Looking into Hong Kong’s mirror

By Ping Lu 平路  / 

Fri, Nov 08, 2013 - Page 8

On Oct. 24, the People’s Daily overseas edition ran an editorial about a speech given by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Lin Cho-shui (林濁水) at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Hong Kong activists meeting with former DPP chairman Shih Ming-te (施明德), headlined “Support of Taiwanese independence disastrous for Hong Kong’s elevation.”

The piece said that anyone who wanted Taiwan and Hong Kong to be independent should first ask all of the 1.3 billion Chinese. Such strong wording is a reflection of the deepest fears of the Beijing government.

The People’s Daily warned Taiwan and Hong Kong of the ramifications of working together for independence. However, this implies that the fates of the two will become closely linked.

Hong Kong was a British colony for a long time before it was handed back to China in 1997. Apart from shopping and dining out in Hong Kong, Taiwanese are not interested in the territory and have never showed interest in its political situation.

Now, in face of an encroaching China, Taiwan and Hong Kong share a similar problem — how to leverage their core values to resist China’s appropriative type of collectivism.

Hong Kong’s pro-China media has criticized the territory’s opposition for learning from Taiwan’s pro-independence camp as it tries to curb the recent wave of protests triggered by the awarding of permits for free-to-air television licenses.

The territory’s two TV stations, TVB and Asia Television, have been losing their vitality. Three firms — PCCW, I-Cable Communications and Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) applied for licenses — but HKTV was denied a permit.

The selection process was marked by backroom deals and Hong Kongers believe the evaluation standards were not transparent. They want to know if the rejection had anything to do with HKTV founder Ricky Wong Wai Kay’s (王維基) involvement in student movements. Beijing has called Wong a “demon child.”

Hong Kong’s authorities were evasive, saying the administrative meeting proceedings are confidential. Several days later, 120,000 people took to the streets to protest, with placards reading: “We want the truth.” What they really wanted to know was whether Beijing had interfered with the issuing of permits.

Think for a moment about how similar Taiwan’s situation is. In the presidential election last year, Taiwanese also asked how far Beijing’s hands stretched.

Hong Kongers are more aware of the threats posed by Sinicization than Taiwanese because of the strange phenomena caused by Beijing’s “one country, two systems.” Chinese women go to Hong Kong to give birth so their children can gain residency in the territory, while milk powder, medical supplies and kindergarten places are being snapped up by Chinese and real-estate prices are increasing sharply because of Chinese speculators. Hong Kongers feel that their survival is threatened.

To cater to Chinese tourists, Hong Kong’s cityscape has become a lot more boring, as small shops disappear to make way for chains selling gold, jewelry and brand-name handbags. Simplified Chinese characters are appearing on restaurant menus. All these things have made Hong Kongers feel that their local culture is in crisis.

Last year, they rose up against the Moral and National Education curriculum proposed by the territory’s Education Bureau. Now, we are seeing unrest over the denied permit for HKTV, while support grows for the proposed Occupy Central protest for universal suffrage scheduled to take place in Central in July next year.

Recently, almost any small incident has been able to set off a demonstration in Hong Kong, while larger issues could cause a large-scale standoff.

The ease with which a demonstration can collect 100,000 people strikes fear into Beijing, because it thinks these mass protests may cross into China. Suspicion and fear between Hong Kong and China is on the increase, and with the timetable for the territory’s general elections to be set soon, the question of whether Beijing will allow universal elections has become a very thorny issue. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) is sandwiched by all this and public support for him is dropping fast.

Ever since its introduction, the “one country, two systems” model has intensified contradictions between China and Hong Kong, including many issues that Taiwanese should give serious consideration. Look at Hong Kong — whether it be the differences with China in terms of political system, values, lifestyle and the degree of democratization, it would seem inevitable that conflicts between Hong Kongers and other Chinese will escalate as they continue to integrate.

The next issue to pay attention to is how to find solutions as disputes intensify. As the contradictions between Hong Kong and China become more extreme and the growing Hong Kong identity clashes with Beijing’s increasing nationalism, the two sides are akin to two trains rushing headlong toward each other. At some point there is bound to be a crash.

Taiwanese should view Hong Kong as a mirror reflecting the gloomy state of affairs that may occur if Taiwan is taken over by China. Taiwanese need to change their apathetic attitude toward Hong Kong and start paying close attention to what is going on there.

Ping Lu is an author and former director of Taiwan’s Kwang Hwa Information and Culture Center in Hong Kong.

Translated by Drew Cameron