HK and mainland have a shared future
We just celebrated the 71st anniversary of our country, the People's Republic of China, on Oct 1, three months to the day after the 23rd birthday of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC. Faced with myriad challenges, internal and external, there is no better time than now for Hong Kong people to understand and appreciate the city's role in our country.
When the PRC, sometimes referred to as "New China", was founded 71 years ago, the nation and much of the world were struggling to rebuild on the ruins of World War II and civil wars. The Central People's Government of the PRC, freshly established by the Communist Party of China, brought new hope to hundreds of millions of people for a better life ahead. For an ancient civilization, the rebirth was a long way coming, especially after the "century of humiliation", which saw civil wars, Japanese invasion, and finally the People's Liberation War, which gave the nation a fresh start in a new era. Meanwhile, Hong Kong was also recovering from the ravages of Japanese occupation during WWII but remained still under British rule. At that time, most Hong Kong residents found themselves barely surviving all kinds of hardship, social injustice, colonial exploitation, and a crushing lack of dignity. In those days, Hong Kong residents and their mainland compatriots were very close sentimentally despite the politico-ideological divide.
In the past seven decades, Hong Kong's economic development has also been firmly linked to the nation's. New China had an extremely difficult start, thanks to all-around sanctions by US-led Western powers since the day it was founded in 1949, and Hong Kong served as the only window to the outside world for the PRC in foreign trade for the nascent socialist economy of the mainland. With large numbers of skilled laborers crossing over from the mainland in the late 1960s and early '70s, Hong Kong became home to several labor-intensive manufacturing industries, including textiles, garments, timepieces, toys and plastics. Before long, those products found eager markets overseas and made a competitive name collectively as "Made in Hong Kong". When the country began its historic reform and opening-up drive in 1978, Hong Kong was immediately tapped as the main conduit of external investment to the mainland. And soon its manufacturing companies started moving their factories north of the boundary, first to Guangdong province and then further across the eastern half of the mainland. At the same time, a modern service industry grew by leaps and bounds, turning Hong Kong into a center of international trade, shipping, logistics and finance.
The development path of New China took decades to manifest because the country had no prior experience or suitable example to learn from. It had no choice but to "cross the river by feeling the stones" and eventually became the fastest-growing economy in the world through persistent reform and opening-up. Not surprisingly, Hong Kong has experienced considerable difficulties of its own in keeping the exercise of "one country, two systems" on the right track in the past 23 years. Almost as soon as China and the United Kingdom began discussing matters concerning Hong Kong's return to the motherland in the 1980s, the Chinese side knew it would not be smooth sailing. Sure enough, a host of deep-rooted problems in politics, rule of law, finance, economy and society reared their ugly heads in the past 23 years. Apparently, "the people of Hong Kong administering Hong Kong" has proved quite challenging for the Hong Kong SAR as well as for the central government in supporting the city's development through thick and thin.
The bond between Hong Kong and the country has remained strong despite all the wear and tear over the years, but it was put to unprecedented stress by an illegal campaign using the now-withdrawn extradition-law amendment bill as an excuse to promote separatism. Orchestrated and funded by hostile external forces, the "black revolution" campaign began in June last year and continued for months until the COVID-19 pandemic forced a partial lockdown of the city in February. Its organizers were able to recruit tens of thousands of mostly young people as foot soldiers in violent confrontations with the police as well as widespread criminal vandalism because preventive measures had been severely lacking after decades of anti-China brainwashing. It turned out to be a very costly alarm to Hong Kong society as well as the central authorities regarding Hong Kong's role in safeguarding national security and local residents' sense of belonging with the Chinese nation.
The new National Security Law for Hong Kong is expected to serve its purpose well, but the matter of enhancing people's sense of belonging with the nation may take much more time and effort to accomplish. Speaking of national identity on a sentimental level, Hong Kong society experienced a surge of pride in 2008, when Beijing hosted the Summer Olympic Games and Hong Kong was chosen to host equestrian competitions. Also that year, the nation had to deal with the catastrophic Wenchuan earthquake, which triggered a massive outpouring of sympathy and compassion toward the affected areas.
It is a great shame that such demonstrations of national identity and strong bonds between Hong Kong and the main body of the country became targets of vicious attacks from separatists backed by hostile external forces scared of China's development and progress, when the city suffered a heavy blow from the global financial crisis around 2008 and serious disruption of its recovery by "Occupy Central" in 2014, which led to the separatist campaign called the "black revolution" last year. The political confrontations and social unrest happened mainly because our education system failed to vaccinate the younger generation against anti-China political viruses spread by hostile external forces as well as separatists in Hong Kong.
A keen observer pointed out, "Some people became progressively unpatriotic while the nation grew more prosperous and stronger in recent years. It doesn't make sense." Today, various sanctions launched by US-led Western powers against China, including Hong Kong, show all of us that our overall interest means little, if anything, compared with their national interests, and they would sacrifice Hong Kong in a heartbeat if they believed the city's demise would stunt China's growth. It's time Hong Kong people realized the SAR and mainland have a shared future. This is particularly true as the geopolitical rivalry grows. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's National Day fireworks display was canceled, but that should be one more reason for Hong Kong residents to remind themselves of the real significance of National Day.
The author is senior research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.