The Challenges to Hong Kong’s “Greater China Mentality”

  • At the community level, Hong Kong people, especially teenagers, are fans of many things Taiwanese, showing keen interest in visiting Taiwan and learning about its lifestyle, entertainment and show business, all of which constitute Taiwan’s soft power.

Hong Kong-Taiwan and Hong Kong-mainland China relations have undergone profound changes in recent years. Relations between Hong Kong and Taiwan are very sensitive as they involve interpretation of the power enshrined in the Basic Law for Hong Kong to deal with external relations on its own. It is no secret that since the handover of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China in 1997 both Chief Executives have refrained from paying official visits to Taiwan. However in the last couple of years, the two governments have initiated more official exchanges, especially on economic, tourism and cultural co-operation. They have also set up official units to institutionalise those exchanges. At the community level, Hong Kong people, especially teenagers, are fans of many things Taiwanese, showing keen interest in visiting Taiwan and learning about its lifestyle, entertainment and show business, all of which constitute Taiwan’s soft power. The development of Hong Kong-Taiwan relations in terms of both official and people exchanges is expected to be stable and healthy in the future.

In stark contrast, Hong Kong-mainland China relations have been much bumpier. Economic integration has been the focus, with the Hong Kong government pressing ahead with controversial policies such as economic integration with the Pearl River Delta, the high-speed railway and the Individual Visit Scheme, to strengthen economic ties with the mainland. On the political front, there has been continuous bickering over the interpretations of “one country, two systems” between the pro-establishment and democratic camps. Even on the cultural front, many local film producers have given up attempts to co-produce movies on mainland China, and have instead re-focused their attention on local production.

In light of these conflicts, there have been heated debates on Hong Kong’s political and cultural positions in relation to those of mainland China. There are three contesting narratives at play, urging Hong Kong people to: (1) recognise that Hong Kong is under China’s jurisdiction and that it should adhere more closely to the principle of “one country” under “one country, two systems” to synchronise the country’s development; (2) recognise that Hong Kong is rooted in China, and that it has the responsibility to capitalise on its core values and advantages to steer China towards progress and democracy; and (3) define Hong Kong as a city-state underpinned by localism. The first two narratives invoke a “Greater China mentality” whereby there are no fundamental conflicts between Hong Kong and mainland China. However, the localism narrative has a “protectionist” implication of distancing Hong Kong from the mainland. The advocates of localism believe that it will help to protect Hong Kong’s core values and re-affirm local culture, whereas opponents view that stance as inward-looking.

In fact, this debate over Hong Kong’s positioning is not new. Back in the 1990s, during the pre-handover period, a group of intellectuals advocated a “northward spirit”, whereby Hong Kong people would be confident in propelling China’s modernisation with its values in freedom and progress. However China’s rise as an economic power is eroding the confidence of Hong Kong people. Hence, some scholars have put forward a “new northward spirit” proposition, with the belief that our competitive edges in education, culture and civic society can help China to develop. An example of such attempts is the New School for Democracy jointly established by politicians and academics in Hong Kong and Taiwan in mid-2011. The organisation aims at advancing democracy education in the Greater China region, particularly in mainland China, through online courses. However, under the counter force of localism, there are calls among pro-democracy scholars urging Hong Kong people to give up their attention to mainland China’s political development and to re-prioritise by safeguarding local interests.

The Hong Kong government sees the city’s growing integration with mainland China as the most natural course of development. In the past few years, the then Chief Executive-elect Leung Chun-ying has been advocating that Hong Kong expedite the process of its integration through an aggressive “internal diplomacy” with mainland China. However, at the community level the clash between Hong Kong’s localism and the “Greater China mentality” is heating up. As some academics predict, the greatest tension in Hong Kong in the future will no longer be generated by the pace of political reform alone, but will extend to the closeness of relations between Hong Kong and mainland China.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

 


 

 

Professor Joshua Mok Ka-ho commented that, local media should provide more and different information on the two places to our youth, so that they can better understand the Greater China region.