Few openly suggest that the People’s Republic of China is actually an empire – not to say the world’s last surviving one. In the West, the trendy ‘Free Tibet’ cause implicitly states it. But generally, the regime in Beijing does a good job of obscuring this provocative slur/obvious fact, and induces the world to see China as a multiracial and unified nation-state.
At the same time, the government in Beijing also manages to convince the world that it has a unique status and even right to represent ‘the Chinese’ as a race and culture. To con the rest of the planet into accepting both these notions pretty much without question is impressive.
Take the plight of Taiwan. Anyone who visits the place knows instantly that they are in an independent country. Yet Beijing routinely belittles and humiliates the place – and inconveniences other states – in its insistence that it has sovereignty over the island and its people. The world acquiesces. To get an idea of how outrageous this is: imagine if the UK refused to have diplomatic relations with any country that recognized the government in Dublin or threatened to invade if the administration there declared a Republic of Ireland, on the grounds that the place was still British.
While gullible and distant international leaders still kowtow, there are signs that, closer to home, this mythology of ‘China as nation, as culture, as race, and as CCP monopoly’ is breaking. Beijing’s atrocious people-skills and self-delusion have convinced many young Taiwanese to see China as a malevolent force. It’s fairly mind-blowing to think that another place where this is happening is Hong Kong. It is less than 20 years after the handover, and we are surrounded by people talking and thinking about how to insulate the city from the danger represented by China, up to and including independence.
At the establishment-friendly end of the scale, a South China Morning Post piece today agonizes over the harm done by the (alleged, etc) abduction of book-publisher Lee Po, Chief Executive CY Leung’s apparent abuse of power over his daughter’s bags at the airport, and the distrust and polarization in Hong Kong. The writer would prefer Beijing to be more understanding. The list is of course much longer, from cronyism, to swamping the city with Mainland visitors, to the denial of universal suffrage, to the smears and intimidation of pro-democrats, to attempts to tame the media and academia, to eradicating street culture, to hassling kids with cellos on the MTR – in sum, simply imposing a worse colonial regime.
Away from the tycoon-owned media, Beijing’s massive failure to win Hong Kong’s confidence or respect, let alone filial warmth, continues. Young localist writer and broadcaster ‘Lewis Loud’ turns the rhetoric of alienation up a notch in his latest Passion Times piece. The first two paragraphs above summarize much of it; he also claims a Hong Kong ethnicity, which happens to pre-date the Chinese one by 70 years. You might dispute facts, detect callowness, or be impressed by the breadth of ideas. But you can’t deny the sheer audacity, or the sense that, with opinions like this stirring things up, Beijing – with its current tactics – has already lost the battle.