The UK has declassified records of its negotiations with China 30 years ago regarding Hong Kong’s future. That these papers have been declassified early might have something to do with the emergence of political reform in Hong Kong as an item on the agenda.
Media reports about the published files tell us that although the Britain was keen to leave Hong Kong with a bit more democracy and human rights, it found itself in a passive position in relation to China. Besides the imbalance between a small nation and a large one, the sense of guilt that British “China hands” felt about the Opium Wars and colonialism was another factor. At the time of negotiations, Hong Kong’s pan-democrats were in favor of China taking back Hong Kong, and this view was largely based on anti-colonialist sentiment.
With the passage of time, some young Chinese academics have been re-evaluating the Opium Wars and colonialism. There are those who say that if it had not happened, there would have been no Self-Strengthening Movement, no Hundred Days’ Reform and no Xinhai Revolution, and China would have remained a feudal society in which men had to plait their hair into long queues and girls were crippled by foot-binding. Would that not have been worse? The social setup in China today compares poorly with the way things were in Hong Kong under colonial rule. Even though Hong Kong’s democracy and human rights have been losing ground, Chinese are still flocking there.
Sixteen years after China recovered its sovereignty over Hong Kong, localist tendencies have emerged among the former colony’s pan-democrats, splitting them into so-called “left sticky” (左膠) and “right sticky” (右膠) factions. The right-stickies want to prioritize Hong Kong’s interests, while the left-stickies are also called Greater China-stickies, which is self-explanatory. Why are these factions called stickies? Perhaps it is because they are stuck in a certain way of thinking.
Most of my old friends are Greater China-stickies, but some of them think that they got it wrong in the past and now declare themselves to be localists. Among my newer friends, especially young people and those who align themselves with the localists, many of their parents are people who returned to China from abroad many years ago out of patriotism, and later moved to Hong Kong. These people have seen through patriotism and no longer believe in it.
Some right-stickies do not agree with right-sticky extremists — especially considering that some extremist groups have shady or suspicious backgrounds. There could also be middle stickies, who not want to see clashes between stickies of the left and right. After all, both these factions fall under the umbrella of the pan-democrats, so there is no need for them to regard each other as enemies. Nevertheless, their mindsets need to keep up with the times.
The current state of affairs in Hong Kong is worrying in terms of where Taiwan is headed. The division in Taiwan is between the pro-unification and the pro-independence factions, and both have extremists among them. To be sure, an absolute majority of public opinion in Taiwan is in favor of sovereignty and independence, which is different from Hong Kong. When it comes to standing up for universal values, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is less determined than the British were. If Taiwanese do not put their foot down and stop Ma from selling their country down the river, Taiwan’s future is not likely to be any brighter than what Hong Kong has experienced.
Taiwan is a popular destination for travelers from Hong Kong, whose enthusiasm is epitomized by the title of the travel program Fun Taiwan. However, Taiwan’s “Greater China stickies” are a much bigger problem than in Hong Kong. Ma is more concerned about the Chinese than the Hong Kong government is. This can be seen in the policies his government adopts the release of Chinese crime suspects.
The Ma administration’s negotiations with China lean strongly in favor of the other side and has no concept of avoiding conflicts of interest. Chinese culture’s deep influence on Taiwan gets in the way of a Taiwanese sense of right and wrong and weakens their will to resist. That Taiwan is being swallowed up by China so quickly is the main reason China is moving faster to scrap the “one China, two systems” framework in its rule over Hong Kong.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Julian Clegg