A protester waves a Hong Kong colonial flag during a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong. Pic: AP.

‘Mainlandization’ pressure continues to grow, reports Asia Sentinel

Two of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy citizens, Anson Chan, former chief secretary under Chris Patten, and Martin Lee, one of the city’s most prominent democracy advocates, have spent the past week in the United States holding a series of panel discussions on the territory’s future in the face of what critics call the increasing encroachment of Beijing on its politics, press and business activities, and looking for American support.

Chan, previously the territory’s top civil servant, told reporters in New York that government may seek to delay reforms for the 2017 election given the rising tide of pro-democracy protests. The concerns that Chan and Lee expressed in the US are long familiar in their home city. Tensions with the mainland are real and irritating, with the word “mainlandization” a growing topic among uneasy residents. Only 31 percent of Hong Kong residents identify themselves as part of the mainland, according to a 2013 poll by Hong Kong University.

That raises the question of just how much danger Hong Kong is in from mainland politics. Certainly, the local opposition is testing Beijing’s leaders as never before. On Dec. 26 last year, four protesters forced their way into a People’s Liberation Army barracks in Hong Kong, carrying a colonial Hong Kong flag to protest a plan to turn a prime piece of harbour-front land in Central into a military berth. Reportedly they called for the PLA to “get out” of the city.

While they were condemned by the bulk of the political establishment, that was just one of a growing series of protests against China’s presence and it engendered a stiff response. On Jan. 24, the PLA Navy staged its “first air-and-sea drill” of the year in Hong Kong, sending two frigates and three helicopters down Victoria Harbour in what was regarded universally as a warning to those who broke into the garrison’s headquarters as well as the emerging Occupy Central movement.

Those are not the only signs of the growing antipathy. In 2003 China basically gifted Hong Kong with the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement, a free trade agreement giving Hong Kong preferential access to the mainland market, reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers, promoting trade and investment facilitation. The agreement was later expanded to allow for the greatly expanded permanent relocation of mainlanders and vastly increased tourism for mainlanders to the city.

Vastly increased indeed. In 2013, an estimated 41 million mainland tourists visited the city, a figure expected to climb to 70 million within three years and to as many as 100 million in a decade – in a city of 7.2 million people, although government leaders are growing increasingly uneasy and there is talk of limiting the numbers. But instead of Hong Kong residents being grateful for the money the mainlanders have poured into the city, their behavior has irritated the locals, who often complain that mainlanders spit, jump queues, allow their children to urinate in public places and disobey traffic rules.

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