In much of the recent dispute between the Chinese regime and Hong Kong on the election of a chief executive for that city-state, one key sticking point has been the hard ideological line laid down by Beijing: that any candidate for election must “love Hong Kong and be patriotic.”
Now, a top Chinese communist official appears to have qualified that somewhat. Zhang Dejiang, the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which has a prominent role in setting Beijing’s policy to Hong Kong, said at a recent political meeting that “our future chief executive must be a person that loves the country and Hong Kong, but he doesn’t have to love the Communist Party, or uphold the Communist Party,” according to Michael Tien, deputy chairman of the New People’s Party in Hong Kong, a small, pro-Beijing political grouping.
The term “patriotism” is normally taken to mean the standard nationalism, but also love for the Chinese Communist Party, which rules China. Zhang’s caveat seems aimed to ease the pressure in Hong Kong from what civic groups there feel is the suffocating grip of Beijing.
What change it will bring in the selection of candidates is still unclear, because Chinese authorities continue to reserve the right to filter out those they object to.
And of course, there are still other stipulations: candidates “can’t be against the Communist Party and one-party rule, [because] it’s the constitution,” Tien said.
Nevertheless, the statement is still rare for explicitly separating the concept of loving the country and loving the Chinese Communist Party—a staple of the ideological propaganda that generations of Chinese have been raised on.
Earlier in September, Huanqiu, the Chinese version of the state-run Global Times, published an opinion article titled, “Loving the country and loving the Party are the same thing in China.” The piece stated: “Whether or not one loves the Party is a major criterion for testing whether one is a true Chinese patriot.”
Zhang’s qualification also differs from an explicit statement made by deputy secretary of the National People’s Congress, Li Fei, in a press conference on Aug. 31: “The chief executive must love the country and Hong Kong, and ‘loving the Party’ goes without saying.”
Whether the apparently conflicting views demonstrate an ideological divergence in the Party on how to handle the Hong Kong question, or are a mere matter of rhetorical sleight, is still unclear.
Though Zhang’s statements were notably absent from official reports in mainland China, Michael Tien’s excited characterization of them as “a much, much more relaxed definition of patriotism” were splashed all over Hong Kong’s newspapers.
The intent may have been to sooth the widespread anger in Hong Kong over Beijing’s recent series of political maneuvers that have had the effect of enhancing Communist Party control of the region, the most recent being a decision by the National People’s Congress that, effectively, candidates must be ideologically vetted by Beijing. Students from 24 universities and colleges will begin a one-week strike by boycotting classes on Sept. 22. Following the student strike, an Occupy Central democracy movement fighting for universal suffrage is estimated to take place sometime in October.
The Hong Kong government will also in October begin a second round of public consultation on Beijing’s proposals, which will need at least a two third majority in the Legislative Council to pass into law, a process that is expected to happen early next year.
With reporting by Cheng Jing.