The Hongkong government's use of migration
scare tactics to undermine the Courts makes Hongkong out to be extraordinarily
selfish, denying rights to its own offspring. Its elitism and blatant discrimination
against mainlanders invites nationalist retribution.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the right of abode
tragedy has been the inability of the world's highest paid
civil servants to think through the consequences of their
positions. As deception is piled on deception,
so Hongkong opens itself to ridicule from all directions.
"Animal cannibals" is the title of a lurid docuemntary being
screened by TVB on the subject of animal in extremis eating of
their own young. It is not known in humans, but perhaps the
nearest equivalent might be for a society to reject the right
of children to join their parents. That is the bizarre image
of Hongkong being created by government.
It would indeed be strange if society in which one third of
households had a son or daughter on the mainland could be so
panicked by their possible arrival. The reality of course is
that people have been led to believe extraordinary figures. In
reality probably no more than one in ten households is
actually affected and so few feel a need to campaign in favour
of the Court's decision in favour of their relatives.
Who says there are so few? The government itself in the sober
data of the General Household Survey done in 1991 and 1996 and
published in Special Topics Report No 15. According to this,
there were in 1996 320,000 children of HK residents living in
Now the government, to create alarm over the Court decision,
has come up with a figure more than double that of 1996 and
claiming that the earlier data was inaccurate because of the
high level of illegitimacy -- 535,000 out of just under
700,000 according to its latest claims. When this illegitimacy
figure was ridiculed on common sense grounds, the government
retreated to claiming that a large proportion were simply
products of village marriages which had never been registered.
But if they were products of customary marriages, why should
anyone be ashamed of them, seek to deny parentage -- the
reason the government gives for now rejecting its own earlier
It is also noteable that, according to the published 1996
data, only 20% of the 320,00 were in the compulsory school age
bracket so unable to "swamp" the schools and 25% were over 40
years of age so presumably well settled elsewhere and less
likely to want to move to Hongkong.
The dubious figures are made even scarier by multiplying at
each generation.But has the government forgotten that the SAR
itself has a life of just 48 years -- less than two
generations from now?
Regrettably, the case against the government scaremongering
data, its grotesque claims of unemployment, overcrowding of
schools, hospitals etc has largely gone by default at the
political level. The Democrats, being a party dominated by
lawyers have concentrated on the legal aspects of the case,
which can seem obscure to the man in the street, rather than
tackling the practical issues head-on. It has been left to
scattered academics, journalists and Christine Loh to counter
the barrage of official disinformation. (For an expert
analysis of the government "data" read The Tyranny of Numbers
by Wing Suen which can be found at
There is one easy way to settle the numbers issue and arrange
orderly departure to Hongkong. Invite all those who believe
they qualify and want to move to Hongkong to register. Those
who do not have documentary proof but a parent willing to
acknowledge paternity or maternity would have to submit to a
genetic test. But this government is not interested in
pragmatic solutions. This is politics.
The scaremongering has however revealed some aspects of
government thinking, or lack of it, which will come to haunt
* It will be manna from heaven for nationalists and leftists
on the mainland (a resurgent influence according to recent
reports) who feel that Hongkong is a spoiled child and no
longer essential for economic reasons. The anti-immigrant
thesis assumes that compatriots, even ones own children, are
an unwashed rabble is scarcely in tune with reducing the gap
between the two societies. Comparisons are made which suggest
that most mainlanders are as alien to middle class Hongkong as
Albanian refugees would be. The very same Secretary for
Security who is so keen to deny the rights of sons and
daughters of residents says that the mainland should help
supply Hongkong with more elite people! (Meanwhile her deputy
has written to the SCMP claiming that the government already
effectively controls one way permit entry through a consensus
with the mainland in setting quotas and sub quotas).
* It underlines the discrimination against real Chinese
nationals that the government is practicing. There has been no
suggestion of limits on the numbers of children born in
Canada, the US etc to Hongkong residents, past or present, who
can move to Hongkong. These children of the elite, prominent
civil servants and members of patriotic bodies among them,
carry foreign passports for the usual pragmatic but not
exactly patriotic reasons.
The government is trying to use Article 22 of the Basic Law,
dealing with mainland/SAR relations, to dilute rights of abode
laid down in Article 24. In doing so it seeks to create two
classes of persons, with Chinese nationals of mainland birth
inferior to the rest.
* It opens the Hongkong government -- not that in Beijing --
to the likelihood of embarassing human rights cases based on
international undertakings, family reunion rights etc, as well
as to the endless litigation which is likely to follow from
whatever interpretation the NPC now puts on the Basic Law.
So why are Beijing and its acolytes tolerating policies which
appear to run so counter to the patriotic and egalitarian
principles they espouse? Because they have a higher political
agenda: castration of the Court of Final Appeal, which dared
to ring fence Hongkong by treating the Basic Law as a law and
not as a malleable instrument of administrative convenience.
Probably Beijing did not set out to do this. But the ill-
considered Hongkong government decision to fight its own
courts all the way inexorably brought Beijing into a position
where it felt it had to assert the supremacy of its rubber
stamp assembly, the NPC over the Court.
Hongkong is indeed paying a heavy price for its bureaucrats'
arrogance and Tung Chee-hwa's lack of leadership.
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