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Professor Ding Xueliang:

Hong Kong: Beijing's Big Headache


Hong Kong: Beijing's Big Headache


A prominent Chinese social scientist examines the former British colony that has become the PRC's most vexatious frontier, and what this thorny relationship may portend for interactions across the Taiwan Strait.



Hong Kong: Beijing's Big Headache

By Yi-Shan Chen
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 529 )

Born in China and eyewitness to the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, Ding Xueliang, a professor with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's Division of Social Science, is a world class scholar on issues relating to China's social transformation. In a conversation with CommonWealth Magazine, however, Ding digressed into an insightful discourse on Hong Kong.

Following are highlights from the interview:

Hong Kong is the biggest headache for the Xi Jinping-Li Keqiang regime. Hong Kong has become impatient and politicized, and these two developments cannot be entirely separated from the larger international situation. For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership, the complexity of the Hong Kong issue lies in its being neither entirely domestic nor entirely international. By contrast, Taiwan will see relatively fewer sudden crises during the tenure of President Ma Ying-jeou.

I'm not a scholar of local Hong Kong politics, but as I understand it, the CCP's approach to managing Hong Kong after 1997 was very clear. Initially, they believed they only needed to give Hong Kong greater economic and trade benefits, and it would move in the direction of "one country." They expected "two systems" to be just a transitional arrangement. Yet 16 years later, Hong Kong locals have become increasingly insistent on "two systems" politically, socially and culturally.

CCP: What is 'Political Autonomy?'

Hong Kong has become more quick-tempered and antagonistic than it used to be, but at the same time, it is also a more culturally sophisticated society. The nature of the Hong Kong issue is two-faceted, involving aspects of both domestic and international affairs. China has no experience dealing with independent political entities under a federal system. These three major characteristics make the Hong Kong issue quite intractable. In my view, it's among the top five most worrisome problems for Zhongnanhai (the central government in Beijing).

Since the Deng Xiaoping era, the CCP has not made any major revisions in its approach to the Hong Kong issue because it has never encountered a major crisis of governance.

You need to take a look at some of the revolutions of the 20th century, many of which were sudden outbursts of unrest and rebellion that arose in times of relative economic prosperity and political stability, moments when revolutions would not ordinarily take place. The common denominator among these revolutions was a society that was becoming increasingly restless.

The CCP approach to Tibet and Xinjiang, where the military has not been involved, has basically been to provide material benefit. They feel they've given Hong Kong enough. But given the CCP's rational and conceptual gap as regards the aspiration for political autonomy among Hong Kong's white collar middle class such as lawyers, media personnel and teachers, they will be unable to proffer a relatively sustainable, innovative approach in workable terms.

I'm somewhat sympathetic but not optimistic as regards the CCP's handling of the Hong Kong issue. Even if Beijing's intentions aren't entirely bad, their understanding of Hong Kong is flawed. If they're not successful in handling Hong Kong affairs, there is even less hope for their handling of Taiwan affairs.

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy