Why hyper-nationalism is a double-edged sword

October 20, 2016 10:35
There is nothing wrong with denouncing the offensive behavior of  Leung Chun-hang during his oath-taking but magnifying it into a patriotism issue could easily backfire. Photo: Bloomberg

Last Wednesday, at the Legco chamber, the swearing-in ceremony of newly elected lawmakers and the election of the new Legco president -- the two formalities that need to be settled whenever Legco starts its new term -- surprisingly turned into a farce.

And the controversy surrounding the two separate incidents largely stemmed from the delicate issue of “patriotism”.

While there is no doubt the Youngspiration duo should be reprimanded for using the highly offensive term “Shina” when they were taking their oaths, Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen also owes the public an explanation as to why he was still unable to present the original copy of the document issued by the British Home Office proving he had officially given up his British citizenship even after he had been elected Legco president.

(Editors' note: Youngspirations' Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung unfurled banners that proclaimed "Hong Kong is not China" and used a derogatory term when mentioning China in their oaths.) 

To say the least, both the Youngspiration duo and Andrew Leung have done something that were equally unpatriotic and what they did could “harm the feelings of our compatriots”, as the government put it in its statement.

But of course, the statement was only directed at the two young rookies, not the new Legco president.

While members of the pro-establishment camp are mounting an all-out onslaught against the two young lawmakers, I feel compelled to remind them of one important thing: provoking hyper-nationalist frenzy for political purposes could turn out to be a double-edged sword which might in the end take a heavy toll on the interests of the pro-establishment camp themselves as well as many high-ranking government officials.

In fact, it is completely logical and reasonable for the administration to issue a statement denouncing the “offensive” behavior of some newly elected Legco members during their oath-taking.

However, it appears the government has overdone it by adding the phrase “harmed the feelings of our compatriots” to its statement, a cliché commonly employed by official mouthpieces in the mainland when criticizing foreign governments for interfering in China's internal affairs.

By magnifying the misbehavior of a few lawmakers into a national issue, the government is not only giving the impression that it is trying to please Beijing but may also risk igniting resentment among mainlanders over the privileges to which the people of Hong Kong are entitled under “one country, two systems”.

For example, under the Basic Law, lawmakers in Hong Kong are allowed to have foreign citizenship as long as their numbers don't exceed 20 percent of the total seats in Legco. However, in contrast, mainland citizens with foreign passports are strictly prohibited from becoming members of the National People's Congress or the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

As Hong Kong is part of China, doesn't allowing lawmakers to have foreign citizenship also constitute an act of “harming the feelings of our compatriots” in the eyes of mainlanders?

As a matter of fact, the percentage of lawmakers having foreign passports among the pro-establishment camp is very likely to be higher than that among the pan-democrats, and is almost for certain higher than that among the nativist groups.

So members of the pro-establishment camp should probably bear in mind that it's the pot calling the kettle black whenever they are accusing their opponents of being unpatriotic.

Worse, under the Basic Law, high-ranking civil servants are also allowed to have foreign passports or right of abode in other countries, unlike politically appointed bureau chiefs who are not allowed to have foreign citizenship.

Provoking nationalist frenzy in Hong Kong might not only scare local elites but might also cause concerns among high-ranking civil servants who -- or whose families -- have foreign passports, thereby undermining the stability of our civil service.

The pro-establishment camp should seek resolution of the oath-taking dispute by law rather than by provoking hyper-nationalist frenzy, because it is likely to backfire on themselves and cause a lot of collateral damage.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 19

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government