Tony Kwok says it is time to make the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland a joyful occasion – not one marred by protests.
This year’s annual July 1 protest march attracted just 9,800 demonstrators, a record-low turnout since 2003 as reported by police, and 32 percent less than the previous year’s 14,500. The turnout was a lot less than the 22,000 who attended horse races on the same day!
The opposition parties have always claimed the July 1 protest march is a reflection of the people’s discontent with the special administrative region government and a demonstration of their support for democracy. It is therefore logical to deduce that the low turnout this year is an indication of declining discontent with the government and less support for their version of democracy. Indeed, the chief executive’s popularity rating has remained at more than 50 percent throughout her first year in office. This is a clear indication that the people of Hong Kong are generally satisfied with the current government. The decreased support for “democracy” is not surprising in view of a number of scandals among the opposition parties, who like to picture themselves as champions of democracy. There was the case of opposition Legislative Council member Ted Hui Chi-fung, who snatched a mobile phone from a female government officer inside the LegCo building, and prominent Democratic Party member Howard Lam Tsz-kin’s debunked allegation that he had been kidnapped and tortured by mainland secret agents. He had alleged his tormentors fired 21 staples into his legs and displayed his self-inflicted injuries in a conspicuous press conference accompanied by his two high-profile supporters, Martin Lee Chu-ming and Legislator Lam Cheuk-ting.
But the principal reason for the protest’s lack of appeal is their choice of the theme for this year’s march — “End one-party dictatorship” — oblivious of the fact that the Chinese mainland has made substantial achievements in both the economic and international diplomatic spheres. Clearly, the organizers wanted to use the older generation’s phobia of communism to ignite the public’s hatred of the central government. In the process, they were hoping to incite public opposition to the first part of the “one country, two systems” principle, and disrespect for constitutional order. But most Hong Kong people can now see through their devious plot. They deplore people like Benny Tai Yiu-ting who traveled all the way to Taiwan to promote “Hong Kong independence”. This explains the record-low turnout for this year’s annual July 1 anti-China protest march organized by the opposition camp.
So who were the people that joined this march on Sunday? Clearly some are from hardcore anti-China groups, including those seeking “Hong Kong independence”. Others took the opportunity to lobby for their respective causes, such as some foreign domestic helpers, homosexuals and other apolitical groups. Some opposition groups cleverly used the occasion to raise funds, with activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s Demosisto party raising HK$530,000, making it the top fundraiser among seven “pro-democracy” groups which took part. But what I found most amusing among the reasons given for joining the march was a woman with two young sons. She told the media interviewer that she would give Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor only one mark out of 10 for her performance. It makes you wonder how she would teach fairness and informed judgment to her children. Another participant said he was dissatisfied with Law Chi-kwong, the secretary for labor and welfare. But Law received the highest popularity rating among all appointed secretaries. The examples I cited are indicative of the quality of the participants who are clearly ill-informed on important relevant issues.
When I talked to university students on the mainland, many of them were aware of the July 1 protest march. They often expressed bewilderment on why Hong Kong people would choose such a date to stage their protest march for miscellaneous causes. Some of them remarked on the significance of July 1, noting the return of Hong Kong to its motherland after 150 years of British rule — the nadir of China’s century of humiliation by foreign powers. It was the date marking Hongkongers’ wholesale change of status — from being under colonial rule to being back under the sovereign rule of China. The day really has all the hallmarks of a national pride day, with many reasons to celebrate. Protest marches over all manner of discontent can take place on any other day. Why do it on a date with genuine historical significance and with many reasons for the people to feel proud?
I would therefore suggest the SAR government prepare for proper territory-wide celebrations with all relevant features befitting the significance of the occasion for the next anniversary day. Firstly all schools and universities should educate their students on its historical significance nearer the time. As for the coordinated activities on the day itself, we can draw on the experience of other countries’ national day celebrations. Once, when visiting Amsterdam on the Netherlands’ national day, I was very impressed with the festive atmosphere throughout the city. Almost everybody wore the national orange color with orange caps, which were being distributed free of charge everywhere. There were food and drink stalls, bazaars and singing and music bands at strategic locations all helping to generate a happy and celebratory atmosphere. Activities climaxed with a parade and fireworks. We should consider staging some similar events on our main thoroughfares on both sides of the harbor to celebrate July 1 as a joyful and historic occasion.
The author is an honorary fellow and adjunct professor of HKU SPACE, council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, and adviser of Our Hong Kong Foundation.