Posted: May 6, 2013
Martin Lee’s successors face many challenges as they go about their work of democratic institution-building. Re-designing the Chief Executive Election Committee means confronting not only the interests of Hong Kong’s major established power players but the ideas being used to stoke popular passions as well. Hence the new anti-universal suffrage campaign (April 18 post) also has aging champions and young successors, except that in this crowd it’s some of the old-timers who are playing the role of flame throwers. They might be ignored as blasts from the revolutionary past … if only their message was not inspiring a new generation of patriotic vigilantes … and if only the message did not derive from the current mainland narrative about Hong Kong’s political past, present, and future.
PAST GRIEVANCES AND “EVIL REMNANTS”
To make a long story short: Hong Kong is a hotbed of subversive Western influence. It lurks everywhere and is manifested in many ways. This is a favorite theme of Ng Hong-mun [ 吳康民 ]. He was among those who wanted to be known as “traditional leftists” just after 1997, in order to distinguish themselves from latter-day converts. Now in his mid-80s, Ng is a lifelong loyalist; former headmaster of a patriotic school (the British allowed some to exist); and long-time appointed delegate to the National People’s Congress before 1997, when those representing Hong Kong were attached to the delegation of neighboring Guangdong province. He remains active in retirement and uses his Ming Pao Daily column to remind everyone of the one true way.
Ng threw himself into the anti-universal suffrage campaign with his usual flair declaring at one forum that radicals had taken over Hong Kong’s democracy movement and he was very pessimistic about the outcome. No good could come of it. Beijing has the right to decide who should and should not be Chief Executive, he said. Hong Kong voters can’t just elect whoever they want although they would if they could. Western standards about universal and equal voting rights do not apply here because Hong Kong is not an independent entity as its Basic Law constitution makes abundantly clear (Ming Pao, Apple, Wen Wei Po, all April 7).
Of Martin Lee’s abortive Chief Executive election proposal (May 2 post), Ng repeated the rationale circulating among patriotic pundits that Lee’s idea was not something he came up with on his own. “For sure it was the result of discussion among some pro-democracy leaders and probably especially there were behind-the-scenes international backers pushing him to send up a trial balloon” (Ming Pao, April 15). But then Ng really got into the spirit of things and for him that meant reverting to old-style revolutionary campaign mode.
Ng Hong-mun used his Ming Pao Daily column (April 23) to accuse the British of nurturing undercover “backbone elements” or a kind of fifth-column among Hong Kong’s civil servants and the business community. They were continuing to stir up all kinds of trouble … part of the Western conspiracy to block China’s rise. He actually began with a jibe at the Americans but this time he was aiming elsewhere.
The sun may have long-since set on the British Empire, wrote Ng, but it would be a “big big mistake” to think their influence here was over and done with. More important than their trade, finance, and property interests, was the personnel they had trained and nurtured and left behind … in the manner of the British internal and external intelligence agencies MI-5 and MI-6. British influence had thus penetrated the community to remain hidden at many levels, so that “in every big Hong Kong political event their shadows can always be seen.”
He digressed to recount some of the patriotic community’s grievances from the old days when the British kept “files” on everyone, handy stores of information that could be pulled out and used against people at will. He said this practice, learned from the British, continued. He mentioned one of current Chief Executive CY Leung’s appointees who had to resign within days of his appointment after an old transgression from the 1980s mysteriously came to light. That was the old British file system at work, being used by CY Leung’s enemies to discredit him.
Most of the hidden operatives remained undercover but some were known. Ranked first in Ng’s tiered echelon of provocateurs was retired civil servant Anson Chan [ 陳方安生 ] who had occupied the number two position in Hong Kong’s government, second to the Governor and the Chief Executive, before and after 1997. She was now number one among the “evil remnants” [ 餘孽 ] of British influence. Under a barrage of similar criticism, she took early retirement in 2001 and has since joined the pro-democracy camp.
Ng then took aim at the pro-business Liberal Party and claimed it too was perpetuating the evil influence. Otherwise why would its Election Committee members have caused trouble by casting blank ballots rather than vote for CY Leung in the March 2012 Chief Executive election? There were many more, he wrote, less visible, third and four echelon types, lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right political moments to show their true colors (Ming Pao Daily, April 23; Wen Wei Po, April 24).
Ordinarily such allegations come only from pro-Beijing media sources. But in the spirit of letting everyone have their say, others now host patriotic columns … along with the rebuttals. Ming Pao’s editors couldn’t resist adding up the ages of the three principals in this altercation: a total of 230 years among them for Ng, Anson Chan, and Liberal Party founder Allen Lee Peng-fei [李鵬飛 ]. Chan said it was a “great pity that 16 years after the return to Chinese sovereignty such prejudiced views still exist.”
Allen Lee, being Hong Kong’s most loquacious retired politician, wrote a column of his own. He had featured in Ng’s diatribe without being named. Thinking him to be a sympathetic figure, Beijing had tapped Lee for the honor of membership in Hong Kong’s post-1997 National People’s Congress delegation. He didn’t last long, however, and has since also left the Liberal Party to become a (moderate) democrat. Ng wrote that despite Beijing’s best efforts to befriend them, Liberal Party members had not returned the favor.
Lee reminded “old Mr. Ng” that when Governor Youde invited him (Lee) to join the Executive Council in 1985, special approval had to come from London because the position required a British passport, which he did not have or want. He said the accusations against the Liberal Party were unfair and he knew them to be inaccurate. Ditto those against Anson Chan. Lee signed off with a rousing: “Democracy, the rule of law, freedom, and human rights are Hong Kong’s true core values. We don’t want false democracy … and whoever wrecks Hong Kongers’ core values will be the real sinner for a thousand years” (Ming Pao, April 24). The “sinner” dig came from Beijing’s 1990s polemic against the last British governor for his unauthorized political reform project.
Strong words but the tedious task of institution-building remains. Allen Lee has just joined Anson Chan in relaunching her political reform think tank, now called “Hong Kong 2020.” They will be working on ideas for the 2016/17 Legislative Council and Chief Executive elections, and the ultimate goal of a universal suffrage Legco election in 2020.
As for Ng Hong-mun, he has been steeled in so many revolutionary struggles that a few singed whiskers and age-ist putdowns are unlikely to faze him … unless someone higher up decides that the old-style polemics don’t work very well here. Determined to have the last word, he wrote again, answering back to say that Allen Lee had misrepresented the argument. Not all pre-1997 civil servants are evil remnants, only a few. They can be identified by their performance … how they behave at critical junctures … and whether they are patriotic or inclined to “stab you in the back.” Such things might be beyond Allen Lee’s comprehension but they are “as bright as snow in the eyes of the masses” (Ming Pao, April 25).