Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights

One Country, Two Systems, Big Problem

BEIJING, Feb 9 2012 (IPS) - A recent series of public spats between Hong Kong locals and mainland Chinese have highlighted escalating tensions between Beijing and the former colony – and heralded in one of the most conspicuous anti-mainland campaigns seen in Hong Kong since the handover.

An outspoken Peking University professor called Hong Kong natives “dogs of British colonialists” last month; in return, protesters in Hong Kong have labelled mainland locals as “locusts”.

The clash has called into question the ‘one country, two systems’ formula agreed when Hong Kong was returned to China by the British in 1997 and raised issues about a growing identity crisis in the territory amid China’s increasing global and cultural clout.

The arguments kicked off when a video showing a Hong Kong man berating a mainland visitor for eating on the subway went viral, receiving thousands of hits across China.

In a controversial interview Prof. Kong Qingdong – who claims direct lineage to the philosopher Confucius and is well known for espousing heavy nationalist views – waded into the altercation on the news website

“As far as I know, many Hong Kong people don’t regard themselves as Chinese. Those kinds of people are used to being the dogs of British colonialists – they are dogs, not humans,” said the professor of Chinese studies. He added that in the handover the British handled the “Hong Kong dogs by spanking them.”

Kong stated that “everybody should have a duty to speak Mandarin.” In the subway argument the man used his native tongue Cantonese, rather than Beijing’s official Putonghua, to scold the girl.

In retaliation, a group of 800 Hong Kong donors raised over 100,000 Hong Kong dollars (12,900 dollars) online through Facebook and the Hong Kong Golden Forum to take out a full-page ad in the Hong Kong based Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily. It depicted a locust looking across at the Hong Kong skyline.

The ad, which refers to the millions of Chinese who travel to Hong Kong to use resources ranging from the education and healthcare system to designer shops, read: “Hong Kong people, we have endured enough in silence”.

During the Chinese New Year holiday period locals launched an “anti-locusts” crusade, shouting and singing at mainland Chinese who had travelled across the border to buy up luxury goods.

The protests highlight increasing concern over Beijing’s encroaching powers.

A recent poll showed that the number of Hong Kong residents who consider themselves Chinese citizens is currently at a 12-year low. Despite nearly 15 years having passed since the handover, just 16.6 percent consider themselves Chinese citizens as opposed to 38.6 percent three years ago.

Fears over Hong Kong’s ability to conduct a free press, fury at the perceived lack of manners of Chinese tourists, and frustration at the scramble over public resources have escalated worries.

In a recent argument, the designer store Dolce & Gabbana was forced to apologise after it stopped local Hong Kong visitors from taking snaps outside while allowing mainlanders to continue. Over the Chinese New Year, 69 percent of luxury consumption in Hong Kong came from Chinese buyers who spent a record 7.2 billion dollars overseas on luxury goods, according to state media.

Public anger in the territory has largely concentrated on the growing amount of wealthy pregnant Chinese women who travel from the mainland to Hong Kong hospitals to give birth. Numbers have soared from just over 700 in 2000 to more than 33,000 last year.

Dr Grace Leung, a professor of media history and society at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, explains that China’s growing confidence as a global power and second-largest economy in the world has fanned the flames.

“Chinese people have become more conscious of China emerging as a world power. They believe that economic prosperity of Hong Kong solely relied on the financial support from the mainland.

“On the other hand, Hong Kong people are dissatisfied with the huge influx of mainland consumers who bought away all the formula milk powder, pushed up the property prices, and pushed up the rental market,” says Dr Leung.

“The (subway) argument was very trivial… However, it became the last straw on the camel’s back that led to the outburst of recent Sino-Hong Kong conflict,” she adds.

Web users on both sides have responded with fury. “Everything they drink, eat, and use is produced and subsidised by the mainland…(yet) they treat us as below them,” said one user on Sina Weibo, China’s largest micro-blogging site.

“Mainland mothers…have been seen so often lifting up their little emperors and empresses to urinate into McDonald’s and KFC wash basins which are meant for customers to wash their hands after enjoying a great meal of ‘finger licking goodness’!” railed a user on the China Daily forum, referring to the common complaint among Hong Kong locals that mainlanders have no social graces.

“Even though Hong Kong was handed over to China many years ago, the local people here still don’t have the feeling that they are Chinese,” Xiao Shuang, a 20-year-old Guizhou native studying film at Hong Kong Baptist University tells IPS over the phone. “If we speak Mandarin, they always treat us differently to other local people.

“We are mainlanders but we study in Hong Kong, so when Hong Kong local students show their anger in front of us we don’t know how to respond,” she says.

Prof. Kong had a much more direct message. “If you keep (discriminating)…then we won’t provide you with water, vegetables, fruit and rice. Can you Hong Kongers still survive? Go to seek help from your British daddy.”

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