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Opinion: Hong Kong and China's bond is stronger than their differences

By Douglas Young, Special to CNN
updated 2:09 AM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
A man carries a Hong Kong colonial flag as part of the commemoration of China's 1989 Tiananmen Square military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, in Hong Kong on June 4, 2014.
A man carries a Hong Kong colonial flag as part of the commemoration of China's 1989 Tiananmen Square military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, in Hong Kong on June 4, 2014.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hong Kong is culturally and politically distinct from other Chinese cities
  • Douglas Young: I believe the majority of Hong Kong people recognizes that Hong Kong cannot exist as an independent country
  • Young: Hong Kong's role in world culture is vital

Editor's note: Douglas Young is the co-founder and creative head of Hong Kong-based lifestyle brand, G.O.D. (Goods of Desire). Young's work is deeply rooted in Hong Kong and through his work, he hopes to inspire future generations of designers to seek inspiration from his native city. Young will appear in the next On China episode on Hong Kong identity, to air at the end of July. For all viewing times and more information about the show click here. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- During my travels to some western countries, there have been occasions when people have asked me where I come from. When some hear that I'm from Hong Kong, they would often say: "So, you are Japanese!"

This has happened so often that I find it more convenient to simply tell them I'm Chinese, rather than explain how Hong Kong's sits in relation to mainland China.

Hong Kong does not enjoy the global familiarity enjoyed by places like New York, Paris or London. The residents of these cities can just say they are from those cities to anyone in the world and there would be little questions asked about their nationality.

Does the fact that the American doesn't mention he is from the United States make him less American? Of course not.

Douglas Young
Douglas Young

One only has to walk down the streets of Manhattan and count the number of American flags to realize that New Yorkers are patriotic Americans.

'Mother China'

In Hong Kong, whenever the Chinese flag and the Hong Kong flag are flown side by side, the Chinese flag is always placed a little higher. This rightly symbolizes the fact that Hong Kong is a city within the mother country of China.

But this should not deny a Hong Kong person the right to explain the difference between their city and other Chinese cities. Those that like to stoke dissent often accuse such behavior as unpatriotic.

It is a fact that Hong Kong is culturally and politically distinct from other Chinese cities. We are under a different political and legal system. We have a unique history of British colonialism. Our tradition of openness and internationalism has provided us with a unique set of circumstances. All in all, the Hong Kong identity is distinctive but one that China recognizes.

It is this difference that has endowed Hong Kong with an important role to play within China in the same way that Shanghai and Beijing have their respective reasons to be.

I believe the majority of Hong Kong people recognizes that Hong Kong cannot exist as an independent country. This is not just because of mere realism and practicality. It is fundamentally because we can readily identify with the traditions we share with our motherland and feel a substantial sense of pride in our ancient history.

Unique identity

Whether or not we place Hong Kong before or after China depends on certain undeniable cultural anomalies. At the end of the day, the bond we have with our fellow countrymen in the mainland is stronger than our differences.

If we can overcome this seeming contradiction and concentrate on celebrating our unique identity, we can fashion Hong Kong to be a place of global relevance and at the same time help China rise as a global player.

Hong Kong is Asia's most culturally diverse city. We enjoy an international level of living standards. Our rule of law and freedom are things we cherish. We are geographically well placed to be Asia's cultural hub. It should be the place where all the world's important cultural events should be staged. In tandem with China's political and economic rise during our lifetime, Hong Kong's role in world culture is vital.

It is important to recognize that it is the soft power of a country that is most appealing the world over. It is the tonic that helps to alleviate tensions that arises from issues such as territorial disputes and tourists behaving badly overseas. Countries that can handle their military, economic and cultural strengths with dexterity are those that are able to punch well above their weight.

I believe the current generation of Chinese leaders are intelligent enough to recognize this fact. Under appropriate circumstances, Hong Kong people should be able to wear all our different hats with confidence and pride.

As Asians, we should even be able to embrace our affinity with fellow Asians. Including the Japanese!

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