Record low number of Hong Kongers call themselves 'Chinese'

HONG KONG - The number of Hong Kong people identifying themselves as "Chinese" has reached a record low, after more than a month of mass pro-democracy demonstrations calling for free elections, a poll has found.

Only 8.9 per cent of Hongkongers called themselves "Chinese" in the survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), the lowest number since the poll began in 1996.

The weeks-long mass democracy protests which have brought parts of the city to a standstill had influenced the vote, said the head of CUHK's journalism school, which carries out the regular "Identity and National Identification of Hong Kong People" survey and published its latest findings Monday.

"Recently people have been exposed to a lot of news about political reforms, voting, elections, and people actually are feeling that part of their identity is being affected by the Chinese authorities," Anthony Fung told AFP.

Protesters are demanding fully free leadership elections for the semi-autonomous city in 2017.

But Beijing has refused to back down on its insistence that candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee, a decision critics say is designed to ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.

"For the past five years people have started to realise that they have to come up with their own future... it seems that some of them may be disappointed that that procedure is not totally in the hands of the Hong Kong people," he added.

The amount of people identifying themselves as Chinese in the vote has dropped consistently since a high of 32.1 per cent in 1997, when the city was handed back to China by Britain.

In the most recent poll, more than a quarter of the 810 interviewed said they were "Hongkongers".

Another 42 per cent said they were primarily "Hongkongers" but were also Chinese.

In 2010, over 16 per cent of participants of the same poll identified themselves as "Chinese", while 12.6 per cent did so in 2012.

The city maintains a semi-autonomous status with its own legal and financial system and civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including the right to protest under the "one country, two systems" model.

But democracy activists say Hong Kong's freedoms have been steadily eroded under Chinese rule.