Published: 10:32, May 17, 2024
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We should stay loyal to our shared values
By Ho Lok-sang

Two articles caught my attention last week, and they immediately aroused my thoughts on the important subject of loyalty. 

The first article was published last year in the Journal of Asian and African Studies. It cited Albert Hirschman’s book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, in which Hirschman concluded that loyal members are less likely to exit when dissatisfied with the performance of the organization. Stan Hok-wui Wong and his co-authors then referred to the results of their survey in Hong Kong, and concluded that respondents with a stronger local identity have greater migration intentions. The implication then is that “in the context of a political regime ... loyalty may actually encourage exit because loyal members are more sensitive to the performance decline of the regime.”   

The second article, published in the New York Times on May 11, 2024, is titled: The Harsh Crackdown on College Protests Is A Dangerous Mistake. After discussing how a heavy police crackdown on the student protests in support of a ceasefire in Gaza and the two-state solution for Palestine triggered more protests across the country, it went on to refer to the “Occupy Central” movement in 2014 in Hong Kong as “a textbook nonviolent mass protest”, saying it was crushed and that “many organizers were given lengthy jail sentences or forced into exile”. The article did not say that while the protest was planned as a three-day sit-in it ended up spanning 79 days as protesters took over major thoroughfares in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, bringing traffic to a standstill. Would the US allow a protest that occupies Fifth Avenue in New York City for more than two months before stepping in? The “Occupy Wall Street” movement in 2011 took place mainly in Zuccotti Park and the police started making arrests within days. By contrast, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government showed patience and only acted to clear blockages to traffic after well over two months. Doesn’t blocking traffic on Hong Kong’s thoroughfares for 79 days constitute a serious public nuisance?

Wong and his co-authors strangely equated that self-expressed sense of local identity with loyalty. In my view, loyalty is a virtue only when the loyalty is to a higher purpose. For example, a truly professional journalist is loyal to his mission as a journalist. Someone who considers themself to be a “Hongkonger” is loyal to what? 

I would say that the minimum duty expected of a resident is that he or she must respect the rights of fellow residents. He or she must not trample on other people’s rights at will, vandalize public property, damage private property, or physically injure or put other fellow residents at risk. He or she must also remember that when the HKSAR was established in 1997, the Basic Law started to take effect and that it was passed into law after a lengthy consultation with a lot of input from the Hong Kong community. Abiding by the Basic Law is the minimum expected of any person who calls Hong Kong home. Calling for bypassing the Nominating Committee in the election of the chief executive is expressly violating the terms of the Basic Law and is tantamount to breaking the contract with Beijing. How can such self-proclaimed “Hongkongers” be considered to be loyal citizens of the HKSAR?    

Perhaps those who would exit Hong Kong because the progression of democratization was not what they had in mind were loyal to their beliefs or values. Then they are seeing their own “values” as more important than the value of peace and that of respect for other people’s aspirations.

The New York Times article’s author, Professor Zeynep Tufekci, in calling the “Occupy Central” movement in 2014 “a textbook nonviolent mass protest”, needs to be reminded that no protester was arrested for a nonviolent protest act during the “Occupy Central” movement. Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the leader of the “Occupy Central” movement, was convicted of illegal election spending and of conspiring to commit public nuisance (79 days of occupying the key business districts in Hong Kong). Tai is still facing charges of subversion for his role in the 10-step “burn together” or “mutual destruct” plan to block the passing of the Hong Kong government budget twice and thus force the chief executive to resign, cause chaos and upheaval in the city, and to bring about international sanctions toward Beijing if it cracked down on those considered to be subversive.

In my mind, the highest form of loyalty must be to our shared universal values: peace, saving lives not ending them, respect for all humans as equals, and integrity. We should never say one thing and do another. ... Interestingly, in a way China is “more American” than America. China not only believes that “all men are created equal”, it also firmly stands by the separation of the church and state. Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, as well as other religious adherents thrive alongside atheists. All 56 ethnicities live peacefully in China in mutual respect. No religion is allowed to interfere with policies or politics because policies and institutions must be scientifically designed and must serve the needs of the country. Religions should only serve the spiritual needs of the people. If religions are to thrive alongside each other no religion should have a special status, and no one should use the power of the state in the name of a religion.  

The author is director of Pan Sutong Shanghai-HK Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.