Hong Kong Clings to Separate Identity

Tensions between and the mainland have fluctuated, but with the recent proposed education curriculum change and other signs of hostility, relations with the mainland seem to be under more stress in recent months. As the pressure on the ‘one country, two systems’ policy continues, Hong Kong is holding onto its separate identity, from The Washington Post:

Chen Zuoer, a Beijing official who helped negotiate Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule 15 years ago, said on a recent visit here that he was “heartbroken” to learn that Hong Kong protesters have taken to waving colonial-era flags emblazoned with the British Union Jack.

The number of people parading colonial-era symbols has been minuscule and doesn’t reflect any widespread hankering for a return of British rule. But, after 15 years as part of China, a population that is overwhelmingly Chinese and deeply proud of its Chinese heritage has increasingly come to view the rest of the country as a source of trouble, not pride, that needs to be kept at arm’s length.

“Of course, I’m Chinese. One hundred percent Chinese,” said Kenny Choi, a 23-year-old who works in a printing factory and took part in a protest last month that featured the waving of British colonial-era flags. “But I don’t trust Chinese Communists. . . . Hong Kong is different and has to preserve its own values.” Choi joined the rally, held at Sheung Shui railway station near a border crossing to mainland China, to express his anger over throngs of mainland traders who pour in each day by train to buy baby formula, cosmetics and other goods for resale back on the other side of the border.

Chin Wan-kan, an academic and the author of a widely discussed book that advocates Hong Kong becoming an independent city-state, said Hong Kong has no problem embracing China in the abstract, just not the mainland in its current form, which he described as “a mixture of rotten Chinese culture plus Soviet colonialism.” Hong Kong, he said, is “definitely Chinese” but, thanks to its long exposure to the West, represents “modern Chinese culture,” rather than what he sees as a retrograde mainland variant.

Despite heightened tension with the mainland, Hong Kong has welcomed mainland investment. As a result of the economic slowdown on the mainland, however, Hong Kong has felt the burn in consumer spending during ‘golden week’, the Sydney Morning Herald adds:

Sales of luxury goods to mainland visitors in Hong Kong during the public holiday is expected to be at least 10 per cent lower than a year ago, the executive director of Hong Kong’s Travel Industry Council, Joseph Tung, said, even though the number of tourists from China is rising.

“The global economic downturn has affected China’s economy and subsequently taken a toll on the demand for goods,” Mr Tung said. “The falling trend of luxury goods demand is visible.”

Lower spending in Hong Kong is bad news for companies like Britain’s Burberry that have made big investments in Hong Kong to profit from Chinese visitors. Weaker retail sales add to the risk of a recession in Hong Kong, where the economy shrank by 0.1 per cent in the second quarter from the previous three months on declining exports.

This year, retail sales in Hong Kong, which attracts mainland tourists because of its lower taxes, have grown at the slowest pace since the global financial crisis – just 4.5 per cent by value in August, data compiled by Bloomberg shows. This is less than the median 5.8 per cent estimate by 10 economists.

Amid these tensions, China is still trying to reach the global market through Hong Kong in art auctions, according to AFP:

China’s oldest auction house held its first sale in Hong Kong Sunday, underscoring an intensified competition between Chinese auctioneers and their foreign rivals in the booming market.

“This is our first step to go global. We want to be a part of the global ,” China Guardian marketing director Jay Sun told AFP.

“We believe there is a huge room and enormous space for the Chinese art market to develop,” he said at the sideline of the sale that drew fierce bidding from collectors in the room and by telephone.

Chinese auction houses were almost unheard of just a decade ago but they now account for five of the world’s top 10 by revenue, according to a report earlier this year by the France-based industry association Conseil des Ventes.

Their rise has been fuelled by wealthy Chinese collectors’ appetite for art and antiques, and aided by regulations that had locked overseas competitors out of mainland China.