Autonomy and Authenticity: tensions between China and Hong Kong

The Great Hall of the People, where the Chinese Parliament meets

The Great Hall of the People, where the Chinese Parliament meets.

In a move unexpected by those who took their oaths on October the 12th, Beijing’s National People’s Congress has banned two pro-independence Hong Kong politicians (Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-Ching, ‘Youngspiration’ party) from being sworn in as legislators, as they displayed a banner saying ‘Hong Kong is not China’. Hong Kong’s inclination towards independence is at tension with China’s reluctance to let go of the ‘one-country, two-systems’. This rise in a radical sentiment echoes the 2014 ‘Umbrella Movement’ provoked by the fear that China might limit the democracy of Hong Kong.

Young people in Hong Kong are increasingly showing radical pro-independence sentiments that result in very real harms. It is worrying that discontent is not articulated in a peaceful way, or at least in a way that we can relate to. This perhaps serves as a warning for other countries, in particular those with local discontent towards immigration. The case of Hong Kong shows that when resentment is bottled up it can be channeled into violence at the critical times of political decision-making. It is needless to say that consistent political engagement and healthy debate at all times is essential to the smooth functioning of any political system, as opposed to the sudden rises in the nationalist feeling during the crucial for the country times.

Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, 2014.

Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, 2014.

It is not our place to judge whether Beijing’s actions were right, nor is it up to us to form opinions about the morals of voters in Hong Kong and the cabinet in Beijing. Situated in the West, we have to be sensitive to the tyrannies of media, which is not to degrade it but rather to acknowledge that every media network usually has very specific aims, nationalistic purposes and patriotic sentiments involved. Most European and American audiences get their news from established news channels, which misrepresent the realities outside of the Western bubble.

Fox News, for example, is rather saturated with nationalistic sentiments and often imply that non-Western countries do not have a full grasp of democracy or are practicing it in the wrong way and with a certain disregard of the majorities, when allowing people to own guns and shoot others at will, for instance. It is easy to frame Beijing as an over-controlling villain who refuses to grant freedom to Hong Kong that has been unwillingly chained to it, but it is important not to forget about the nature of the conflict. Hong Kong cannot be spoken about as a united force fighting for independence, nor can China be thought of as wholly adamant about seeing Hong Kong as an intrinsic part of them.

Within Hong Kong, there is a good number of mostly young people who are pro-independence, and perhaps they are resentful of the immigration influx from mainland China as they feel mainlanders are stealing their rice bowls and using up their national resources. The corporate firms may face a dilemma though, as people working may personally desire for Hong Kong to be its own nation, however, on the business/pragmatic side of things they are well aware of the boost that cooperation with Chinese companies will bring. The unrelenting expansion of the Chinese economy shows huge promise for Hong Kong to ride the wave of wealth, if you will, albeit this comes at the cost of high and rising inequality as trickle-down effects are bound to demarcate winners and losers in the name of competitive globalisation. As such it is difficult for outsiders to fully grasp the stakes involved here, for we probably interpret the matter from our narrow point of view and do not consider the wider perspective. The Beijing cabinet for sure has very different concerns to the ones of the mass population of China. It is aware that their ‘Get Rich First’ policy of the past is manifesting its consequences now, as people from the villages increasingly realise that they have better chances in the city. Hong Kong presents a golden opportunity for many migrants who find themselves unable to lead a stable life of manual labour in overcrowded Chinese cities, especially with the constraint of not having a legally required hukou account – China’s household registration system. All these different identities as such point to the difficulty of coming up with a coherent solution of this argument between China and Hong Kong, for the population at stake here is simply uncontainable in terms of their various aspirations and motivations of being one unite or two separate countries.

For us who live outside the realities of China it is too ambitious to try and grasp the range of factors which accommodate the conflicting national sentiments. There is a lot of ambivalence involved as both parties realise that the prospective of independent Hong Kong holds both pros and cons. The likelihood that one’s Individual circumstances will be decisive in this political and social struggle is indisputable. This ambivalence means that we have to take the Western news reports with a pinch of salt and be wary of making sweeping statements about another society’s mentality and politics.


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