In the 15 years since the handover, Hong Kong has experienced its share of ups and downs. Also, since that momentous event of 1997, the territory has effected close and rapid integration with the mainland in all aspects - political, economic and social. However, the recent controversy over the suspicious death of mainland activist Li Wangyang has sparked widespread and grave concerns among the public over whether Beijing is intolerant of dissent and is willing to resort to high- handed repression to silence its critics. This has led to worries that the freedom of speech enjoyed in the SAR will be undermined by Beijing. This comes as, in terms of economic ties, Hong Kong continues to foster closer integration with the mainland, particularly the fast-growing Pearl River Delta cities, to consolidate its role as a logistics and trading hub.
Financially, the territory is eager to further tap the yuan business to strengthen its status as a regional financial magnet. But a long-simmering source of social discontent has been the rising number of mainland mothers giving birth in the SAR and the proposed liberalization of cross-border driving between Hong Kong and Guangdong. Hongkongers are gravely concerned that the growing number of children born locally to mainland mothers will further pressure the already stretched education, housing and health-care facilities. And the cross-border driving plan has sparked worries over the perceived lack of road manners among mainland car-owners.
City University political analyst James Sung Lap-kung said the furor over Li's death only serves to highlight the close political interaction between Hong Kong and the mainland as any political controversy across the border swiftly triggers the concern of Hongkongers. The veteran political pundit said 15 years after the handover, the unprecedented principle of "one country, two systems," and the "high degree of autonomy" for Hong Kong - both enshrined under the Basic Law - are still being upheld by Beijing. "For several years after the handover, during former president Jiang Zemin's regime, the mainland government avoided interfering in Hong Kong's affairs and let the SAR government handle any political and economic issues on its own. At that time, the principle of `one country, two systems' was clearly acknowledged."
However, Sung said Beijing officials started meddling in Hong Kong's political affairs after around 500,000 people joined the annual July 1 march in 2003. The numbers swelled that year in protest at the government's move to push for an anti-subversion law based on Article 23 of the Basic Law. Though the security bill was shelved indefinitely, the public backlash was such that former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee subsequently handed in her resignation. "After the 2003 protest, [on a scale] that had not been seen even under British colonial rule, Beijing was deeply shocked," Sung said. "What state leaders were mostly worried about was that Hong Kong would become an ungovernable place for Beijing." As for "one person, one vote," Sung said: "Indeed, it is unavoidable that Hong Kong has to receive Beijing's blessing to pursue universal suffrage."
On the suffrage issue, Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Pan Pey-chyou said: "Hong Kong and Beijing still need to further build up mutual trust for the territory to proceed toward universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive and 2020 Legislative Council elections." Pan added that it was encouraging to see Legco in 2010 finally pass the electoral arrangements for this year's chief executive and Legco elections. Democratic Party vice chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing voiced hope that Beijing would give Hongkongers the rights to elect their chief executive based on the principle of "one person, one vote" as early as possible. This follows the recent scandal surrounding both outgoing Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his successor, Leung Chun-ying. Tsang was roundly slammed for accepting offers from tycoons to use their private jets and yachts for personal trips overseas, while Leung is struggling to fend off a growing controversy over illegal structures at his home at The Peak.
Leung Cho-bun, professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong, sounded a more positive note on cross-border social ties. He said social integration is on the rise, with signs that more Hongkongers are going north for work, and even finding their spouses and raising families there. Also, closer economic integration is seeing more locals choose to spend their retirement years in the mainland. "Even some middle-class local women are keen on heading north to seek their true love among mainlanders," Leung said.
But one sticking point in closer ties is the bitterness triggered by vehement local opposition to mainlanders giving birth in Hong Kong. Locals fear the influx of pregnant mainlanders will further pressure obstetric services in local hospitals, while babies born to purely mainland couples will stretch the education, housing and health-care facilities even more. Local private hospitals earlier decided to turn away mainland couples from next year after Leung Chun-ying in April declared a "zero quota" for pregnant mainlanders whose husbands are non-residents from 2013.
The mutual ill-feeling was further exacerbated when a local citizens' group took out a full-page newspaper advert depicting mainlanders as "locusts" straining the territory's resources. This was followed by Peking University professor Kong Qingdong describing Hongkongers as "the running dogs of the British" after seeing a video clip of locals scolding a group of mainland tourists for eating on the MTR. "It is unavoidable for Hong Kong and the mainland to encounter similar social conflicts in the future because of cultural differences," Leung Cho-bun said. He said it is crucial for either side to be tolerant of the other's opinions and foster closer understanding. He urged the incoming government to map out a system to assess the increased need for housing, education and health-care services triggered by more babies born locally to mainlanders.
With the implementation of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), a trade pact that gives Hong Kong products and professionals preferential access to the mainland market, the territory's economic development has been boosted by the opportunity to tap into the growing economic powerhouse. Many services sectors including banking, insurance, accounting and legal industries have thrived in the mainland as a result.
Economist Kwan Cheuk-chiu said as more mainland enterprises speed up their pace of "going out," they can draw on the deep pool of professionals in Hong Kong, including accountants and lawyers with international connections, to help them with overseas expansion. CEPA, Kwan believes, will see further mainland market presence from local sectors such as educational, medical, and testing and certification services, as well as environmental industries, and firms into innovation and technology. The former Chinese University of Hong Kong professor noted that some mainland banks have already issued yuan-denominated bonds in Hong Kong. "So far the scale has been small," he said. "The mainland government can consider allowing state-owned enterprises to issue yuan-denominated bonds in Hong Kong to consolidate the SAR's position as a financial hub."
He also called for "more yuan financial products" to be issued in Hong Kong. But while the implementation of the individual travel scheme has brought wealth to Hong Kong as more cashed- up mainlanders visit, the influx has also boosted inflation and sparked complaints of overcrowding. Kwan said the government should take heed of the issue and allocate more land for building hotels to ease the shortage of accommodation for visitors.
Don't Forget to click the "THANKS" button