The hottest topic last week was Beijing’s order to purge the capital of what the Chinese calls its “low-end population” after a fire broke out in the squatters area on the outskirts of the city. These shanty towns accommodate migrant workers from other parts of the country that came to Beijing to work in what are considered “low-end” jobs which many better-off locals deem as beneath them; these outskirt areas also house locals in extreme poverty who cannot afford housing within the city itself. The purge consists of violent and underhanded means to force people out of their homes and back to wherever they came from, ranging from employing thugs to beat people to cutting access to food and water.
For the migrant workers, China’s “Hukou System” or a household register do not allow them to have access to buy or rent proper housing, nor does the system allow them to have access to many basic amenities and facilities such as the running water, electricity, health services and public schools, so these workers are forced to etch out a living akin to primitive villages. Like what happened to the Squatters Area in Shek Kip Mei back during the early 1950s in Hong Kong, the fire which broke out left hundreds and thousands of people who once “lived” there out in the cold (literally as winter is setting in), but unlike Hong Kong in the 1950s where the British administration quickly relocated the dispossessed squatters to emergency housing, the Chinese authorities have ordered a purge off the record of this so-called “low-end” population.
It is not just happening in Beijing, but also in Shenzhen which is next to Hong Kong; amongst the uproar in China and in Hong Kong over what humanitarians would define as a fascist purge of the underprivileged, many do not realise such a campaign have been happening in Hong Kong and is still going on.
Foxes of dens and birds have nests, but the homeless have no place to lay their heads
The homeless in Hong Kong would not find Beijing and Shenzhen’s treatment of their “low-end” population surprising, as they often face the same sort of treatment from the health and safety authorities in Hong Kong, with pro-establishment regional councillors pushing the HKSAR regime to do more to force the homeless away from middle-class residential areas.
The most recent case was during early 2016, where the health and safety authorities decided to spray underground pedestrian passes for “clean-up operations” at night despite many homeless sleeping there at the time, and in the middle of winter to boot. Another recent case saw the health and safety authorities confiscating these homeless Hong Kongers’ meagre possessions, even their identity cards and other important documents, at the pretense of blocking public spaces.
Even before then in the early 2010s, local authorities in Hong Kong had swapped the old benches in public parks for segmented benches to prevent the homeless using them as beds, as well as regularly spraying public gazebos and pavilions with water to stop them being used as homeless shelters. These acts have been condemned by Hong Kong’s public welfare activists as cruel and rather fascist, but the general middle-class populace often took a “not in my backyard” attitude when they decried the act while urging their local regional representatives to do more in stop the homeless squatting near their residences.
It’s not your votes than count; it’s your count that votes
Back during the last quarter of 2014, during the first half of the “Umbrella Revolution” occupation of Central, Mongkok and Causeway Bay, the former Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung once remarked that universal suffrage in Hong Kong is impossible as close to half of the population earns less than fourteen thousand Hong Kong Dollars a month, that if these people are allowed to vote then governmental policies and politics would be lopsided towards the poor and underprivileged and detrimental for the businesses and fiscal policies.
The aristocrats and plutocrats of Hong Kong often blame the poorer end of the populace for their inability to afford a better life, claiming that these Hong Kongers are too narrow-minded to see beyond Hong Kong. The upper echelon of Hong Kong often remarked that those on the lower rungs of the social ladder should lay their eyes on China instead as potential areas for a “better living” and “better retirement”, as part of the HKSAR regime’s collaboration with the Guangdong Provincial authorities to establish the Greater Canto Bay district, which would see disappearance in the boundaries that set Hong Kong aside from the Cantonese province and the dissolution of the Hong Konger identity.
The pro-establishment and the HKSAR regime are even calling young Hong Kongers to take the “opportunity” of China’s Belt and Road initiative, to live abroad in countries that will take part in China’s neo-imperial ploy to extend its influence. In other words, the HKSAR regime in all its policies – ranging from housing, schooling, age care – are telling Hong Kong’s “lower-end” populace to leave their homeland.
Anti-Locust movement in comparison
For some in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shenzhen’s purge of its “low end” population has been compared with the local “Anti-Locust” movement that began in 2013 and subsided after 2016, with those on the Democratic Left criticising Hong Kong localists as no better than the authorities in Beijing and Shenzhen that ordered the purge. Amongst the localists, people asked why it was ok for Beijing and Shenzhen to exact “locals first” policies for themselves but China condemns Hong Kongers when we demand that Hong Kong’s locals should have priority in accessing resources and facilities. However, we must not confuse the two issues for there is a critical difference.
In China’s case, local rights and priorities already exist and each provincial or municipal authority has the power to grant or deny a local registry to immigrants from other provinces or municipalities. Moreover, the migrant workers caught in the purge are often denied access to public resources and facilities which are given to the local public as a matter of priority, so there is no danger of the locals being in shortage of those resources. Furthermore, these migrant workers are – as the term suggests – came to the major cities to work as their places of birth are often distantly rural and undeveloped, and often work in roles that the local residents deemed undignified but important to the city’s operation.
In Hong Kong’s case however, despite the Basic Law stating that Hong Kong has the authority to screen potential immigrants from China, that the Chinese authorities must consult their Hong Kong counterparts in granting right of abode to Chinese coming into Hong Kong, in practice our immigration department has no such power. This means the HKSAR regime have no idea on the nature of these 150 of one-way entry permit holders from China coming across the border on a daily basis, and without that information Hong Kong authorities have no way of formulating any policies that ensures good resource management and local residents have access priority.
Whereas the Chinese Hukou System ensures local residents have priority to local resources and facilities, the situation in Hong Kong is often that Chinese “new immigrants” (or as localists would like to term “new settlers or colonists”) have an express lane in accessing Hong Kong resources such as public housing and welfare payments, while local welfare dependents and those waiting for public housing are often pushed aside in favour of those “new immigrants”. Other than these “new immigrants” there are also those termed “anchor babies” – children born to parents where neither have right of permanent abode in Hong Kong – who are deemed Hong Konger by law and thus have equal access to Hong Kong residents, but just as the 150 daily immigrants from China if not even more so, Hong Kong authorities have no way to screen nor determine the numbers or nature of these “anchor babies” or their non-residence parents; there is no comparable situation in China. While these children are by law Hong Kongers, their parents are not; and yet they are afforded equal access to Hong Kong public school placements at the expense of local Hong Konger parents who are forced to send their children to schools in out of the way districts rather than their local schools as is their right.
Furthermore, whereas the migrant workers being dispossessed in Beijing and Shenzhen due to the purge by their authorities work in roles vital to the operation of their cities which the locals shun, those deemed as “locusts” by Hong Kong localists are often only visitors with no right of abode in Hong Kong. For example, those Chinese “tourists” holding multiple-entry visas (which was changed to a less frequent entry visa due to localist protests) would come to Hong Kong to raid the local supply of baby formula at the expense of local parents who can’t find any in their local shops; or those who come to Hong Kong to buy gold and jewellery, causing shops to become lopsided in catering to these Chinese shoppers rather than local consumers. For those who do have right to permanent abode in Hong Kong, those we Hong Kong localists deem also as “locusts” are often welfare-bludgers, who came to Hong Kong with the intent to seek welfare rather than be an active contributor to the Hong Kong economy; or those who come to live in Hong Kong but insist on special treatment unto themselves, such as demanding schools should change to using China’s Putonghua as the language of education, or local Hong Kong customs and regulations be waivered just for them. It is these sorts of “non-contributing” people that Hong Kong localists want out of Hong Kong, and has nothing to do with their economic or financial status. Instead, we localists would welcome those who actually want to come to Hong Kong to be a social participant, willing to adapt to local customs and culture, and defend local values and beliefs.
A danger on the horizon
There is also a potential danger to Hong Kongers now that China has deemed necessary to use such a fascist ploy in forcing people away from a certain area, and such a potential is already in the clockwork with the Greater Canto Bay development project, the push for the abolishment of the Hong Kong Dollar and the adoption of Alipay, and forced student exchange between Hong Kong and Chinese education institutions, but to which many Hong Kongers have not foreseen. This potential danger is one day Hong Kongers may be forcibly made to move inland into Guangdong Province or scattered throughout China, turning Hong Kong either into a purely non-residential city or a private “theme park” for China’s elite and a front for the Western world. Such a possibility has occurred once in history, where people living along the coast during the Qing Empire were forcibly relocated further inland when the Qing Imperial Court decreed a closed-door border control policy that forbade any subject of the Empire from going out to see or exit the country without permission. It would then not be unimaginable for the Chinese regime to suddenly declare that Hong Kongers be made to relocate away from Hong Kong.