As Beijing Steps up Control, Hong Kong People Feel Increasingly Less Chinese

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Hong Kong residents carry placards in a protest calling for the city's independence, Jan. 1, 2018.
Hong Kong residents carry placards in a protest calling for the city's independence, Jan. 1, 2018.

The number of people who identify as "Hong Kongers" rather than as Chinese citizens or other possible identities stands at a 10-year high, amid complaints that the city's autonomy is increasingly being eroded by diktats from Beijing, a new survey shows.

A total of 41 percent of people surveyed by the University of Hong Kong public opinion survey this month described themselves as Hong Kongers, while a further 27 percent identified as "Hong Kongers in China," making a total of 67 percent whose primary identity is linked to the city and not to the People's Republic.

Only 30 percent picked a Chinese identity, while 39 percent said their identity was some kind of mixture of the two, the survey of 1,001 people found.

A separate survey by the same Public Opinion Programme found that the strength-of-identity rating for "Hong Kongers" was at 8.54 out of 10, while that of "Asians" stood at 8.16.

The description "member of the Chinese race" came next at 7.10, while "citizens of the People's Republic of China" scored just 5.85 on the same scale.

"All in all, Hong Kong people continue to feel the strongest as 'Hong Kongers,' followed by a number of cultural identities," the survey reported.

"The feeling of being 'citizens of the PRC' is the weakest among all identities tested," it added.

Scores for the identity "Hong Konger" had increased significantly compared to the last survey, standing at a record high since the measurement began in 2008, it said.

High-profile interventions

Political commentators said the changes in the way people describe themselves are likely the result of a sense that the city's once-promised "high degree of autonomy" has been giving way in recent years to high-profile interventions from the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Pro-Beijing politicians say such surveys merely set Hong Kong and Chinese identities in opposition to each other.

"I am a Hong Konger," one local resident told RFA on Thursday. "I was born in Hong Kong ... I live here. I do not think that Hong Kong is the same as China. I will also choose a Hong Konger in an election."

A second resident appeared to agree.

"I would identify myself as a Hong Konger," the resident said. "In short, I am not Chinese. I feel that I am a Hong Kong person and not a Chinese person."

Chung Kim-wah, assistant social science professor at the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong, said he was unsurprised by the findings, blaming them on a backlash to Beijing's interventions to stamp out talk of independence in public life, while seeking to make the city's residents feel more Chinese.

"The fight against localism and independence has not only been ineffective, it seems that it has also been counterproductive," Chung told RFA. "This just proves that [Beijing's] current policies are a mistake."

"For various reasons, historical and other reasons, Hong Kong people aren't like mainland Chinese," he said. "The more they emphasize nationalism based on a shared [Chinese] ancestry, the less Hong Kong people will like or recognize what they see."

"They are only going to make the backlash stronger."

'We can't escape'

Lee Pik-yi, convenor of the pro-Beijing protest group Zhenxi Zhongzu, said how people feel makes little difference to their actual situation.

"We have been a part of China now for 20 years, since the [1997] handover," Lee said. "We can't escape our Chineseness. We were born to it. It is our fate."

Meanwhile current affairs commentator Liu Ruishao said he thinks it unlikely that Beijing will change its strategy in light of the findings.

"Whether you take mainland China or Hong Kong as a model, they were all born of a feudal or imperialist system and ideology," Liu said. "[But] things have gotten worse since President Xi Jinping came to power, so I can't see them changing their policies just because ... of a backlash among the younger generation."

Liu said Beijing is far more likely to continue with infrastructure policies to integrate the cities around the Pearl River Delta, and use economic interests to bind Hong Kong residents more closely with the mainland Chinese hinterland.

Diluted autonomy

A policy report issued by the State Department in Washington on Hong Kong in May said that repeated comments from Chinese officials asserting the supremacy of the Chinese constitution during the past year had served to "dilute" the concept of a "high degree of autonomy" enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British handover treaty and the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

It cited moves by the National People's Congress Standing Committee requiring the city to legislate to make "disrespect" of China's flag or national anthem a criminal offense.

Beijing also announced it would apply mainland Chinese law at a high-speed rail terminal checkpoint within Hong Kong's separate jurisdiction, the report said.

The report also criticized Beijing for issuing a preemptive interpretation in the row of the validity of oaths of allegiance sworn by newly elected members of the city's Legislative Council, which eventually led to the disqualification for improper oath-taking of six pan-democratic legislators elected in 2016.

Tighter controls over the city's political life may have been prompted in part by the city's 2014 Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections, sparking concerns about the "gradual spread of ideas promoting Hong Kong independence" since the movement brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets at its height.

Chinese officials blamed the "illegal occupation" on a lack of patriotic education among the city's young people, and renewed calls for Beijing-backed programs of patriotic education in Hong Kong's schools.

Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.





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