Alliance For a Beautiful Hong Kong

Protect Beautiful Hong Kong

By John Batten

In one week’s time, Hong Kong will be celebrating twenty years since the final British colonial administration left Hong Kong on 30 June 1997. I have deliberately stated it in this way, rather than emphasizing the equally correct: “return of Hong Kong/twenty years of Chinese sovereignty.” Conversations about Hong Kong’s return to China can – amazingly – still be an emotive topic, but are particularly understandable since the failure of Hong Kong’s political reforms and the consequent Umbrella protests of 2014. Hong Kong’s British history and British institutions is a reality that often has Hong Kong’s establishment and pro-establishment supporters in a quandary. The establishment extol Hong Kong and its place in China’s future, but are seemingly embarrassed by Hong Kong’s colonial past.

It is, I suppose, a tightrope for a China loyalist as Hong Kong’s admired core values largely derive from the time of the previous British colonial years. Foremost is Hong Kong’s legal system and rule of law: crucial to Hong Kong’s success as a place for business and for the free and open discussion of ideas. This is a key difference between the workings and psyche of Hong Kong and the mainland.

Loyalty can be an admirable attribute. Indeed, we often demand it of relatives, our work colleagues, and sporting team-members. But, absolute and uncritical loyalty can make us blind, almost obsessive. Loyalty can encourage tribal, insular behaviour. Loyalty can allow complacency in thinking and analysis, leading to the sidelining and disregard of alternative opinions.

I am stating the obvious, but if you are a China loyalist, you are loyal to China. Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive for this final week before the 20th Anniversary of the Handover, has increasingly been judged over the last five years by us, the Hong Kong general public, and his mainland superiors by his ideological loyalty to China. Over the term of his government, Leung himself has increasingly measured the success of his policies and the success of his decision-making by this loyalty to China. Over the last five years some prominent expressions of that loyalty have been introduced into Hong Kong, including: the national anthem playing daily on prime-time television, increased government funding for Hong Kong students to spend time visiting the mainland on organized youth trips – and the prominence given to the national flag that now flies above Hong Kong government offices, police stations, fire stations and government schools.

Leung has followed the central government’s demands of loyalty from its officials and, indeed, any citizen who is in the international spotlight. Even Chinese tourists while on an overseas holiday should behave and not ‘embarrass’ the country by their actions or public statements. And, for overseas Chinese communities, there are organisations to gather loyalty to voice support for China. Increasingly, the mainland-funded Confucian Institutes attached to many universities around the world have been labeled as an organization whose mission is more nationalist than altruistic and some overseas universities have declined their continued presence on their campuses.

Anticipating how Mrs Carrie Lam will conduct her administration is an unknown, but I cannot envision her waving a copy of the obscure University of Hong Kong magazine, Undergrad, published by the University’s Students’ Union, as Leung did during his 2015 Policy Address while criticizing localist sentiments. Leung merely succeeded in raising the profile of ‘Hong Kong independence’, an issue that had had little traction up to that point in the wider Hong Kong community (and still doesn’t). Lam does not need to express her loyalty to China with such incendiary and public gestures. As she often tells us, she has spent her life devoted to ‘public service’. No doubt, Lam will be a little more subtle in her loyalties – and some of that will be shared by her in Beijing where she will be extolling (hopefully, strongly defending) the immense importance of Hong Kong’s core values. I believe the mainland wants an honest-speaking Chief Executive of the HKSAR, rather than a sycophantic loyalist: they know then that they will get an honest, frank analysis of Hong Kong and its current issues and regional concerns.

And, the future for Leung? He appropriately has been appointed the Vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference: the perfect position for a distinguished China loyalist.

DSC03118johnBcropJohn Batten is an art critic, and convenor of the Central & Western Concern Group

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