The Hong Kong “Patriot” test

The CSM takes a look at the intense and at times surreal steps China is taking to make it perfectly clear who holds the power when it comes to politics in Hong Kong.

Some of the tactics and rhetoric employed by Beijing in its patriotism campaign seem lifted from decades-old scripts. Tuesday’s China Daily ran an article stating that the discussion on defining patriotism is “meaningful” in Hong Kong, and that it “has served as a demon-detector that unveils the hidden agenda of certain politicians.” The day before at a chamber of commerce meeting, a senior Beijing adviser sang “No Communist Party, No New China,” a Mao-era standard.

Some commentary has a threatening edge. A presumably official source in Beijing quoted this week by Wen Wei Po, a Hong Kong daily, offered a warning to pro-democracy advocates: “I have a knife, which I don’t usually use. Now it’s you who force me to use this knife.”

Democracy activists in Hong Kong argue that the patriotism campaign is an attempt to confuse, intimidate, and divert attention from what they say is an attempt in Beijing to reinterpret or distort the plain meaningHong Kong’s Basic Law. Two weeks ago, a Hong Kong “task force” visiting Beijing to discuss constitutional reforms was given a frosty reception. Shortly after, officials here leaked word that no direct elections in 2007 were to be allowed.

“This is redolent of the way China conducted business 20 years ago,” argues Margaret Ng, a legal representative of the Hong Kong legislature. “All the speeches of [President Hu Jintao] and [Premier Wen Jiabao] as they travel around the world appear to be liberal and open. Yet we in Hong Kong are now worried.”

That’s an interesting contrast: the populist campaign in the mainland to look caring, and the blatant attempt to repress political opposition in Hong Kong. I hope the leaders understand they can’t have it both ways when it comes to world opinion. If they want to be perceived as caring and concerned, they can’t risk being perceived as tyrants in HK.

The campaign on the mainland may be totally sincere — Wen and Hu may truly be taking the peasants’ plight to heart. But if they keep up the strongman tactics in HK, any good they are doing will quickly be overshadowed, as world opinion tends to focus more on a government’s sins than on its virtues.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

I can’t wait. I’m going to set up camp with my new zoom lens and take pictures of expat rugby players standing tall for freedom in front of PRC tanks as they roll through Happy Valley Sporting Ground.

Coverage of Beijing’s populist campaign gives a bit of counterweight to coverage of its ongoing anti-populist campaign in HK. But both of these are overshadowed in the foreign press by stories about the Chinese economy’s continued reform and liberalization. Beijing seems to think it can maintain this pattern…for long enough to make HK a de facto part of the mainland, anyway.

February 25, 2004 @ 11:39 am | Comment

Great point, about the economy stories — and it just might work. These stories send a very powerful message, true or false, about what The New China is all about, and everything else that goes on (AIDS, forbidding reporters from covering bird flu, Du Daobin, etc.) is strictly secondary.

February 25, 2004 @ 11:47 am | Comment

One thing I don’t understand: why are the PRC increasing the rhetoric now?

From a Taiwan perspective, we’re less than a month away from a presidential election where the hottest topic is relations with China. I would expect the PRC to be playing all nice and fluffy over the ‘One country, two systems’ concept – at least for the next few weeks. As it is, they’re giving a pretty clear indication to any wavering Taiwanese voters that democracy and reunification are incompatible.

I’m still unconvinced as to whether the new leadership in China really is reform-minded – but I was pretty sure they understood the importance of good PR. So, what’s caused them to get hot under the collar now about demonstrations in HK from 6 months ago?

February 25, 2004 @ 3:23 pm | Comment

I’ve never thought the CCP was good at PR — quite the opposite. If they understood how to shape public opinion they would never have pushed for Article 23 the way they did; it was such a predictable PR disaster. Same with arresting Du Daobin, especially after practically guaranteeing the world he was about to be let go! So I see this as completely consistent with their other recent PR efforts, from SARS to the cyber-dissidents to bird flu to yesterday’s crooning communist at an HK business meeting. The one instance of CCP PR that truly impresses me was Deng’s “To get rich is glorious” campaign. Well thought-out, well executed and a huge side benefit, instilling a strong sense of nationalism in the Chinese people and expunging the anger over Tiananmen Square. Credit where it’s due….

February 25, 2004 @ 3:55 pm | Comment

So, basically, China is under the assumption that it can talk out of four sides of its mouths?

Well, you know what I mean?

February 25, 2004 @ 6:53 pm | Comment

Free associations

In the unexpected context of another discussion (occasionally heated, as befits most conversations of experiences too personally felt), I’ve brought up free associations in China. It’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while, especially after h…

February 27, 2004 @ 10:39 pm | Comment

June 21, 2005 @ 5:25 pm | Comment

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