. They will simply ignore the authorities and search for their best options.

Nationalism is a natural expression of an individual’s feelings for their home country. But playing nationalism in a political way can only alienate young Hong Kong people from China.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe