‘School­mas­ter’ Xi leaves Hong Kong smart­ing

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Aland­mark visit by Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to Hong Kong left lit­tle doubt that Bei­jing views the city as a desta­bi­liz­ing hot­bed of un­ac­cept­able po­lit­i­cal dis­sent that must prove its loy­alty, an­a­lysts said yesterday. His three-day trip to cel­e­brate 20 years since Hong Kong was handed back to China by Bri­tain, cul­mi­nated Satur­day in a 30-minute speech warn­ing that any chal­lenge to Bei­jing’s con­trol over the city crossed a “red line”. That was seen as a salvo against a new wave of ac­tivists call­ing for self-de­ter­mi­na­tion or in­de­pen­dence for semi­au­tonomous Hong Kong, con­cepts in­tol­er­a­ble to Bei­jing.

Through­out the tele­vised ad­dress, Xi played up Hong Kong’s role in up­hold­ing China’s na­tional se­cu­rity and sovereignty, cast­ing it as a po­ten­tial breed­ing ground for in­sta­bil­ity that must be reined in. It comes af­ter ma­jor po­lit­i­cal tur­bu­lence in re­cent years which saw mass ral­lies call­ing for demo­cratic re­form bring parts of the city to a stand­still for months in 2014.

Since then, a “lo­cal­ist” move­ment has emerged pro­mot­ing Hong Kong’s own sep­a­rate iden­tity as fewer young peo­ple see them­selves as “Chi­nese”. Some in that camp want a com­plete split from the main­land. The ad­dress laid out a “very strong warn­ing” against dis­senters, said JeanPierre Cabestan, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Hong Kong Bap­tist Univer­sity. “Xi’s act­ing as a school­mas­ter, warn­ing there will be con­se­quences if they mis­be­have,” he added. Xi also called on au­thor­i­ties to “en­hance” ed­u­ca­tion to raise aware­ness of China’s na­tional his­tory and cul­ture, al­lud­ing to the need to bring young peo­ple back into the fold. By putting na­tional se­cu­rity and ed­u­ca­tion front and cen­ter, Xi is push­ing Hong Kong’s new Bei­jing-friendly leader Car­rie Lam to re­visit two po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive cat­a­lysts for so­cial and po­lit­i­cal un­rest. The last at­tempt to im­ple­ment a com­pul­sory pa­tri­otic cur­ricu­lum was shelved in 2012 af­ter huge ral­lies by par­ents, teach­ers and stu­dents who feared it was Bei­jing brain­wash­ing. Those protests were led by a then 15-year-old Joshua Wong, now an in­ter­na­tion­ally known pro-democ­racy cam­paigner. A pro­posed anti-sub­ver­sion na­tional se­cu­rity law also trig­gered mas­sive demon­stra­tions in 2003 over con­cerns it would lead to sup­pres­sion of rights and free­doms. It has never been im­ple­mented. “If Car­rie Lam does what Xi Jin­ping said, which is to re­launch the na­tional ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign and to draft a na­tional se­cu­rity law, she’s go­ing to an­tag­o­nize a lot of Hong Kong peo­ple,” said Cabestan.

Xi ap­peared re­laxed, al­most dis­in­ter­ested at times, dur­ing a visit which in­cluded pre­sid­ing over Hong Kong’s big­gest mil­i­tary pa­rade since the 1997 han­dover. But his de­meanor did not re­flect an ab­sence of pur­pose. The South China Morn­ing Post de­scribed his strat­egy as “speak softly but carry a big stick”, a proverb made fa­mous by United States Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt to de­scribe his ap­proach to foreign pol­icy.

Xi avowed his com­mit­ment to Hong Kong’s semi­au­tonomous sta­tus as con­cerns deepen that China is in­creas­ingly in­ter­fer­ing in the city’s affairs. Yet Bei­jing’s foreign min­istry on Fri­day de­clared the doc­u­ment signed by Bri­tain and China which ini­ti­ated the han­dover was “no longer rel­e­vant”. The Sino-Bri­tish Joint Dec­la­ra­tion gave Hong Kong rights un­seen on the main­land through a “one coun­try, two sys­tems” agree­ment, last­ing 50 years.

Xi said there must be a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing and im­ple­men­ta­tion of the semi-au­ton­o­mous set-up, which he likened to a tree with deep roots. Its rai­son d’etre was to “up­hold na­tional unity”, he said. “The mes­sage is quite clear that one coun­try tow­ers over two sys­tems,” said Willy Lam, a pol­i­tics ex­pert at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong. “He’s ask­ing Hong Kong peo­ple to obey in­struc­tions be­cause the sovereign power over­rides ev­ery­thing,” Lam added.

Xi’s visit laid bare again the di­vi­sions in Hong Kong so­ci­ety be­tween those who are pro-China and those who fear its tight­en­ing grip. There were spo­radic protests and ar­rests dur­ing an un­prece­dented se­cu­rity lock­down as well as con­fronta­tions be­tween democ­racy ac­tivists and pro-Bei­jing pro­test­ers - ac­cused by op­po­nents of be­ing hired thugs. Flag-wav­ing fans filled pub­lic squares near where Xi was stay­ing for three days of mu­sic, dance and cel­e­bra­tions.

Those who wel­comed the visit said the stark warn­ings Xi is­sued were to be ex­pected. “There’s def­i­nitely a bot­tom line for ev­ery coun­try,” said leg­is­la­tor Felix Chung, head of the pro-es­tab­lish­ment Lib­eral Party. “I think Hong Kong peo­ple thought the visit was very pos­i­tive.” Oth­ers painted a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. Pro-democ­racy law­maker Clau­dia Mo said the lav­ish of­fi­cial cel­e­bra­tions re­minded her of North Korea or the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion - a time of mass po­lit­i­cal purges in China. “He wanted to in­still fear and re­spect, or re­spect out of fear, from Hong Kong peo­ple,” Mo told AFP. “But in­stead I think a larger por­tion felt re­sent­ment.” — AFP

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