Posted: July 20, 2012
Clashes and controversies surrounding the July First inauguration of Hong Kong’s new chief executive on the 15th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule have continued non-stop ever since. Pro-democracy protestors remain on the offensive and their opponents have resigned themselves to a seamless transition from one campaign to another. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who planned to hit the ground running, now accepts that he will not be able to begin work in earnest until after the Legislative Council election on September 9 … probably many months after.
THE FIRST 20 DAYS
The police are still under fire for their heavy-handed security arrangements during President Hu Jintao’s visit and mis-managed crowd control arrangements afterward (July 5 post). Secondary school students are increasingly agitated at the prospect of new compulsory political studies courses. And Chief Executive Leung immediately discovered that so many people were so angry over so many issues that after three weekends of intermittent chaos, his promised community outreach town hall meetings have been suspended until further notice. But that was only the beginning.
One of Leung’s new top-level appointees had to resign within two weeks of being sworn in on July First. An incomplete vetting process failed to uncover his unorthodox use in the 1980s of a civil servants’ rent subsidy allowance and ex-Secretary for Development Mak Chai-kwong is now under arrest by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission against Corruption. At midnight on July 17, the four-year term of the current Legislative Council ended without lawmakers voting up or down on the Chief Executive’s plans for more government offices and officers to implement his ambitious agenda. Even worse, Democratic Party chairman and erstwhile Chief Executive election candidate Albert Ho has applied for a judicial review. He wants to ascertain whether Leung violated Hong Kong’s strict election rules by lying about the “unauthorized building works” on his property. If so, his election could (theoretically) be declared invalid fueling rumors (all unsubstantiated) that Beijing has given him 100 days to shape up or ship out. Much ado about nothing … perhaps … but pan-democrats are now in election campaign mode and every protest might mean more votes won on September 9.
Any response from Beijing will also come after September 9 for fear of doing harm to loyalist candidates who are quietly laying the groundwork for anticipated major gains. But in the meantime, pro-Beijing commentators are also laying the groundwork for Beijing’s anticipated determination to hold its forward lines of advance and push ahead as planned. Toward this end they are focusing on President Hu Jintao’s speech addressed to Hong Kong and delivered at CY Leung’s swearing-in ceremony.
WHAT PRESIDENT HU SAID ON JULY FIRST
With so much else going on that day, Pres. Hu’s speech was largely ignored as just another exercise in Beijing-style hype about the unique “one-country, two-systems” experiment, brilliantly conceived, successfully executed, and so on. One writer said something more, however, and for once Lau Nai-keung [Liu Naiqiang 劉迺強] set himself apart from the others with a rare admission of the experiment’s transitory nature. Lau began his political life in the 1980s at the other end of the spectrum soon after the British dropped their restrictions on open politicking here. But before long he moved across the dividing line, accepted appointment to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in 1987, and has never looked back. With a convert’s zeal, he frequently outdoes other loyalist writers in the vitriol he heaps upon his one-time friends and their successors.
The one-country, two-systems formula as understood and practiced today is “not tenable,” he wrote in a China Daily op-ed on July 12. That was why “signs of breakdown” were occurring daily. In other words, the formula is not a static solution to be maintained as is for an uncertain period of indefinite duration. It is an “evolving” relationship that can only be understood “dynamically” as an interaction between contradictory Hong Kong and mainland interests. Lau hailed Hu’s speech as a “new paradigm” for finally acknowledging that tensions and problems must be confronted and worked through. Lau’s jibe at Hong Kong people who “commonly choose to ignore” such matters could also be read as a backhanded swipe at mainland leaders for having failed to acknowledge until now that Hong Kong’s 1997 one-country, two-systems reunification formula was never meant to be static or permanent.
The Chinese version of Lau’s article accentuated the “dialectical” relationship with a title illustrating if nothing else why tensions are rising among students, teachers, and parents ahead of the new compulsory “national education” curriculum’s introduction. “It Is Necessary to Earnestly Study the Important Speech of Chairman Hu Jintao,” read the headline (Wen Wei Po, July 11), reminding everyone that the old catechism routines remain a fundamental feature of mainland political life. In this version, Lau began by admonishing the Hong Kong media for its custom of not printing the full text of important speeches, selecting instead only a few key easy-to-read points, and reinforcing the public’s erroneous assumptions about one-country, two-systems.*
What had been ignored was what was different, namely, what Pres. Hu made a point of emphasizing before the four familiar points about prosperity, stability, and so on. He had begun by stressing that the “fundamental goal” of the central government’s policies for Hong Kong is to “safeguard state sovereignty, security and development interests and to ensure long-term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong. This is the core requirement and basic objective of practicing ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong.” We also need to be mindful of the “deep-seated problems and challenges in society,” he continued, saying he hoped Hong Kongers would “work harder in the following four areas.”
These were the four familiar themes. But what was also new and ignored by Hong Kong’s media were the growing “dialectical tensions” that Hu wove into his narrative: (1) Harmony and stability must be achieved for all the diverse sectors of society but predicated on patriotism. (2) The rule of law was one of Hong Kong’s “core values,” but the Basic Law has “supreme status” in Hong Kong’s legal system so “it is essential to put into practice each and every provision of the Basic Law.” (3) Hong Kong must enhance its economic competitiveness internationally and an important way to do this is to promote even closer economic ties with the mainland. (4) Human resources must be strengthened with priority given to patriotism and “outstanding young potential political leaders in particular.”
There is of course a good reason why Hong Kong’s mainstream media glossed lightly over Hu’s message. The public is not in the habit of reading such political texts, which is one reason why the pro-Beijing press has the lowest circulation in town. But it doesn’t really matter whether they read a text verbatim or not because people see the reality every day in growing mainland pressures on all the four counts, which are contributing to the new upsurge of protest registered on June Fourth and July First (June 20 and July 5 posts). There could be no sharper contrast than the one drawn between Hu’s message and the young activist who concluded his mild-mannered Synergynet forum on June 30 with a declaration that Beijing should back off and let Hong Kong manage its own affairs, as promised before 1997, minus mainland interference (July 5 post).
Lau Nai-keung was nevertheless right to admit that the current situation is untenable and that the “two systems” relationship is evolving — even if he didn’t go on to draw the obvious conclusion, namely, that the two systems are incompatible and current pressures to force a merger are making Hong Kong ungovernable.
If everyone had been honest enough to admit at the start that one-country, two-systems was only a transitional design-of-convenience preparatory to full-scale mainland-ization, the transition to Chinese sovereignty would probably not have gone so smoothly. But at least the public would have been forewarned and could have begun building its defenses more realistically against the pressures currently bearing down. Now there is little they can do except try to maintain their demo-a-day routines and hope the number of feet-on-the-ground is occasionally enough to induce concessions from Beijing. Real solutions are difficult to foresee given Beijing’s determination to proceed toward full integration and on one point at least Lau Nai-keung was far off the mark. Diligent political study habits are not going to reduce tensions any time soon.**
* President Hu Jintao’s July 1, 2012 Hong Kong speech, full text, Chinese — Wen Wei Po, Hong Kong, July 2, 2012; English — http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2012-07/01/c_131687721.htm . Compare the tone of his 2007 speech: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2007-07/02/content_5425058.htm
** For the most authoritative admonition to study Pres. Hu’s July 1, 2012 Hong Kong speech, see the essay by Peng Qinghua in No. 14 of the official mainland journal Seeking Truth (Qiu Shi 求是 ), reprinted in Wen Wei Po, July 17, 2012. Peng heads the central government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong.