Localism could be a “positive and constructive force that makes Hong Kong a better place and benefits Hong Kong as a whole”, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah wrote in his blog on Sunday.

Tsang compared localism with the sense of belonging felt by alumni at his secondary school, La Salle College. “Both involve a strong passion and pride in their own identities, traditions and cultures. Such emotion exists everywhere – from as big as a country and a race, to as small as a school,” he wrote.

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John Tsang at the La Salle College Old Boys’ Association Annual Ball last week. Photo: GovHK.

Tsang added that localism was more than a “seclusive, negative, and even destructive protectionism.”

In contrast to Tsang’s comments, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying condemned localist groups for their protests against parallel traders and mainland tourists in March. In his 2015 Policy Address, Leung slammed the University of Hong Kong student magazine “Undergrad” for its “fallacies” and agenda of “advocating self-reliance and self-determination”.

Gary Fan Kwok-wai of the Neo Democrats told Apple Daily that the rise of localism in Hong Kong was an indisputable fact, and the positive attitudes of government officials could help them to face the political reality, as well as to solve the problem. He added that Tsang’s comments were appropriate responses to the Hong Kong-mainland conflict.

Gary Fan Kwok-wai of Neo Democrats.
Gary Fan Kwok-wai of Neo Democrats. File

Veteran commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu also told Apple Daily that the Chinese government emphasized the need to be wary of promoting Hong Kong independence in radical localism, but did not deny the positive impacts of localism on people’s livelihood and the economy. He said Tsang’s remarks were not in conflict with the Chinese government’s views.

In November, while Leung said “it is a pity” that he would not be able to watch the Hong Kong-China football match as he was in the Philippines, Tsang posted a photo of himself watching the match in Romania, and gained more than 13,000 Facebook likes.

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John Tsang posted a photo of himself watching the Hong Kong-China football match on Facebook. Photo: John Tsang, via Facebook.

Tsang’s support rating has risen to a seven-year high, according to a survey by the HKU Public Opinion Programme in November. In June, Chinese president Xi Jinping’s handshake with Tsang sparked speculation that he could be a candidate for the next Chief Executive election.

Koel Chu is a second-year journalism and fine arts student at the University of Hong Kong. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Koel is interested in the arts and urban design. She interned at China Radio International in Beijing and, at her university, she also works as Vice-President of Branding and Marketing in AIESEC, the largest youth-run organisation in the world.