In war of words, Hong Kong and China need cool heads

The war of words between Hong Kong and mainland China, which intensified earlier this month with an ad in Hong Kong’s Apple Daily likening mainlanders coming to the SAR to “invading locusts,” continues to boil on the internet. For an overview of the row, readers can turn to our story last week, or to this video summary by Link TV.

For another perspective on this story, we turn today to veteran Chinese television journalist Luqiu Luwei (闾丘露薇), executive news editor for Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television.

In the piece, published recently by China Newsweekly, Luqiu Luwei argues that of course neither side can do without the other, and that there is a general need for cooler heads to prioritize facts over personal attacks.

So which side really can’t do without the other, Hong Kong or the mainland?
China Newsweekly
February 15, 2012
Luqiu Luwei (闾丘露薇)

When I saw the last line in the advertisement purchased by Hong Kong internet users in Apple Daily on February 1, which said, “If there was no Hong Kong, you would all be done for,” I thought immediately of something you hear all the time from mainlanders: “If it wasn’t for the mainland, the ‘fragrant harbor’ of Hong Kong would have stunk long ago.”

Showing that this side or that would be in trouble without the other is actually a really simple thing to do. Either side can come up with countless examples to support an argument they are determined not to let go of.

Some people in mainland China are particularly fond of one example, which is that if it weren’t for the mainland providing water and foodstuffs Hong Kongers wouldn’t be able to survive.

During the Hong Kong drought of 1963, the British Hong Kong Government introduced water restriction policies. The government proposed the idea of purchasing water from the mainland, and if this hadn’t been approved by Zhou Enlai, beginning the Dongjiang Water Supply Project (东江水供水工程), then the people of Hong Kong would have suffered a much longer period of water shortage, because at the time the desalinization of sea water was costly and the technology not yet mature. But this of course this is a mutually beneficial exchange, and the purchase of water from Guangdong by the SAR is expected to bring in 3.54, 3.74 and 3.96 billion yuan respectively in the coming three years alone, an annual increase of 5.8 percent. That’s a great boon for enterprises in Guangdong supplying water.

As for food, while mainland supplies of vegetables account for more than 90 percent of the market in Hong Kong, consumers in fact do have a choice between mainland products and products imported at zero tariff from other regions.

Most of the vegetables imported from the mainland directly impact Hong Kong’s own agricultural sector. Add to this the fact that Hong Kong does not support local agriculture from a policy standpoint, and this spells the gradual disappearance of Hong Kong agriculture. Moreover, because of the Dongjiang Water Supply Project, Hong Kong’s government has slowed development of desalinization technology. There are some voices in Hong Kong who say this is a strategic move on the part of the central CCP leadership, which seeks to enhance the SAR’s dependency on the mainland.

Some Hong Kongers are fond of making the point that if the colony of Hong Kong had not been a factor from the Qing dynasty up to the present day,and particularly during the time of the Xinhai Revolution, there would have been no base for revolution and no source of funding for revolution. And as for the 1978 opening and reform policy, if it hadn’t been for Hong Kong money flowing into the mainland there would have been no development of Shenzhen, and there would have been no hope for the smooth progress of economic reforms. But while this certainly does show the importance of Hong Kong in the process of economic growth and democratization for China, it does not support the idea that without Hong Kong there would be no present-day China as we know it.

As for those Hong Kongers who ridicule mainlanders as locusts, they only see those tourists flowing into Hong Kong and those mothers coming to Hong Kong to give birth as enjoying the benefits the SAR has to offer. What they don’t see are the benefits for Hong Kong’s economy resulting from these visitors — how these private medical clinics are constantly growing, and how as the retail sector benefits this creates more jobs for the territory. In various ways all Hong Kongers benefit from the income that derives from mainland tourism. As for inflationary pressures on housing and commodities, and public resource shortages, its the government in Hong Kong that bears the responsibility.

Naturally, if mainland travelers go to Hong Kong or other places around the world harboring a sense that they are saviors, there is one thing they should bear in mind, and that is that much of their purchasing is fueled by the fact that they cannot buy inexpensive or safe products inside China, so this is just about taking what they need.

So far as this attitude among mainland travelers is concerned, Hong Kongers also need to examine their own attitudes. Since Hong Kong’s handover in 1997 Hong Kong media have been able to accompany Chinese leaders on overseas tours. And every time they have an opportunity to raise questions, my Hong Kong colleagues can’t avoid asking about what preferential policies the central leadership will afford Hong Kong, or about what the attitude of the central leadership is toward the selection of Hong Kong’s chief executive. For quite some time I’ve felt with a sense of sadness that the one country two systems arrangement and Hong Kong self-governance is something Hong Kongers have forfeited themselves, always gazing north to the divine land, speculating about what “father” is thinking. This attitude has spread from the SAR government right on down through its political parties, the business community, the media and general society.

If some Hong Kongers want to look at mainlanders as invading locusts, perhaps Hong Kongers themselves should ask whether this description might apply to their own migrations in 1989 and 1997, when a sense of insecurity drove many to emigrate to other countries. Look at Vancouver, Canada, for example. If it hadn’t been for the sense, after 1997, that Hong Kong had remained stable — and that opportunities in Canada were lacking — there wouldn’t have been the drifting back of Hong Kongers that we have seen.

Taking advantage and avoiding damage is only human. When so many Hong Kongers were similarly motivated back in those days, why do they have such a problem with mainlanders doing the same thing? Twenty years ago it was Taiwanese mothers filling maternity wards in California. They traveled across the ocean with their stuck-out bellies so that their children could be American citizens and have futures their parents thought of as more hopeful. Now it’s mainland mothers filling up the maternity wards. Even if they sneak over, it’s still for the sake of their children, because they lack a sense of security.

There is no way either side of this bickering could bring the other around. What we need to turn our attention to are the facts, talking about the issues rather than attacking people. Of course, it may be hard to hear [complaints like those in the Apple Daily ad], but speaking openly about such concerns is still better than bottling them up inside.

Antagonism is rooted in prejudice. We need to think about where these feelings come from. Isolated cases of contact between Hong Kongers and mainlanders have made the concept of China and what it means concrete for many Hong Kong people. But how can we ensure that individuals are not made out to represent the whole? Is it right to transfer feelings of concern and dissatisfaction with Hong Kong’s future prospects away from the Hong Kong government and on to the shoulders of mainland tourists? And how can some mainland tourists who come to Hong Kong throw off their colored glasses, like the idea of China’s century of shame (百年耻辱) [i.e., the colonial experience], and accept that there are many things about Hong Kong as a population and a society that they don’t yet understand?

If it’s true that information is incomplete inside mainland China, and that this impacts the views and judgements of mainlanders, it’s perhaps equally true that in Hong Kong, where information flows freely, many people choose to turn a blind eye to issues, their facts fogged over with indignation.

In the words of the English philosopher Bertrand Russell: “Love is wise, hatred is foolish.”

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