July 1 this year was a date that Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) may not forget for the rest of his life. The day marked the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China.
At the anniversary ceremony, Hu oversaw the inauguration of Hong Kong’s new chief executive, Leung Chun-ying (梁振英). However, just as Hu was making his speech, someone in the hall shouted demands for the vindication of the protagonists from the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy uprising and an end to one-party rule in China, while crowds of people protested outside the venue. In the evening there was a protest which 100,000 people joined. Their demands included a reversal of the official verdict on Tiananmen and an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death this year of Tiananmen activist Li Wangyang (李旺陽), and they demonstrated against the “Communist Party running Hong Kong.”
Having protesters take to the streets whenever someone from “over there” comes “over here” used to be Taiwan’s forte. Who would have thought that, just as this kind of response is going out of fashion in Taiwan, it would become all the rage in Hong Kong? Hong Kong’s population is 7 million and over 100,000 people took to the streets. Proportionally, that is no smaller than the protests staged against Chinese Taiwan affairs official Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) when he visited Taiwan in 2008 and 2009. It looks as though Hong Kong is becoming “Taiwanized.”
China established the “one country, two systems” policy for Hong Kong, but also as an example to Taiwan. However, the arrangement has been beset by troubles all along, much to Beijing’s annoyance and anger.
It was not until Hu proposed his “three harmonies” formula and adopted a strategy of reconciliation with Taiwan that the situation began to change. In the past, each time Taiwan held a presidential or legislative election, China would try to intimidate Taiwanese with verbal and military threats, but the result was always exactly the opposite of what the Chinese government wanted.
Hu took a new approach by applying China’s experience in Hong Kong — using business interests and media manipulation — to put pressure on Taiwan’s government and politicians. In this way, China was able to guide Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) toward a landslide victory in his first presidential election.
Ma’s win was a big step forward for China in its bid to turn Taiwan into another Hong Kong. Hu’s move has been more effective than the efforts of his predecessors, Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) and Jiang Zemin (江澤民). Yet just a few months after Ma was voted in for a second term in office, Hu visited Hong Kong only to be met with protests by a “Taiwanized” Hong Kong public.
To make matters worse, the incident came just as Hu is preparing to hand over power to a new generation.
Hong Kong’s “Taiwanization” is deeper than it appears and is not limited to taking to the streets and giving the man from Beijing a hard time. It operates at a deeper, psychological level that connects with people’s identities.
Just before Hu’s visit, the University of Hong Kong published a survey that showed people in Hong Kong are identifying themselves more and more as “Hong Kongers” rather than as “Chinese.” Only 18 percent of those surveyed chose Chinese as their primary identity and more than 45 percent of respondents said that they thought of themselves primarily as “Hong Kongers” — more than the 34 percent who said the same thing in August 1997, one month after the British had pulled out.
Hong Kong people’s strongest identification is as “Hong Kongers,” followed by “members of the Chinese race,” “Asians,” “Chinese” and “global citizens,” while “citizens of the People’s Republic of China” took last place.
The Chinese central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong is furious about the survey. The Communist Party’s media mouthpieces have launched a series of opinion pieces attacking Robert Chung (鍾庭耀), the man responsible for the survey, saying that he wants to split Hong Kong away from China and is seeking to instigate a separatist movement like those of Tibet and Xinjiang.
Well before Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule, Beijing was already using economic avenues to foster China-friendly forces. After the handover, it used the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) to deepen Hong Kong’s reliance on China. Over the past few years, the Chinese authorities have become alert that Hong Kongers’ identification with China is weaker than Beijing would like, so strengthening patriotic education has become a policy priority.
The interesting thing is that the ways in which they are trying to do this are very similar to those used by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in Taiwan. You could say that this is another way in which Hong Kong is becoming “Taiwanized.”
In a policy address delivered in 2010, the Hong Kong government proposed a plan for a “moral and national education curriculum” as a way to revive Hong Kong students’ national identity as Chinese. However, it has so far failed to reverse the trend in the way Hong Kong people identify themselves.
This seems to be a natural outcome. In 2000, the KMT came to an important conclusion about its defeat in that year’s presidential election. The party felt that the desinicization of national culture and education under outgoing president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was to blame. So, ever since the KMT was voted back into government, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his team have made constant efforts to resinicize Taiwan, without success.
While there are similarities in the way that the sentiments of people from Taiwan and Hong Kong are developing, there are also practical differences. Hong Kong is under Chinese rule, so to say that Hong Kong people are following the path of Tibetan separatists is something of an exaggeration. Taiwan, in contrast, enjoys de facto independence from China.
The KMT and the Chinese Communist Party really ought to understand that dogma and vilification will not do the trick. More important is for them to realize that, if experience shows people’s opinions cannot easily be turned around, then adjusting the parties’ mindsets and policies would be a wiser way of bringing about change.
Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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