CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 November 2017

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A two-decade litmus test for Beijing

HONG KONG (SE): What was intended as a showpiece for the world of the progress made by Hong Kong during two decades of Chinese sovereignty on the 20th anniversary of the handover from the British did little more than demonstrate the deepened tensions over the innovative One Country, Two Systems principle dreamed up by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s.
 
Always destined to be a tug of war between the two, supporters of one side or the other took to the streets on July 1 to shout their approval or disapproval of the 20 years that has seen the somewhat contradictory principle fray badly at the edges.
 
The many colourful celebratory activities staged around the city contrasted vividly with the demonstrations of discontent, much of which was embraced and articulated by the 66,000 odd people that joined the traditional July 1 march for democracy through the city streets.
 
In many ways the day was a litmus test for the welfare of the city over two decades under the wing of Beijing, as the last governor of the British colony, Chris Patten, had warned before he left town under heavy skies on the same date 20 years ago.
 
Patten warned, “As China becomes an increasingly important player in global affairs, the rest of the world would do well to recognise the possibility of unreliability, or even deception by its leaders.”
 
He then added, “If Chinese leaders break their word in Hong Kong, how can we trust them in other areas.”
 
But Beijing still faces a huge challenge, as programme after programme, from national education to efforts to make Hong Kong people more responsive to mainland overtures, have floundered in a flurry of protest.
 
But each rejection from Hong Kong seems to lead not to a furthering of dialogue, but a tightening of the screws in the areas of politics, economy and culture.
 
Even the presence of the president of China, Xi Jinping, became a cause of tension, as he hid behind massive security in swearing in the new chief executive for the special administrative region, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.
 
The South China Morning Post quoted Xi as saying, “Hong Kong is a plural society. So it comes as no surprise that there are different views and even major differences in some specific issues.”
 
However, his seemingly conciliatory words packed a strong warning reflecting some unarticulated fear that the city could somehow challenge the might of its master to the north.
 
“Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government… or use Hong Kong to carry put infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line,” Xi said.
 
But as Beijing has kept the centralisation of Hong Kong firmly in focus it has tended to stress the one country aspect more strongly than the two systems, which has been evident in its readiness to reinterpret the Basic Law, which Xi stressed is the city’s mini constitution.
 
On the other side of the coin, things like the Umbrella Movement, which paralysed much of the city’s business district in 2014, have strongly challenged this focus and turned the lens of much of the population towards the two systems part of the unequal equation.
 
Religion has also been left with its worries and the mooting by the new chief executive of the possibility of setting up a religious unit in local government sparked concern in Church circles.
 
The former bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, has frequently warned that something akin to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association could well be on the cards even in the not too distant future.
 
But what of Patten’s litmus test? It is far from over, but Hong Kong has already been on the receiving end of Beijing’s deceit, especially in the areas of autonomy and democratic governance, enough for the rest of the world to get a bit edgy.

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