Officials need backbone to realize benefits from mainlander influx: Vines

The mainland visitors influx can be of immense benefit under proper management of the government, said a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur.

“These visitors provide employment and business opportunities for a great many local people,” Stephen Vines said. “Moreover, the influx … offers mainlanders a glimpse of a sophisticated cosmopolitan lifestyle and level of freedom not seen anywhere else in China.”

In an article published in the South China Morning Post on February 14, Vines said that officials lacked backbone in handling mainland relations and the proposed arrivals tax to discourage visitors was stupid.

He also noted that despite people’s growing concern over the pressure from mainland visitors, the tax was proposed by self-promoting, opportunistic politicians to enhance their own popularity.

“Instead of looking at the positives, political opportunists are exploiting people’s fears of incomers and their scaremongering is given credence by the government’s failure to address these fears,” he said.

The proposal introduced by democratic groups came soon after commerce chief Greg So Kam-leung delivered the new Tourism Report in January, in which he estimated that Hong Kong’s capacity to receive visitors would climb to 70 million a year by 2017, and 100 million by 2030.

Upset by the already surging visitors and angered by the report, scores of demonstrators launched an anti-mainland visitors protest, in which they marched from Star Ferry pier to Canton Road, a central Hong Kong district popular with tourists, hurling insults at mainland shoppers.

The protest, subsequently condemned by Hong Kong government and mainland media, also triggered an anti-demonstration from pro-government and pro-Beijing activists, who accused the protesters of spreading evil and harming the country.

“If people had more confidence in the government and the administration was prepared to show the smallest degree of backbone in handling relations with the mainland, a lot of heat would be taken out of this debate,” Vines said.

He also noted that officials needed to demonstrate commitment to preserving Hong Kong’s identity, while implement concrete measures to improve the infrastructure to begin a more constructive debate.

Dooms predicted by vastly expanded visitor arrivals from the mainland could be “treated with contempt”, Vines said, illustrating with London’s emergence under the influx of immigrants in the 1980s.

“The reality is that the hard-working immigrants brought dynamism and new life to the economy,” he said.

However, Vines said Hong Kong was still “far from this realization” and called for more proper administrations from the government.

C.f.: The many benefits of mainland Chinese visitors

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China’s political reform sees forlorn hope: Guo

China is unlikely to reverse its official verdict on the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown as a counter-revolutionary incident or implement political reform in the foreseeable future, said a journalism professor.

“Political reform in China would inevitably ripple far-reaching, even uncontrollable effects among top leaders, and thus unlikely to take place, even 25 years after the incident,” said Steve Guo, head of the journalism department at Baptist University.

As a then veteran journalist of China Daily, Guo shared personal experience in covering the incident in the summer of 1989 after screening of the documentary film “The Gate of Heavenly Peace” in the university on February 22.

The three-hour documentary records the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989 — a student-led demonstration against the Communist government, which ended in crackdown as hardline leaders ordered the military to suppress and remove demonstrators on June 4, 1989 — also known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, or June Fourth Massacre.

“Due to its fundamental differences with the 1976 Tiananmen Incident, the 1989 incident saw a forlorn hope for both success and reverse,” Guo said.

Unlike the 1976 incident that was against certain individuals, the 1989 incident targeted the political system; meanwhile, the student-led campaign, with workers’ collective absence, was also loose in organization while lacking in support, he said.

The nationwide mass protest in 1976 against the Gang of Four — a political fraction of four Communist Party officials charged with a series of treasonous crimes — labeled as counter-revolutionary campaign then, was reversed after Deng Xiaoping came to power 1978.

As to China’s prospect of democracy, Guo said the country’s democratic process would be possibly advanced only “from the top down”, depending mostly upon liberal leaders and their policies.

“Top leaders would not possibly be toppled from the bottom up, the same way as Mao historically seized power,” he said. “They, who are most familiar with the strategy, are also most acute in seeing through any possible threat from the bottom of society.”

Mao Zedong, China’s founding father and Communist revolutionary, seized political power in 1930s through the strategy of “rural areas encircle the cities and seizure of power by armed people”, a scheme most representative of “from the bottom up”.

Guo also noted that the masses both organized and communicative would never be allowed to exist in the country, illustrating with the eradication of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline declared “heretical” and blocked by the Chinese government in 1999.

“Heretical or not, how could the government tolerate an independent organization of such public calls and communicative power?” he said.

“Under China’s current political system, nothing could be independent from the Communist Party,” Guo said. “ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) is actually CAC with no ‘Independence’.”

Asked about the possibility for China to lift its current censorships on sensitive issues like the 1989 incident, Guo’s response reflected a gloomy prospect.

“Censorship on the incident and other suchlike subjects will remain unlifted,” he said, “until the day comes when everything has become so remote in history that no historical burden would be involved.”