By Andrew Higgins, Published: January 11|
HONG KONG — Fifteen years after taking back Hong Kong amid a blaze of fireworks and patriotic fervor, China is battling what it sees as a subversive challenge: an academic survey showing that many in this former British colony identify little with China.
The survey, conducted last month by the University of Hong Kong, found that the number of respondents who view themselves as Hong Kongers is more than double the number who see themselves as Chinese and that bonds of shared identity with the mainland have grown weaker since Britain relinquished control in 1997.
Infuriated by the results, Chinese officials have orchestrated a campaign of denunciation — the latest blast in a barrage of verbal and written broadsides against alleged disloyalty in Hong Kong.
As a “special administrative region” within China, Hong Kong largely runs its own affairs under the “one country, two systems” formula enunciated by Deng Xiaoping, China’s late paramount leader. It has its own legal system and currency, issues its own travel documents and allows free speech and other liberties unknown in the rest of China.
In recent months, however, Chinese officials and pro-Beijing media in the former colony have gone on the offensive against a host of public figures whose views they dislike, including pro-democracy politicians, an elderly Catholic priest, an anti-communist media tycoon and the U.S. consul general. Now, they have turned their fire on Robert Chung, the director of Hong Kong University’s Public Opinion Program.
Chung has been surveying Hong Kong identity since the territory’s return to China, and the results of his latest poll merely confirmed anecdotal evidence of a significant trend among residents: growing resentment toward — and a sense of separateness from — mainland Chinese.
On Sunday, hundreds of Hong Kongers protested outside luxury retailer Dolce & Gabbana after complaints that the store discriminated against locals in favor of mainlanders. An influx of shoppers from across the border has delighted Hong Kong retailers but stirred disquiet among ordinary people fearful that their city is being swamped by often-brash newcomers. Hong Kong has a population of about 7 million; the rest of China has more than 1.3 billion people.
A music video made in Hong Kong and posted last year on the Internet sneered at mainlanders as “locusts” who “shout in restaurants, hotels and stores” and show scant regard for the city’s more orderly ways.
Hong Kong news media, meanwhile, have been filled in recent weeks with reports of pregnant mainland women crossing the border to take advantage of Hong Kong’s superior medical system and a rule that babies born in the city have the right of abode here. Politicians of all stripes have demanded action to halt the flow amid warnings that Hong Kong’s health-care system can’t take the strain. The number of mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong emergency wards nearly tripled last year.