BEIJING — They’re businessmen, born in mainland China, who serve on high advisory committees to Beijing and profess patriotism for the motherland. One just lately traveled to an obscure village in southeastern China to check Xi Jinping’s doctrine for guiding the nation to greatness.
Now, they’re searching for to carry that ardor to Hong Kong, because the founders of the town’s latest political occasion. They’re calling for social stability to unify a deeply fractured society and mend a broken financial system.
“You can not have a protest on daily basis,” mentioned Li Shan, the founder and chairman of the occasion.
The arrival of the Bauhinia Occasion has fueled livid hypothesis about the way forward for Hong Kong’s once-vibrant, at instances unruly, political scene. The occasion, led by enterprise executives who moved to Hong Kong from the mainland, is getting into the fray amid forceful strikes by the Chinese language authorities to quash dissent, after big pro-democracy protests in 2019 challenged its rule.
Already, the authorities have ejected opposition lawmakers from the Hong Kong legislature and disqualified and arrested would-be candidates. Many within the pro-democracy camp see the brand new occasion as one more signal that Hong Kong — a former British colony that was promised 50 years of semi-autonomy when it returned to China in 1997 — is turning into simply one other mainland metropolis.
However the information was equally, if no more, unsettling for Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing bloc, the coalition of native enterprise tycoons, established politicians and commerce unions that has lengthy been allowed to manipulate because the central authorities’s proxy. Many have puzzled if the emergence of the brand new occasion is Beijing’s sign that it has much less use for these conventional energy brokers and will substitute them with figures deemed more practical or reliable.
Whereas the pro-Beijing camp has at all times professed loyalty to the central authorities, its members have taken care to emphasise the variations between their metropolis and the mainland.
The Bauhinia Occasion seems to offer itself to Beijing as a brand new mannequin for allies, ones who’re extra overt about their ties to the central authorities and their admiration for its top-down strategy.
Mr. Li is a delegate to the nationwide Chinese language Individuals’s Political Consultative Convention, an advisory physique to Beijing, and speaks hardly any Cantonese, Hong Kong’s native language. One other co-founder, Chen Jianwen, is a delegate to a regional arm of the advisory physique and leads an association for alumni of a coaching academy for Communist Occasion officers.
Central planks of the occasion’s platform embrace combating discrimination towards mainland transplants to Hong Kong and fostering a love of Chinese language language and tradition. Mr. Li mentioned he needs to encourage extra Hong Kong college students to check at mainland universities and bear “patriotic schooling,” an echo of Mr. Xi’s personal requires younger Hong Kongers to “increase their sense of belonging to the motherland.”
Even the best way Mr. Li established the occasion nodded to the central authorities. He formally based it aboard a cruise ship in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, a reference to Mao Zedong’s founding of the Chinese language Communist Occasion aboard a ship in japanese China, in response to occasion lore.
Perceived allegiance to Beijing may very well be a very powerful issue for securing the central authorities’ blessing within the coming years, mentioned Willy Lam, a professor of Chinese language politics on the Chinese language College of Hong Kong.
If extra individuals with mainland backgrounds participated in Hong Kong politics, Beijing might “relaxation assured” that the town could be led by those that “would presumably be extra loyal to the motherland,” he added.
The Bauhinia Occasion’s founders deny that they’re puppets of Beijing or that they search to supplant current events. Mr. Li mentioned the occasion is targeted on the number of the town’s chief govt, not on profitable legislative seats.
The chief govt is chosen by a committee of simply 1,200 electors, many with shut ties to Beijing.
Whereas Mr. Li mentioned he was not planning to run in subsequent yr’s chief govt race, he hinted repeatedly that he was within the job sometime.
“If the group requires me to dedicate myself for such a job or accountability, I’m keen to sacrifice myself,” he mentioned in an interview in Beijing final month.
Mr. Li mentioned he didn’t inform the central or Hong Kong authorities that he was beginning a celebration till after he had completed so. Then he notified Hong Kong’s chief govt, Carrie Lam, and the Central Liaison Workplace, Beijing’s official arm in Hong Kong.
He bristled at options that he was an outsider. “I’ve been a everlasting resident for 20 years,” mentioned Mr. Li, a financier who moved to Hong Kong in 1993 after finishing a doctorate on the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how.
The co-founders say they need to attain opponents of the federal government in addition to supporters.
In its said ideas, the occasion professes a dedication to common suffrage — a central demand of the pro-democracy camp — and a promise to make Hong Kong “one of many world’s most free, democratic and open” cities. Mr. Li mentioned he needs to protect the construction of “one nation, two methods,” for a further 50 years.
However the pro-democracy camp has dismissed these overtures as lip service. An editorial in Apple Day by day, a fervently pro-democracy newspaper, called the occasion a “Computer virus” that may permit the Communist Occasion to function overtly in Hong Kong. Lo Kin-hei, the chairman of the Democratic Occasion, wrote on Twitter that it was the “Hong Kong department” of the Communist Occasion.
The professional-Beijing camp has been equally hostile. Many have sneered on the Bauhinia Occasion’s said aim of attracting 250,000 members, about 5 instances greater than the most important pro-Beijing occasion in Hong Kong has. Mr. Li mentioned on Friday that the occasion had fewer than 100 members to date.
“It’s straightforward to begin a celebration, however it’s not that straightforward to determine your occasion as a viable political power,” mentioned Jasper Tsang, the founding father of that largest occasion, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
Mr. Tsang dismissed the concept the Bauhinia Occasion had Beijing’s backing or that Mr. Li might grow to be chief govt. He identified that Hong Kong’s two main state-backed newspapers had paid little consideration to the brand new occasion, which he mentioned instructed a scarcity of official assist.
Regina Ip, the founding father of one other pro-Beijing occasion, mentioned Mr. Li had approached her about potential collaboration and that she was “not in any approach .”
“I don’t suppose he begins to grasp how complicated the job is,” she mentioned of Mr. Li’s hints about operating for chief govt. “In case you have some monetary credentials, it doesn’t imply you might be certified.”
Mr. Li acknowledged that he was not fluent in Hong Kong politics, regardless of his lengthy residence within the metropolis. He mentioned he had by no means voted till late 2019. Requested about his place on a contentious proposal to permit Hong Kong residents residing in mainland China to vote within the metropolis’s elections, he mentioned he had not heard of the problem.
Some have been extra amenable to the Bauhinia Occasion.
Christine Loh, a former pro-democracy lawmaker who additionally labored within the administration of a pro-Beijing chief govt, mentioned she didn’t know a lot concerning the new occasion. However she mentioned that Hong Kongers must be extra open to political figures extra aligned with the mainland system.
“It isn’t that it’s going to be prolonged to Hong Kong, nevertheless it’s not completely unconnected,” she mentioned of the mainland system. It’s potential, she mentioned, that folks with ties to it’d have the ability to assist Hong Kong.
Whereas Mr. Li insists that he didn’t seek the advice of any Chinese language officers earlier than establishing his occasion, he acknowledged discussing a few of its proposals with officers since then.
Final month, he visited a museum in Xiadang, a village the place Mr. Xi labored as a younger Communist Occasion cadre within the Eighties. Mr. Li mentioned he wished to study extra concerning the early improvement of “Xi Jinping Thought,” Mr. Xi’s ideological manifesto.
One other co-founder, Wong Chau-chi, demurred in an interview with The South China Morning Put up when requested whether or not Bauhinia Occasion members had been secretly Communist Occasion members.
“It’s not right to evaluate our occasion on whether or not we’ve underground members or not,” he mentioned. “It’s one thing not related to our governance.”