Water, not land, was once Hong Kong’s most expensive commodity. The colonial government shipped it from Japan during periods of scarcity and the Royal Air Force also tried seeding local rain clouds. Following a serious drought in 1963, the city’s fresh water supply was limited to four hours every four days. The dire situation only improved two years later, following a deal to buy water from Guangdong. The pipeline linking the East River to the British colony, Chinese media liked to point out, symbolised Hong Kong’s natural connection to its motherland.
Beijing is hoping that a similar water project could foster closer cross-Straits relations. Starting this month, an undersea pipeline began pumping fresh water from Fujian province to Kinmen, a small island controlled by Taiwan.
Only two kilometres from the mainland city of Xiamen, the island has traded fire with Communist artillery in the past. But now the $1.35 billion project will provide Kinmen’s 128,000 residents with up to 55,000 tonnes of water a day. The head of the island’s local government now wants to import electricity from mainland China and has hinted that a bridge could be built.
His enthusiasm has not gone down so well with Taipei. According to Sanli News, Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen ordered Kinmen officials to downplay the opening ceremony of the water project. Sanli News also noted that the water from Fujian is costly: priced 10 times higher than tapwater elsewhere in Taiwan. “Of course Fujian can do business with Kinmen. But just don’t tell us you are doing us a favour,” the broadcaster fumed.
“Once water, electricity and bridge links are established, if relations between Taipei and Beijing sour, what is to prevent Beijing from threatening to pull the plug?” the Taipei Times also warned.
Back in Hong Kong, the water supply from China doesn’t seem to generate that much good will these days. As we pointed out in WiC353, most Hongkongers have no idea of the environmental sacrifices made by the Guangdong city of Heyuan to keep a lake pristine enough to meet their water needs. Hong Kong can’t survive without water from across the border – something that persuaded a reluctant Margaret Thatcher to agree to hand the city back in 1997. But this practical issue is one that seems to have been lost on a younger breed of Hong Kong politicians now advocating independence for the city.
Indeed, one such campaigner has been making headlines this week. The leader of a small party that wants Hong Kong to declare independence from China delivered a controversial speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) despite angry objections from Beijing.
The FCC insisted it doesn’t endorse the views of the speakers at its events but justified its act as a defence of free speech. Nevertheless it may suffer the consequences. Pro-Beijing activists are now lobbying the Hong Kong government to tear up the rental contract for the FCC’s clubhouse on the grounds that it gave the 27 year-old a platform to publicise an idea (independence) for which no legal basis exists.
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