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Hong Kongers flag their discontent with Beijing

Publication Date : 02-11-2012


For 154 years, the flag emblazoned with the Union Jack fluttered across Hong Kong as residents sang God Save the Queen.

It disappeared in 1997 when the British returned the colony to China. Flying in its stead now are the Chinese flag and a new Hong Kong flag.

But over the past few months, the colonial flag has made a reappearance.

Angry Hong Kongers, railing against the unwelcome influence of the mainland in domestic affairs, hoisted it at the annual July 1 march. More recently, resentful residents at Sheung Shui shook it in the faces of mainland parallel traders.

There have even been calls for Hong Kong to secede from the mainland.

Yesterday, Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, speaking in a question-and-answer session at the Legislative Council, said he recognises that Hong Kongers have different views on governance.

"But there is no need to use the colonial flag to express dissatisfaction," he said. "In 1997, Hong Kong reunited with the mainland under the one country, two systems framework. This is a fact, and one recognised by the design of our very own Hong Kong flag - the Bauhinia flag."

It was the first time he had spoken on the subject, following comments made by a former top Beijing official who oversaw Hong Kong affairs.

Lu Ping, once the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told the South China Morning Post in an e-mail published yesterday: "Those who do not recognise they are Chinese should look at what is written on their passports or they should renounce their Chinese nationality."

He added: "Our country, which has a population of 1.3 billion, would not be bothered by the loss of this handful of people."

It was the most hard-hitting reaction from the mainland thus far in response to increasingly virulent anti-China sentiment - observers believe it was intended as a warning to democratic activists.

Last week, Lu's former deputy Chen Zuo'er said "the rise of a pro-independence force in Hong Kong is spreading like a virus" and should be dealt with firmly.

China watcher Willy Lam said he believed their comments reflected the view of senior officials in Beijing. "I'm sure they were told to say this - as a warning to the pan-Democrat camp not to go too far in fostering anti-Beijing sentiment."

Those who wave colonial flags and call for independence are in the minority here. However, Dr Lam said they could become pawns for conservative elements in Beijing, who might use them to "restrict the level of democracy in Hong Kong".

The city is due to attain universal suffrage by 2017. However, Beijing has been vague about what form that might take. Hong Kongers worry that the criteria to stand for election could be so restrictive that only pro-Beijing politicians would qualify.

Dr Lam said that what is happening now could be used to raise the threshold as Beijing could try to "exclude candidates with these crazy ideas".

While still on the fringe, the movement taps into widespread sentiment against the mainland. Visitors and investors from up north have been blamed for, among other things, inflation and placing stress on the infrastructure. Other Hong Kongers take umbrage at the Chinese Communist Party for human rights violations and endemic corruption, while worrying that it will curtail their own liberties here.


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