In the year 2000, the number of babies born in Hong Kong to Mainland Chinese parents was a mere 709. Eleven years later, that number exceeded 36.000, fully 38% of all births in the Special Administrative Region. To be born in Hong Kong guarantees unlimited residency and 12 years of quality education, free of charge. Wealthy Mainlanders, especially from the contiguous province of Guangdong, flock to Hong Kong to give birth, both for the better health services and to assure a brighter future for their offspring. The migration comes at a price, however, and at all levels of native Hong Kong society there is resentment towards the “invasion,” an influx that in their opinion puts a strain on the healthcare system and causes an increase in costs. In a place where the birth rate has historically been very low, hospitals do not have the capacity to handle the needs of the increased demand. Costs predictably increase, as do profits for the healthcare providers, all at the expenses of Hong Kong’s citizens. The presence of rich Mainlanders has brought more money to Hong Kong, and an increase to the cost of living along with it. This begs the question: are the Chinese from the Mainland a resource or a detriment for the ex-colony?
Hong Kong returned to the motherland in 1997, enjoying nonetheless a special status known as “one country, two systems,” and it this distinction that native Hong Kongers seek to preserve. It is not a matter of “identity,” since 97% of Hong Kong citizens are ethnically Chinese, but they do lament their Mainland cousins’ lack of respect for the rules, unsafe driving, and general disregard for the precious heritage of the English lifestyle. Natives of Hong Kong wish for the preservation of their particular judicial, social, and democratic way of life that sets them apart from the PRC.
The situation has grown in intensity in view of the upcoming election of the Hong Kong Chief Executive next month. What would have normally been a routine event has instead grown into a bitter political dispute, with a well-known Beijing intellectual labelling the citizens of Hong Kong “British running dogs,” because of their reluctance to be fully integrated with the mainland. Chinese web users rallied, criticizing the “ingratitude” of Hong Kong people. In response, Hong Kong citizens commissioned a full-page paid advertisement in a popular Hong Kong magazine, calling Mainlanders “locusts,” and demanding that the government take action against the influx.
Insults aside, it is indeed the extent to which the Hong Kong government is able act on its own that is the real question begging to be asked. To what degree is Hong Kong able to decide its own destiny, how much independence is it really afforded by its special status? According to the Basic Law, the Chief Executive – in essence the Governor of Hong Kong – is elected by a 1,200 member Election Committee. Members of the Committee belong to the various groups of Hong Kong high society: entrepreneurs, professors, bankers, and successful professionals, but most importantly, they are all friendly to Beijing, ensuring victory for the candidate backed by the Mainland.
The current choice to replace the incumbent Donald Tsang is Henry Tang. The son of a rich textile entrepreneur, Tang has cultivated both personal wealth and friendship with Beijing, but his lavish lifestyle and marital conduct have recently brought him into the negative light of public opinion. Found to have built “an underground palace” in his Hollywood-style villa, complete with wine cellar, a movie theater and spa, Tang brushed it off as merely “a hole in the ground to store things in,” no doubt infuriating the 90% of Hong Kong’s population who live in apartments smaller than his basement. The opposition candidate, C. Y. Leung, is campaigning on more grass roots issues, like the effects of the economic crisis and the loss of the characteristic eccentricities that set Hong Kong apart from the rest of China. Lacking support from Beijing and campaigning on issues that are hardly important for the Hong Kong electoral elite, Leung has a slim chance of winning this year, but his time may yet come when universal suffrage is enacted in 2017.