Forum: China needs to win trust of HK residents

The Chinese national flag flies alongside the Hong Kong flag during a ceremony to mark China's National Day celebrations in Hong Kong, on Oct 1, 2019.
The Chinese national flag flies alongside the Hong Kong flag during a ceremony to mark China's National Day celebrations in Hong Kong, on Oct 1, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

Hong Kong is an undeniable part of China. Having been "fostered" out to the British under a governance system quite different from the Chinese Communist Party's, with generations having grown up under a freewheeling system and never having the concept of country, Hong Kong will be difficult to bring under China's fold.

The months-long protests that have spiralled into violence attest to that.

After another bout of violent clashes, a senior Chinese official said last month that stronger security laws are needed in Hong Kong.

The call for sterner action is not surprising, considering that Chinese officials have not lived in a democracy and so do not know that tough action would not win hearts and minds.

And if there is any worry that other parts of China may demand to be freewheeling like Hong Kong, well, they don't get it because Hong Kong started out differently.

One solution may be for Beijing to allow Hong Kong to continue its different political system, so long as the territory does not try to declare independence.

After all, Hong Kong had worked well under the previous regime.

But first, China has to win the trust of Hong Kong residents. China cannot claim it will leave Hong Kong alone for 50 years under the "one country, two systems" policy while trying to exert greater control.

Who knows? With greater awareness, the Chinese themselves may consider more political freedom in the future, having seen how Hong Kong is functioning well.

Peh Chwee Hoe

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2019, with the headline 'China needs to win trust of HK residents'. Print Edition | Subscribe