An uneasy relation

Uncertainty about Hong Kong’s future identity within China, and the Government’s ineffective response to that, are fuelling mistrust on both sides of the border, suggests political scientist Dr Peter TY Cheung.

Dr Peter TY Cheung of the Department of Politics and Public Administration has been studying intergovernmental relations between Hong Kong and the Mainland for years, tracking Beijing’s increasingly interventionist approach in political and constitutional matters and its more hands-off approach to the economy. These areas have evolved towards greater integration since 1997 – inevitable given the progression of ‘one country-two systems’ toward 2047. But the high anti-Mainland feeling that has been building up in Hong Kong in the past couple of years is hardening opinion.


“When you talk with Mainland officials, they say they do not like Hong Kong because they think Hong Kong people discriminate against Mainland Chinese. And they don’t just mean protestors but also the media.


“There is mistrust of Hong Kong. The Mainland Government believes it has offered the best possible political reform option under the circumstances, and that Hong Kong people should accept it with open arms and move forward. That is a very different assessment from the democracy advocates in Hong Kong.


“The anti-national education campaign and the rise of ‘pro-independence’ actions have also worried them. Beijing is increasingly concerned that nativist or localist sentiments will move Hong Kong even more out of its orbit.”

Ultimately the Hong Kong Government has not been able to effectively mediate between Hong Kong and the Mainland over the problems arising from growing cross-boundary interactions.

Dr Peter TY Cheung

The mistrust is mutual


Dr Cheung traces one of the key sources of these sentiments to the rapid increase of Mainland visitors since 2003. “There have been too many Mainland visitors [47.4 million in 2014], which is affecting the way of life for certain groups of people. I think the Hong Kong Government is largely responsible for not effectively managing cross-boundary relations because while it greatly increased the inflow of visitors, this has benefited predominantly the real estate developers and retailers. Of course they provide more employment but it is largely low-end employment.”


The protests against this expansion have in turn upset the Mainland. “They say, you ask more Mainland people to come and then you blame us? It is a complicated issue but ultimately the Hong Kong Government has not been able to effectively mediate between Hong Kong and the Mainland over the problems arising from growing cross-boundary interactions.”


The mistrust goes both ways, evidenced in the localist movement and even local students’ lack of interest in China-related courses, as Dr Cheung has discovered as the convenor of the China Area of Inquiry under HKU’s Common Core curriculum.


“It may be that Hong Kong people are still in the process of soul searching and exploring how to position their city as a city in China. And its leaders have not been able to move Hong Kong forward.”


He sees the need for a strategy to address this challenge and also for a better understanding of Mainland perceptions of Hong Kong. “I hope academic research can contribute a little to this,” he added.