Hong Kong, Tibet and recolonization

By Yo Tong on February 24, 2012
In early February, Hong Kong netizens funded an advertisement in a local newspaper, asking "are you willing to spend one million Hong Kong dollars every 18 minutes to raise double-no babies?"

The tension and hostility between Hongkongers and mainland Chinese has risen to new heights, as both groups exchange barbs and label each other as “dogs” and “locusts”. When discussing the current despair in Hong Kong, some bloggers have drawn a comparison with the situation in Tibet. Some of them even describe Hong Kong's situation with China as a state of recolonization similar to that of Tibet nowadays.

In fact, the narrative of the Chinese (re)colonization of Hong Kong had already been raised by worried Hongkongers before the handover in 1997. Whether post-1997 Hong Kong and Tibet are in a similar predicament or not is debatable. However, such a discussion is distracting and makes many lose focus from the very crux of the issue: the imperialistic dominance of China over Hong Kong and Tibet, defined by the unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationship between the central Communist regime and the peripheral populace.

One can find numerous differences between Hong Kong and Tibet. Hong Kong is a commercialized coastal city with one of the world's most bustling seaports, mainly sustained by ethnical Chinese who sought refuge from the Communist regime. Tibet - thousands of miles away from Hong Kong - is a hermitic, geographically landlocked region chiefly comprised of ethnical Tibetans. However, when looking into the policies and governance of both, the similarities are substantial. 

Qiang Shigong, research fellow of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, highlighted the concurrence in China's governmental philosophy when handling Hong Kong and Tibet issues.

The political philosophy of Deng Xiaoping was in fact consistent with the continuous way of thinking from Mao Zedong to the founding monarchs of the Qing Dynasty [...] The internal linkage between it ('One Country, Two Systems' of Hong Kong) and the central government's solution to Tibet issues has rarely been noticed. In fact, when Mao Zedong elaborated his thoughts about China's geopolitics, he placed Tibet together with Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan [...] If we compare “the Seventeen Point Agreement (for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet)”, “Ye Jianying's Nine Principles (for the Peaceful Reunification with Taiwan)“ and “the Twelve Policies (regarding Hong Kong issue)”, one can find that although the contents have been enriched as time goes by, the fundemental framework originated from “the Seventeen Point Agreement“. These three documents have the same political principles.

Qiang Shigong also underlined that

The Seventeen Point Agreement, which provided philosophical sources for the subsequent “one country, two systems”, was merely a provisional constitutional document signed by the central authorities with the aim of a peaceful liberation of Tibet. The document guaranteed the “one country, two systems“ unchanged not for fifty years but for ten years only.

Although Qiang argued that, from the central authorities' perspective, the policies were successful, his remarks served as a stark warning to Hongkongers that today's Tibet may become tomorrow's Hong Kong.

Amidst the heated tension between Hongkongers and the newcoming mainland Chinese, one of the most frequently discussed topics is that of demographics. The influx of the nouveau riche from the north, as well as the en masse arrival of so-called Shuangfei (“雙非" in Chinese), or “double-no babies“ - meaning neither the father nor the mother of a baby is a Hong Kong resident - has disgruntled Hongkongers for some time now.

According to a 2010 Census of China, Tibet is comprised of 2,716,389 Tibetans (91.83% of the total), while 245,263 are Han-Chinese (8.17% of the total). Compared with the Census from 2000, wherein Han-Chinese constituted 6% of the total population, it is clear that the latter's growth has outpaced that of the Tibetan people. In downtown Lhasa, the capital of the autonomous region, 34.3% of the population was Han-Chinese in 2010. However, Tibetan essayist Tsering Woeser and the Central Tibetan Administration underlined that if immigrants and PLA Garrison were included in the count, Tibetans became the minority.

”“In Hong Kong, the official census does not break down ethnic Chinese subgroups. Thus, it is difficult to have a comprehensive understanding of post-1997 mainland Chinese influx. As a means of estimation, the controversial “double-no babies” can be used as a proxy to measure this trend.

The number of “double-no babies“ quadrupled between 2003 and 2005, as the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) signed between China's and Hong Kong's governments in 2003 allowed a more free cross-border movement of people. Since then, the number has been increasing steadily. In the first six months of 2011, the “double-no babies” made up nearly 40% of total births in Hong Kong.

This phenomenon is straining Hong Kong's health-care system and placing pressure on medical staff in public hospitals. Without conducting any check-ups, a considerable amount of pregnant mainland women abuse the public medical services in Hong Kong by rushing to the emergency wards immediately preceding childbirth and often get away without paying hospital charges. But the problem is more far-reaching than this: there have been many reported cases in which these newborn children suffer from inherited abnormalities or diseases such as Hepatitis B, and upon finding out, the parents abandon their children in the hospitals.

Hongkongers and Tibetans have also complained that the enormous inflow of people from mainland China has caused new problems as well as a negative impact on the economies of both regions. In Tibet, there are unverified claims that Han-Chinese enjoy preferential treatment in doing local business, while it is a far more arduous task for Tibetan people to even obtain the permission for business operation.

Mainland Chinese have become the primary buyers in Hong Kong's real estate market. According to data from the Research Department of Centaline Property Agency Limited, one of the largest property agencies in Hong Kong, in 2011 Q3, mainland Chinese buyers accounted for 42.1% of the total number of transactions in the first-hand residential properties trading. In terms of total turnover, the ratio reached 51%. 

This figure is sufficient to distort the market prices, according to some analysts. Joseph Yam, the first Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, warned that mainland Chinese buyers in Hong Kong's real estate has already distorted the supply and demand of the market, which has led to an inevitable and steady increase in capital prices. As the average Hongkongers' income is decreasing, the real estate price increase is set to impose yet another burden on their everyday lives.

“”Hong Kong entertained over 2.8 million mainland Chinese tourists on December 2011 - a 24% increase from the same period a year earlier. International tourism only recorded modest, single-digit increases, and the number of tourists from Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and the Southern Pacific has even decreased according to statistics from the Hong Kong Tourism Board. Mainland tourism brings enormous profits to retailers who serve the needs of the nouveau riche. Nevertheless, these new social developments take their toll on local Hongkongers as traditional shops are forced to close because of the soaring rents, and vast differences in etiquette between the two peoples (for instance, Chinese children argued that after Hong Kong's massive civil rights demonstration in 2003, 

the central government decided to intervene directly in the constitutional decision-making process in response to the new challenges [...] Since direct involvement replaced non-intervention, various forms of engagement also became necessary and even normal [...] [T]he more recent policy gives more weight to 'one country' (over the 'two systems').

Cheng Jie also pointed out that, “In the 2008 election, observers saw more of the influence of Beijing, with the allegation that Central Liaison Office took sides in the election.“ And it seems that Jackson Wong is apparently the latest attempt of Beijing's interference in legislative elections in Hong Kong. 

In January 2008, Cao Erbao, the head of the research department of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, published an article justifying the need for a “second echelon" - that is, a parallel, Communist-led government in Hong Kong.

Cheng Jie believes that this reflects the paradigm shift occurring in Hong Kong, which “emphasizes engagement and involvement, and the central government’s authority over a subsidiary territory“. A local commentator of the Hong Kong Economic Journal described Jackson Wong as one of the “political guinea pigs” of Chinese policy, who “can even be said to be a 'derived product' of the Hong Kong 1 July march“ of 2003, wherein 500,000 marchers opposed the legislation of Basic Law Article 23, which would have threatened freedom of speech as well as other freedoms.

Facing the gigantic pressure from their neighbors across the Sham Chun River, Hongkongers can only hope that the deluge of Chinese recolonization will not devastate the fundamental values of human rights and basic freedom. Hongkongers are keeping an eye on Tibet, since happenings there may be a preamble for what is to come in the city-port. Given the recent unfortunate developments in Tibet, as well as the bizarre policies in Hong Kong, scandals of Hong Kong's government head and his possible successors, it seems that both regions are being swallowed more and more into the quicksands of Chinese control.