Sunday, 19 February 2012

Pain of integration

Anthony Cheung says the acrimony in Hongkongers’ relations with the mainland can be traced to a loss of local pride and direction as the city grapples with its changing role in a surging Chinese economy

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Guanyu 道 said...

Pain of integration

Anthony Cheung says the acrimony in Hongkongers’ relations with the mainland can be traced to a loss of local pride and direction as the city grapples with its changing role in a surging Chinese economy

31 January 2012

Over the past few weeks, relations between Hongkongers and mainlanders have suddenly gone sour. First, there was the protest provoked by the Dolce & Gabbana outlet in Tsim Sha Tsui stopping a Hongkonger from taking photos of the shop, but not mainland tourists.

Then, the row was fuelled by a Beijing professor’s rude comments - amid a war of words between angry netizens on both sides over a mainlander eating on the MTR - that some Hong Kong people were dogs.

These may well be isolated incidents, but deep below these boiling public sentiments is a sense of threat that mainlanders are overwhelming Hong Kong, buying up local properties and infant formula. Pregnant mainland women have flooded local hospitals, inducing angry local women to take to the street to demand government action to stop them.

As I wrote in this column a year ago, as the city integrates further with the mainland and becomes a national market, pain will come with the economic gain. The purchasing power of even a tiny percentage of the mainland will be able to shape, overwhelm or even distort the local economy; the scale of such change needs to be fully factored in to policy planning, and it calls for a rethink of the “two systems” relationship.

The clash is not merely economic or even cultural. The brewing tensions have arisen out of the original “two systems” design not being able to cope with the new social and economic realities emerging over the past decade as mainland China rises to become the second-largest economy in the world, breeding the new rich and middle classes in growing numbers in the big cities.

The legal identity of Hongkongers has been built on the Basic Law definition of permanent resident entitled to a passport separate from the national one, as if it had a “subnational” status.

There is also a socio-economic foundation of the Hong Kong identity. Until the 1990s, Hong Kong was regarded as economically more advanced, and Hong Kong businesses were the first to invest in the mainland following the economic reform and opening up after 1979, helping China’s modernisation and subsequent economic take-off. Though Hong Kong was politically a dwarf, it enjoyed a high national standing, with Deng Xiaoping calling on the nation to develop more “Hong Kongs”. The Hong Kong way of life and doing business was, for a couple of decades, held up as the role model for mainland cities.

Now the pendulum seems to have swung the other way. The newly affluent mainlanders are big spenders and buying up Hong Kong, which has been depicted as economically dependent on the mainland. Mainland cities like Shanghai are catching up quickly. Fifteen years after reunification, many on the mainland tend to forget the unique history of the 1997 settlement, wondering why Hong Kong was given such a privileged status.

Meanwhile, economic setbacks, local political quagmires and the lack of long-term vision after reunification have together fuelled a sense of marginalisation and a “blame culture”. Pessimism and scepticism is encouraging self-isolation and anti-mainland sentiment, and that is occasionally reinforced by insensitive mainland officials and commentators questioning Hongkongers’ sense of national identity.

But blaming only mainlanders for Hong Kong’s ills is neither fair nor the solution to the identity crisis. Hong Kong’s further integration with the mainland is inevitable; it can actually open up a larger horizon for a reinvented Hong Kong if it positions itself effectively as a global city of China. Across the border, mainlanders also have to embrace a more inclusive notion of Chinese identity.

Guanyu 道 said...

There is no need to put national identity and local identity in direct confrontation, just as having a national identity does not necessarily conflict with a sense of global citizenship in promoting environmental sustainability and human development.

The present identity row has much to do with the loss of Hong Kong pride and the failure to construct a sense of collective purpose with the rest of China. While preserving its own historical legacy and core values, Hong Kong must not live only for past glory, but actively explore the path to a new future.

Anthony Cheung Bing-leung is an executive councillor and founder of SynergyNet, a policy think tank