Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hong Kong Versus China in the Olympics

As can be apparent in sports such as keirin (a cycling event) and table tennis (ping pong), Hong Kong fields an Olympics team that is distinct from China's team. China permits Hong Kong to do this under a right detailed in Chapter VII, Article 151, of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China:
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may on its own, using the name ""Hong Kong, China"", maintain and develop relations and conclude and implement agreements with foreign states and regions and relevant international organizations in the appropriate fields, including the economic, trade, financial and monetary, shipping, communications, tourism, cultural and sports fields.
Not only does Hong Kong compete in the Olympics, it came close to facing off with China for the gold medal in this year's table tennis team event. However, Hong Kong lost in the semifinal and will compete for the bronze medal while China will face South Korea in the gold medal match. [Update: China won the gold medal in both the men's and women's team event. Hong Kong lost to Germany in the men's bronze medal match.]

If the idea of Hong Kong competing against the rest of China in the Olympics seems peculiar, things get only more complicated when considering who is on Hong Kong's table tennis team. According to the AP:
Hong Kong’s three players were all born in mainland China and moved to Hong Kong when they could not make China’s national team.
This may raise questions about whether the Hong Kong team provide a double opportunity for some mainland Chinese to compete in the Olympics. As reported by Reuters, the Hong Kong table tennis players tried to explain their situation:
"We are definitely loyal to Hong Kong, otherwise we would be playing for China," said Hong Kong's Chu Yan Leung.

But then his team-mate Tang Peng pointed out: "We are playing for Hong Kong but there is no difference between Hong Kong and China, we are in the same country."
Their words seem to raise more questions than answers. For example, what are the implications of Cheung's "loyalty" to Hong Kong? And the claim of "no difference" further highlights Hong Kong's unusual situation. Although Hong Kong is part of China, Hongkongers enjoy more freedoms than mainland Chinese and there are numerous other differences which exist. There is even a border between Hong Kong and mainland China which can make it easier for someone from India than someone from China to be allowed entry into Hong Kong.

One might think that a Hong Kong team could create a distraction for China that it would prefer to avoid. But I suspect China has no interest in dissolving it. The reason has nothing to do with Hong Kong's laws or providing some Chinese two opportunities to compete in the Olympics.

Instead, the reason has much to do with another team in the Olympics that China would prefer not to stand out too much and may want to send a signal.

Chinese Taipei.

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