Millennium Post

China talks tough to Hong Kong

China talks tough to Hong Kong

Though Hong Kong has matured under Chinese rule, it is clear that the motherland does not yet trust it to behave. Speaking at a ceremony in Hong Kong, marking the anniversary of the handover of the territory by Britain to China in 1997, China's President Xi Jinping said that in the past two decades, Hong Kong had grown 'exuberant like a bamboo or a pine tree'. When China took over Hong Kong, it promised that the territory would enjoy a 'high degree of autonomy' under the principle of 'one country, two systems'. But in his speech Xi made clear that China's support for Hong Kong's liberal way of life had limits.

"Any attempt," he warned, "to endanger China's sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government…or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland, is an act that crosses the red line, and is absolutely impermissible." Xi's audience included Carrie Lam, whom he had just anointed as the territory's new leader—the fourth person to hold the post of chief executive since China took control. It is clear that he wants Lam to take a hard stance towards an emerging political force in Hong Kong whose members advocate self-determination for the territory or even its independence from China. Such 'localists', as they describe themselves, as well as others who simply want more democracy, have staged scattered protests since shortly before Xi's arrival in Hong Kong on June 29—his first visit to the territory as China's leader.

In his speech, Xi said, Hong Kong's government should improve on defending national security. This was a clear hint that he wants Lam to introduce new legislation against subversion. Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, requires the government do so. But in 2003 an attempt to introduce such a bill triggered a demonstration by thousands of people, resulting in a decision to shelve it. Reviving the proposed law could again prove unpopular. Another request by Xi, that Hong Kong should 'step up the patriotic education of young people', will also cause resentment. Students and parents staged protests in 2012 when the government tried to make the teaching of a Communist Party-approved version of Chinese history compulsory in secondary schools. The government then made the course optional. At the forefront of those protests was a localist group called Scholarism, whose members later became leaders of the "Umbrella Movement".

Subsequently, in her acceptance speech, Lam said her government would take action against any acts that undermine the country's sovereignty, security and development interests. Opinion polls suggest that Lam, a former chief of Hong Kong's civil service and the first woman to lead the territory, enjoys little popularity. Many Hong Kongers, however, are pleased to see the back of Lam's predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, who showed little enthusiasm for defending Hong Kong's freedoms. Even after a man who sold gossipy books about Chinese leaders was abducted from Hong Kong in 2015 by the mainland's agents, Leung appeared to make little effort to secure his return. Lam may try to deflect criticism of the government by paying more attention than her predecessors did to the public's complaints about soaring house prices and inadequate welfare provisions, but will face resistance to such measures from tycoons whose backing the administration has always regarded as a vital political bulwark. At her inauguration, Mrs Lam said she had "pledged to bring in a new style of governance to restore social harmony and rebuild public trust in the government". That would be difficult if the new style is tougher towards the Communist Party's opponents.

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