News analysis

Xi Jinping's visit to Hong Kong won't help bridge gulf

Freedoms dear to Hong Kong could be a long way from what Beijing is willing to swallow

Some Hong Kongers might find Chinese President Xi Jinping's pledge to ensure the steady implementation of the "one country, two systems" formula and its continuation, made on his arrival in Hong Kong yesterday, reassuring.

But the reality is that Beijing and Hong Kongers have different views of what the principle means, or should mean, and there is little sign of the two sides closing that gulf.

The central government stresses "one country", so it wants, among other things, national education to be added to the school curriculum to inculcate patriotism among the city's youth for the motherland.

Hong Kongers want to ensure continuation of their high degree of autonomy, as promised under "one country, two systems" - that means as little interference as possible in the city's governance from Beijing, and maintenance of the capitalist system and way of life, including their identity as Hong Kongers.

They also fear mainland-isation - the acceptance of values and norms om the mainland. They thus reject the teaching of national education in schools, even protesting in the streets in 2012 when the city government tried to introduce compulsory patriotic education.

Worries about mainland-isation can also be seen in reactions to the buntings, banners and posters commemorating the 20th anniversary tomorrow of the city's handover and Mr Xi's visit.

Buntings of Hong Kong's bauhinia flag and the five-star flag of China as well as posters and banners in the colours of the Chinese flag - red and yellow - have been put up.

Mr Xi Jinping and his wife, Ms Peng Liyuan, being met by Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam (behind left) in Hong Kong yesterday.
Mr Xi Jinping and his wife, Ms Peng Liyuan, being met by Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam (behind left) in Hong Kong yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Chinese saying - tong chuang yi meng (to share the same bed but have different dreams) - is an apt description of the current relationship between Beijing and the people of Hong Kong. If Mr Xi hopes his visit will bridge the gulf, he might be disappointed.

 
 
 

Posters saying "Warmly welcome President Xi Jinping to inspect Hong Kong" have been sited strategically, including at a toll station of the West Harbour Tunnel linking Kowloon to Hong Kong island.

Another banner there reads: "Hong Kong and China share the same fate. The bauhinia and national flag go well together."

A Hong Konger called it a sign of mainland-isation as the language and messages were more in character with the mainland.

The Hong Kong Free Press news site, dubbing them "China-style decorations", quoted a social media user as saying: "I am disgusted by the combination of yellow and red."

Another user wrote: "What is happening? Am I in mainland China?"

Some of the posters have been vandalised. One had "Hong Kong has been occupied by the enemy for 20 years" added to it.

Some unauthorised posters have also appeared, including one in an underpass exhorting Hong Kongers to "rise up for real autonomy".

A group of 20 pan-democratic lawmakers hopes to petition Mr Xi to uphold "one country, two systems" and restart the city's stalled political reform. Their signed petition says "the central government and its liaison office have increasingly emphasised 'one country' but derogated 'two systems', and even interfered with Hong Kong's internal affairs in multiple sectors".

Mr Xi's "one country, two systems" does not preclude the enactment of an anti-subversion law, allowed under the city's mini-Constitution but anathema to Hong Kongers, who see it as a curtailment of political freedoms. A previous attempt sparked a march by half a million on July 1, 2003, and marches have marked handover commemorations ever since.

On this visit, Mr Xi will not meet local families, with some suggesting security considerations. His predecessors, Mr Jiang Zemin and Mr Hu Jintao, did so. He also did so during a visit here in 2008 when he was Vice-President.

His packed programme included presiding over the signing of an agreement between Hong Kong and Beijing yesterday on construction of the Hong Kong Palace Museum. Today, he will visit the People's Liberation Army Garrison and meet Hong Kong police tasked with youth outreach; tomorrow, he will inspect the construction site of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.

Omitting home visits might lead Hong Kongers to see Mr Xi as aloof.

The Chinese saying - tong chuang yi meng (to share the same bed but have different dreams) - is an apt description of the current relationship between Beijing and the people of Hong Kong.

If Mr Xi hopes his visit will bridge the gulf, he might be disappointed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2017, with the headline 'Xi's visit won't help bridge gulf'. Print Edition | Subscribe