Hong Kong is a balancing act for Carrie Lam
By Frank Ching Thursday, July 6, 2017, 7:58 am TWN
Chinese President Xi Jinping displayed a velvet glove at the beginning of his three-day visit to Hong Kong, saying upon arrival last Thursday that he offered good wishes on the 20th anniversary of the former British colony's return to China and the support of the central government to ensure the city's long-term success.
But the iron fist beneath quickly became visible, and in a major speech delivered before his departure he warned against crossing the "red line" of Chinese sovereignty or challenging the power of the central government. Any attempt "to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line, and is absolutely impermissible," he declared.
On the positive side. he gave assurances that China's policy of "one country, two systems," under which socialist policies are not practiced in Hong Kong, would not change.
In his landmark speech after the inauguration of Carrie Lam as the new chief executive on Saturday, Xi also indicated willingness to dialogue with "anyone who loves the country, loves Hong Kong and genuinely supports the principle of 'one country, two systems' and the Basic Law, no matter what political views or position he or she may hold." Time will tell the extent of such stated tolerance.
At no time did the Chinese leader talk about political reform. Aside from sovereignty, his main theme was development.
"It is imperative to always focus on development as the top priority," Xi said. "Development, an abiding pursuit, is crucial for Hong Kong's survival, and it holds the golden key to resolving various issues in Hong Kong."
Hours after his departure, a pro-democracy protest was held, as has been the case every year on July 1.
On July 1, 2003, half a million people turned up to protest against a proposed national security law, and the bill had to be withdrawn. The new Chief Executive is under pressure to get similar legislation enacted. On Saturday, however, according to the police, the pro-democracy turnout was 14,500, the lowest in 14 years.
The difference is largely due to the economy.
In 2003, Hong Kong had gone through the Asian financial crisis, SARS, a plunging property market and high unemployment. The national security bill acted as a catalyst to bring together a lot of unhappy people in the territory.
Now, the economic situation is totally different. In the first quarter of this year, the Hong Kong economy grew by 4.3 percent in real terms, its fastest pace in six years. The stock market is buoyant and employment is robust.
Not surprisingly, in such an environment, fewer people took to the streets to stage political protests.
While Xi talked about development as the solution to various problems, he didn't particularly relate this to youngsters calling for self-determination. Rather, he saw education as the answer, much as Beijing focused on patriotic education after the Tiananmen uprising.
But even in this area, economic opportunities, plus affordable housing, should help. The new chief executive evidently hopes to improve the lot of Hong Kong's young people.
During her election campaign, she said, she gained "a deeper understanding of why our young people felt anxious and were uncertain about the future."
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