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Hong Kong poll reveals China friction

March 15, 2013   ·   0 Comments

Hong Kong

An online poll by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post indicates that Hong Kong residents would strongly favour a return to British rule, if given the choice.

Over 70% of initial responders to the survey, which was published on the English-language SCMP.com on March 13, answered in the affirmative to the question “Would Hongkongers vote to return to a British overseas territory, given the option?”. At 6pm on March 13, after the poll had spread via Twitter and other social networking sites, the percentage of voters in favour of a return to British rule had risen to 91%.

As an English-language newspaper in a predominantly Cantonese-speaking region, a poll of the readers of SCMP.com does not represent the full spectrum of public opinion. It does, however, demonstrate concern in Hong Kong over Beijing’s creeping influence on political and cultural institutions, and a desire to assert Hong Kong’s autonomy in an age of Chinese ascendancy.

Since 2003, when over 500,000 people protested against proposed restrictive changes to Hong Kong’s Basic Law (the constitutional document of Hong Kong SAR), the public has become increasingly aware of the freedoms afforded by the Sino-British Declaration agreed upon before the 1997 takeover. In 2012, a motion to introduce mainland-style patriotic education classes in schools was successfully rejected after widespread hostility and public protests.

That summer, the 23rd annual candle-lit vigil for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown attracted a record crowd that organizers estimated to be around 180,000, although police claimed that attendance was closer to 85,000. In a territory with a population of seven million people, either figure is significant.

The editorial independence and effectiveness of media organizations including South China Morning Post has also been called into question. In a survey carried out by the Hong Kong Journalists Association in 2012, 92.7% of journalists reported feeling that the media was being hindered by tighter government control on information, 35.9% admitted that they or their superiors practised self-censorship, and 86.9% believed that press freedom was progressively worsening.

At the South China Morning Post, Robert Kuok’s tenure as owner (from 1993 to present) has been identified as a period of transition for the paper. Last year, staff members questioned the motives of Editor-in-Chief Wang Xiangwei when he decided to downplay a report on the death of Chinese dissident Li Wangyang. For those suspicious of his connections to Beijing, the controversy affirmed their worst fears of a state-controlled media in Hong Kong.

This uncomfortable relationship with the mainland also has a social dimension. Since 1997, Chinese visitors and immigrants have been blamed for the rising cost of living, as well as social issues such as increased competition for jobs, property and public amenities. Wealthy mainland buyers were responsible for nearly one-fifth of the value of Hong Kong residential apartments purchased in 2011.

Last year, a series of adverts in the local press compared Chinese immigrants to locusts, and protested against the droves of mainland mothers-to-be that come to the territory to give birth. Children born in Hong Kong are exempt from China’s one-child policy, and entitled to benefits including twelve years of free education and greater freedom to travel internationally. When nearly 40% of births in 2011 were the offspring of mainland children, the fear is that the territory is undergoing an irreversible demographic change.

The SCMP.com poll is an expression of discomfort in the face of Hong Kong’s uncertain future. When faced with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice, the answer is not a vote for a return to British sovereignty, but a vote against the alternative.

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