Hong Kong politics are following a global trend of rising populism in election years. But only an inclusive Hong Kong will be the great city and home it is meant to be.
Trump. Trudeau. About all those two have in common are the TRU in their names. One has been elected to lead a country. The other certainly will not be so elected. Hong Kong is following both paths at once. This city’s soul is at stake.
TRUmp v TRUdeau
Donald Trump is a businessman demagogue who has ridden a strange wave of discontent, wherein real concerns have been channeled in a xenophobic campaign directed against Muslims, Mexicans, and others. While he may have some support in the extreme voters in the Republican primaries, it is highly unlikely he will win a general election.
In Canada, a nation close to Hong Kong with over 300,000 of its citizens here, saw a brief flirtation with anti-Muslim sentiment lead to electoral disaster. There, a leader proclaiming ‘sunny ways’ with a strongly inclusive message won a landslide victory to continuing acclaim. That is Justin Trudeau, a Prime Minister that has moved to accept more Syrian refugees and apologise for the discrimination of past governments.
Hong Kong’s politics are moving in both directions. The simple xenophobia of Western nations boils down to ‘they took/are taking our jobs’ and crime and those ideas certainly infuse the rhetoric and actions of the anti-outsider camp here. But Hong Kong has another dimension – our complex relationship with Beijing, the Communist leadership and China generally.
Most localists I’ve encountered welcome the engagement of non-Chinese as Hong Kongers. This type of localist is international minded and embraces Hong Kong’s role as a world city, partially as a bulwark against become ‘just another Chinese city’. Others are more focused on opposing the growing population of mainlanders in our city streets and extensions of the Communist Party into our institutions, be it government, universities or schools.
The pro-Beijing forces can’t very well tap an anti-China vein of anger in their attempt at votes via populism, and have settled on the refugee menace as their bête-noire. The concern is that talk of illegal immigrants and bogus refugees is a dog whistle issue, meaning that they say ‘illegal immigrants’ on the face of things, but supporters hear ‘brown people’. The real aim is to animate supporters by generating fears of non-Chinese communities.
At a higher level, we had the spectacle of various leaders brandishing the ‘foreign influence’ bogeyman during Occupy Central, only to never produce the mysterious evidence ‘when the time is right’. There wasn’t any, but officialdom made suspicion of non-Han Hong Kongers acceptable in some quarters.
On one occasion, the high and low overlapped in a written slur against home-wrecking domestic helpers and sexually depraved expat bosses from a prominent ExCo member. On that occasion, the whistle was heard by all and protests from helpers elicited an apology to them (but not the expat bosses, presumably still on the smear list).
By contrast, we have a Financial Secretary who has tried a sunnier way of talking about the diversity as not just an asset, but a core feature of Hong Kong in his recent blog post. He even stated that speaking Cantonese wasn’t a necessary requirement for being a great Hong Konger (whew! Thanks for that!) In the same week, he spoke at an event hosted by Ronnie Tong, a movie premiere of Race, a movie about triumph over discrimination in the story of Olympic medallist Jesse Owen’s victories in Hitler’s Berlin.
Another speaker was Shalini Mahtani (馬夏邐) of The Zubin Foundation. The Foundation recently published a list of sixteen vetted, qualified and committed Hong Kongers of non-Caucasian minority backgrounds they are presenting as, firstly, worthy candidates for government advisory committees, but also for corporate and NGO boards. The message is that these people are committed Hong Kongers and their presence will help the government (and companies and NGOs) to better understand, integrate and succeed from minority views.
At the Zubin Foundation event, Ms Mahtani spoke of a child of mixed background describing herself as a quarter of one parent’s origin country, one quarter another, one quarter the country they lived in – and a quarter Hong Konger.
While I appreciate the effort, talk of being a half something, half Hong Konger, is, in my book, not good enough – and even damaging. It is impossible to convince someone you are 100% part of their team if you are half of another. A bigger, more transcendent sense of identity is needed.
For years, I’ve been telling people that citizens of my nation, Canada, transcend mathematics. Many of us are 200% and it is why our nation works. The people of my city, Hong Kong, are often the same in their hearts, even if they haven’t articulated it like this.
For years, people in Quebec who felt they were Canadians were forced by separatists to make a false choice. Quebecois first or Canadian first? The non-separatist side gained strength and won the day (so far!) when they realised they could be 100% for Quebec AND 100% for Canada. Immigrants can be 100% Chinese, and 100% Canadian, like my in-laws. 100% Greek and 100% Canadian. And so on.
This kind of thinking, that we can be bigger than just 100%, is an almost unique concept of nationality. China doesn’t hold truck with that thinking, making citizens give up their Chinese citizenship if they emigrate and making new Chinese (a la Zimmerman, Rowse, and Zeman) give up their old allegiances. Canada? Not too fussed about it. Relaxed. Chilled. Confident that Canadians can be good Canadians, regardless of any other paperwork they have. Canada is in the heart.
I would make the argument that I am 100% Canadian and 100% Hong Kong, and see no conflict in that. Many of my travelers on the journey in my 20 years here are the same and have sought to bring the best of both worlds to each other, whether it be in the realm of business, politics or culture.
Not half and half. 100% plus 100%. All in.
Hong Kong’s 200%
Many immigrants to Hong Kong and emigrant returnees will get this immediately (and hopefully adopt the language in preference to a half/half stance). But many will not have it.
Those who are against ‘foreign influence’ will find the concept preposterous, even dangerous. If your concept of nation and loyalty is to rule of man that flows down from the top, then the old adage is true – no man can have two masters. Energy and focus is consumed seeking and containing the alien, the wrong-headed, the disloyal. It engenders paranoia and discord.
But if your loyalty is to ideas, people, and building an inclusive, prosperous community, the idea is a winner. It enables you to find common ground with people and a way to move forward. Two great things can reside in one heart and be brought together, virtues canceling vices.
Likewise, the Hong Kong independence drive could be antithetical to the 200% concept if people are trying to find a way to be 100% Chinese and 100% Hong Kong. Many good-hearted people claim that identity (although the dividing line between Chinese and CCP loyalist can be blurry). Among them would be some who understand that others can be 200%. But some may find the Chinese line on “us or them” would preclude that. They will always view those with non-China loyalties as suspect, even if obviously committed to Hong Kong.
Localists and independence advocates often want to force a choice. Polls suggest many Hong Kongers have made that choice and it is for Hong Kong only. Localists might not object to someone claiming to be 100% British and 100% Hong Kong, but insist that you can’t be for China and Hong Kong at the same time.
A true Hong Kong identity is still a work in progress. Those pushing an inclusive view will find it easier to work with others of different viewpoints,possessing an outlook that predisposes them to find common ground. The opposite will be those seeking to drive wedges between people.
For our city in an election year, we will have to see which viewpoint will prove more attractive to voters. Many are not waiting and are transitioning to new lives in Taiwan, a new phenomena, or quietly decamping to their homes in the 1990s. For those willing to wait and see what “TRUe” Hong Kong emerges in 2017, they will have to see if we get an inclusive Trudeauesque or a divisive Trumpification of Hong Kong.
Many others will not wait, but take an active hand. Harbour Times and this 100% Hong Konger – and 100% Canadian – will stand with, and for, those who believe in a bigger, inclusive Hong Kong with a bright future ahead of it, whatever their political stripe.
He has run The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, founded The Lion Rock Institute and has over 25 years engagement in media, politics, policy and community engagement.