Wed, Jan 15, 2014 - Page 8 News List

China lacks soft touch in Hong Kong

By Martin Murphy

Opponents continue to be concerned that its vague provisions against treason, secession and certain political activities would curtail Hong Kong’s political and personal freedoms, if the article were ever to be adopted.

The size of the 2003 demonstrations took China’s leaders by surprise, and their response sowed the seeds of a gradual but significant shift in Beijing’s governing attitude — from a laissez-faire emphasis on “two systems” to a sharpened focus on patriotism and “one country.”

China’s more interventionist approach in Hong Kong has produced a number of embarrassing missteps that have only highlighted its general lack of understanding of much of the city’s thinking. Its recent failure to impose “national education” is a case in point. Anyone familiar with Hong Kong could have predicted the sit-ins and demonstrations that followed against what was widely perceived as a propagandized curriculum.

Critics castigated the government’s proposed teaching booklet, The China Model, for referring to China’s ruling party as “progressive, selfless, and united,” for criticizing multiparty systems as disastrous, and for whitewashing parts of Chinese history, such as the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.

Another telling episode took place in October 2012 after two ferries collided in Hong Kong Harbor. When government officials visited victims at a local hospital, it was the Liaison Office’s deputy director who talked to reporters, with Hong Kong’s chief executive standing meekly in the background. Such images heightened concerns that the Hong Kong government was no longer calling the shots, even on purely local matters.

Such displays are not new. By 2008, Beijing had been raising eyebrows with its insensitivities to Hong Kong’s governing system of separation of powers, particularly the city’s cherished independent judiciary.

When then-Chinese vice president Xi Jinping (習近平), now China’s president, visited Hong Kong just prior to the Beijing Olympics, he told local officials, legislators and judges that there should be “solidarity and sincere cooperation within the governance team.”

This prompted a quick rebuke from the Hong Kong Bar Association, which reminded Xi that Hong Kong’s judiciary was independent and not part of any “governance team.”

Critics also condemned Xi for flouting the basic tenets of “one country, two systems.”

That Chinese officials continue to misread Hong Kong, with its own “foreign” Cantonese dialect and alien culture, is now a daily reality for most Hong Kongers.

Some have suggested that those more expert in handling China’s foreign relations should oversee Hong Kong.

However, China’s diplomats are not winning hearts and minds these days either — especially in their own backyard, where the country is facing growing isolation, and a regional arms race is building steam.

With 34 years still remaining under “one country, two systems,” Beijing would do well to return to a policy articulated by former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民), when he quoted a Chinese proverb reflecting a more hands-off mainland approach to Hong Kong: “Well water does not pollute river water, and river water does not pollute well water.”

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