As Hongkongers recently took to the streets in record numbers to voice their frustrations over Beijing’s growing encroachment, a speech by a Chinese military general circulating online is offering insights into how the mainland’s communist elite view the former UK colony.
In a 2018 speech, Xu Yan, general and professor at the Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), said the Chinese communist regime made a “big mistake” in promising not to change Hong Kong when the city was handed over from British rule more than two decades ago.
“After we took back Hong Kong, we made a big mistake,” Xu said. “[We promised that] nothing would be changed. How would that do, if you don’t decolonize everything?”
Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under the express guarantee that the city would retain its extensive freedoms and autonomy, including a separate legal system and freedom of speech—a policy known as “one country, two systems.”
Xu made the remarks in a 90-minute speech at an annual teachers’s union meeting in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, last November. Nearly 2,000 educators, and primary and middle school students attended the conference.
The general said he and other leaders of the PLA Hong Kong garrison studied Hong Kong’s demographics after the handover in 1997. He said they found that “Hong Kong’s social foundation … is the worst in China, even worse than Taiwan.”
Xu said the main reason why young people in Hong Kong are “creating chaos” is because “their parents are bad.”
“One-third of [the older generation in Hong Kong] are the worst. They ran to Hong Kong [from China] during 1949 and 1950 after being purged, stricken, driven out, and deprived of everything by the Communist Party. Many of these people truly hate the Communist Party,” Xu said.
“Another one-third suffered starvation during the Three Years of Difficulties [the Great Chinese Famine from 1959 to 1961]. Those people smuggled themselves to Hong Kong as asylum seekers during the Cultural Revolution. How can you expect this group to have good thoughts about the Communist Party?”
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power in 1949 after defeating the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) forces in a civil war. During this period the CCP, led by Mao Zedong, launched a violent land reform campaign which mobilized the Chinese peasantry to kill landlords and others perceived to be privileged. Estimates of the death toll range from 1 million to 4.5 million people, and include landlords, well-off peasants, and their families. Many fled to Hong Kong to avoid persecution.
Mao’s later campaign, The Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), resulted in tens of millions of deaths—through the Great Chinese Famine (1959-1961). In this campaign, Mao sought to propel China’s agricultural and industrial output ahead of the developed world; instead, he created the largest manmade disaster in modern history.
Besides criticizing the city’s residents, Xu also blamed the city’s education system for developing a younger generation that supports independence from mainland China.
“After more than 20 years since we took back Hong Kong, they are still using textbooks of the British dependent territories,” he said. “Furthermore, when we wanted to change the textbooks, the parents didn’t allow it.”
The general went on to praise Hong Kong’s top official Carrie Lam for sentencing several democracy activists who participated in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests, and making changes to the city’s textbooks in 2018. Last year, certain phrases relating to the city’s colonial past were removed from a history textbook to conform with the official position held by the Chinese communist regime.
Robert Spalding, a former National Security Council official and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told The Epoch Times that Xu’s remarks are not as controversial as they may appear to a foreign audience.
“The problem is, most Americans don’t speak Chinese. So they don’t know what’s being said. And we don’t pay that much attention to it,” Spalding said.
“When you are confronted with it, it may be very shocking. But for somebody like me, who has worked with the PLA for a long time, it is essentially standard beliefs for them.”
In April, Wang Zhimin, director of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, made remarks echoing Xu’s sentiment. Speaking on national security issues, he said Hong Kong “is the responsibility of only one country, without two systems,” Taiwan News reported.
Chinese-speaking netizens condemned the general’s comments.
A Twitter user named “Leon_wu50” said: “From this … speech, we can see the Chinese Communist Party’s [CCP] ‘one country, two systems’ is a pretense designed to fool the world’s people.
“The final goal is to bring Hong Kong into [the CCP’s] autocratic political system.”