Hong Kong’s Inability to Determine Right of Abode

A teacup storm is a brewin’ in Hong Kong.

There is much anger and some concern over the recent Hong Kong Government suggestion to confer the clarification of a 1999 interpretation of Article 24 of the Basic Law on the ‘Right to Abode‘ to the Chinese Government.

Article 24 deals with who is and isn’t eligible to claim a Right to Abode in Hong Kong. Broadly speaking it follows the precedent set down by the past British rulers, that any child born in Hong Kong to a mother with a legal right of abode in Hong Kong has the right to claim Permanent Residency. The hoo-ha has focused on the danger of setting a precedent of asking newly minted Big Brother to settle domestic legal issues and the influence this will have on judicial law in Hong Kong. Protagonists argue that this is the beginning of the end of democracy in Hong Kong. A point that is indeed valid, but perhaps imprecise in its mark.

The real issue here is not the conferring of interpretive powers to China, but rather, Hong Konger’s deep seeded resentment and suspicion towards mainland Chinese in Hong Kong. I attribute this to Hong Kong society’s ambivalence towards the ‘other’. The ‘other’ being 65 odd years of Chinese Communism and its effect on the once-rich culture of its people.Right of Abode

I am not placing the blame on the people of Hong Kong though. For over 70 years Hong Kong has developed a heavily colonial influenced and distinct culture of its own. To the mainland Chinese, this probably translates into some sort of snobbery. However, it should be something that is respected. Just because the majority of the Hong Kong population is ethnic Han Chinese; And just because Hong Kong was (voluntarily) handed back to the People’s Republic of China; And just because China has found some new riches, it doesn’t make this place any less distinct from the ‘mainland’ than it was before 1997.

Let’s not pretend the Cultural Revolution wasn’t an ill informed agenda to purge ‘old world’ influences from the then newly embraced ‘western’ communist ideology. With this purge, many Chinese high ideals were indeed lost, add to that a burgeoning population and extreme poverty and you get an every-man-for-himself attitude. It is ironic that communism has produced the greatest examples of capitalist behaviour. Whereas a democratic Hong Kong has created a city of people with a shared identity and indeed, a people who are very protective of this identity.

It is this very attitude that bothers Hong Kong.

This attitude manifests itself not only on the political level, but more importantly, at the interpersonal level. I believe most complaints of this whole ‘Right to Abode’ issue stems from the culture clash that we see on a day to day basis in the streets of Hong Kong. It is that mainland Chinese mother who lets her toddler take a dump over a drain in the middle of Mong Kok. It is that very loud accented-Cantonese speaking family yelling from one end of the green minibus to the other. It’s those phlegm spitting ‘northerners’ at Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. It’s the Gucci sneaker wearing, suitcase dragging day tourists at Sheung Shui that bothers Hong Kong.

It is NOT ‘The Right to Abode’. If it was the Right to Abode, then Hong Kong would be full of ungrateful hypocrites. Hong Kong was built on immigration – largely from mainland China. I would be interested to know what the early 90’s census data for ‘1st generation‘ Hong Kongers looked like. Hong Kong has always accepted people from the mainland. In fact, I’d bet $100 that the richest dude in Hong Kong in 1997 wasn’t actually born in Hong Kong. Immigration was and still is a very effective Nation (or Colony) building tool.

Interestingly enough, this incident has coincided with a similar news item from my own country, Australia. There has recently (past 15 years or so but especially this week – refer to this interview of a fellow 1st Australian Tim Soutphommasane here) been much discussion around the concept of multiculturalism and the role it has played in the building of Australia as a nation.

Lets not beat around the bush, Australia can be a very xenophobic country and it was at its post-White Australia Policy pinnacle during the 12 year term of Prime Minister John Howard. Old Johnny boy introduced a laughable, but logical solution for all those wanting to become citizens: A compulsory, pass-requisite quiz on Australian cultural customs

Perhaps this is a plausible suggestion for Hong Kong to circumnavigate both issues of judicial independence and the Right to Abode. Make all Permanent Residency candidates take a test of what is and what isn’t acceptable in Hong Kong. If they pass, then let them in, if they don’t then politely decline their application.

A storm is a brewin’ in Hong Kong. It’s just in another teacup

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