Posted: May 18, 2015
Conservative politicians here along with their moderate pro-democracy counterparts are forever lamenting the lack of “trust” between Beijing and Hong Kong’s democracy movement as a whole. No one is contradicting the assertion. Only both sides should at least be talking about the same thing in order for minds to meet and the desired end achieved. There’s not much point in trusting a shopkeeper to sell you apples on any given day if he doesn’t tell you he might only have oranges for sale instead.
Hong Kong’s demand for universal suffrage is the same. Civic Party legislator Dennis Kwok Wing-hang 【郭榮鏗】paid a visit to Beijing in late April along with his fellow barristers on their regular biennial trip (May 8 post). He surprised everyone when he returned saying that in order to solve the electoral reform deadlock … between Beijing’s August 31, 2014 (8.31) ultimatum and Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations … communication and trust must first be established between Beijing and the democratic camp.
Kwok promises to honor his pledge to veto Beijing’s plan when it comes up for a vote in the Legislative Council, probably next month. But he said once past that hurdle it is essential to establish trust (May 1: Ming Pao Daily, Sing Tao Daily; TVB interview, May 12).
He is right, of course. Only he didn’t go on to say how that trust might be established. Neither do any of the others, whether here or in Beijing, who like to say the same thing. The trust deficit that moderates think they can overcome with dialogue and compromise will probably be better served if they begin by confronting reality instead of trying to skirt around it with polite platitudes and deferential courtesies.
This way of talking is supposed to be laying the groundwork for building trust. But so far it seems only to be sending out confused signals and producing endless inconclusive exchanges punctuated by periodic angry outbursts like the Umbrella/Occupy street blockades last year.
Nothing better illustrates this failure to communicate than the much-advertised opinion piece that appeared in the pro-Beijing press on May 4 (Wen Wei Po, Ta Kung Pao). * And nothing better illustrates the gulf that separates Beijing and Hong Kong’s democracy movement on the matter of political ideals, aims, and the specific arrangements needed to translate them into reality.
BEIJING’S ANSWER TO THE TRUST DEFICIT
Author of this article was Zhang Xiaoming【張曉明】, director of Beijing’s Liaison Office here, but the message comes straight from Beijing party central and can be read as its response to Hong Kong’s current political reform deadlock. Beijing, in this version, is saying exactly what it means and this is no soft fuzzy message about compromise, dialogue, and trust. More like democratic elections for Hong Kong governed by the venerable old communist party principle of democratic-centralism.
Director Zhang is inspired by Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s new doctrine on the power of positive thinking … otherwise known as his iterations on the “four comprehensives” and its corollary about confidence in the Chinese political system, the “Chinese Dream,” and so on. Zhang’s title: “Be Confident in Our Political System, Promote Universal Suffrage with Hong Kong Characteristics.”
He emphasized that the Hong Kong government’s Chief Executive election proposal for 2017 conforms to Hong Kong’s special constitutional status, the special conditions for democratic development here, Hong Kong’s complex social and political environment, and the need to benefit all sectors.
The official proposal is therefore constitutional, democratic, appropriate and moderate. There is no such thing as an “international standard” for universal suffrage. Rather it must conform to the special characteristics of each society and in Hong Kong’s case that means it must be implemented within the context of one-country, two systems. Hence Hong Kong must be confident in an electoral system that is tailor-made for Hong Kong with its own special characteristics.
In other words, he wrote, this election is not just about Hong Kong. It’s also about Beijing, one country with two systems, and the imperative of maintaining national security in both systems for the benefit of the one country.
That means Hong Kongers must not see this election as being just about themselves. It’s also about Beijing’s concept of one country and nothing must be allowed to undermine the integrity of the party-run unitary “socialist system.” The word “socialist” in this context refers not to the economy but to the communist party’s preeminent governing role.
It follows that if Dennis Kwok and many others aim to build trust, they should begin by explaining … for everyone’ benefit … what the moderates’ outreach to Beijing might entail. Presumably, everyone in the democratic camp at least shares the desire to preserve Hong Kong’s inherited rights and freedoms.
So how far should pan-democrats go in setting Beijing’s official heart at ease? What would be enough … when the champions of Xi Jinping’s system dismiss pan-dems as “dissidents” whose demand for rights might bring risks to the concept and reality of “one country” that Beijing could not tolerate (China Daily, May 12).
CONFIDENCE PLUS: A New National Security Law
Nor is Zhang Xiaoming’s mention of national security in an article about election reform mere idle rhetoric. A new national security law 【國家安全法】is in the works and it will specifically mention Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. All are to be held responsible for safeguarding China’s sovereignty and territorial as well as political integrity.
This is being interpreted as a broad hint that Hong Kong must do its duty, as Macau has already done, and implement the Basic Law’s Article 23 mandate to pass legislation that was shelved after the upsurge of popular protest in 2003. The legislation must ban acts of treason, secession, sedition, and subversion against the central government in Beijing, as well as the theft of state secrets and political activities by foreign political organizations (May 8: Ming Pao Daily, South China Morning Post).
There is even a suggestion being floated in Basic Law promotion circles here to establish a procedure whereby the Hong Kong government itself could ask the central government to declare a state of emergency and impose the mainland’s national security laws if Article 23 legislation remains on the shelf. This procedure would soften the dramatic impact of direct central government intervention and is being promoted as a means of preserving Hong Kong’s autonomy (SCMP, May 13).
In fact, it would make intervention easier since it is the same procedure Beijing introduced in 2004, after the big 2003 protest, to tighten Beijing’s control of Hong Kong’s electoral reform process. Beijing’s 2004 decision introduced the “five-step” mechanism whereby the Hong Kong government must first request permission to begin electoral reform. It’s this new maneuver that gave Beijing the procedural authority to issue its 8.31 decision last summer curbing pan-democrats’ aspirations for a “genuine” universal suffrage election in 2017.
TRUST THE VOTERS
The gulf seems unbridgeable. Long ago, when Basic Law drafters had just completed their task, Beijing’s then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, was effusive in his praise. Thanking them for their handiwork, he called the results a “creative masterpiece” (Feb. 17, 1990).
Creative it surely was in bridging the two systems … by using words like “universal suffrage” with double meanings … suitable for pleasing both sides. Unfortunately, it was so successful that everyone could and did read into it what they wanted.
Now the fault lines that drafters so creatively smudged over have reached a break point because the time has come to clarify some important meanings. Besides universal suffrage, Hong Kongers are discovering, for example, that the “autonomy” they thought they had been granted by the Basic law is actually only mainland-style autonomy … meaning autonomy as Beijing choses to define it for any given situation.
Still, the crisis has not yet reached the stage where Beijing is likely to throw caution to the winds, declare martial law, and call out the People’s Liberation Army … which just happens to be headquartered right next door to Hong Kong’s main government buildings, along the freeway that protesters blockaded last year. So there is still time to work this out and the path ahead seems clear even if no one can be sure where it will end.
President Xi Jinping will be the final decision maker. Keen student of party history that he must be given his firm commitment to the communist party’s institutions and traditions, President Xi must know and respect the party’s old mass movement rules. These have, since the 1920s, held that when the wider public is genuinely mobilized and engaged, wrongs can be righted and things can get done that otherwise could not be done. A mobilized mass of voters should count for as much as the old Maoist-style campaigns that gave rise to the party’s mass-line convictions in the first place.
Therefore, if Beijing refuses to revise its 8.31 ultimatum, and if pan-democrats’ vow to veto holds, then the confrontation will carry over through the coming election campaigns for the District Councils this year and the Legislative Council next. Loyalists have already begun campaigning and will do everything they can to win four more seats in Legco. That would give loyalists and their conservative allies the super two-thirds majority necessary to guarantee passage of Beijing’s plan.
If, on the other hand, pan-dems can finally get their many acts together and block the loyalist bid to gain full control of the council, then President Xi will be obliged to give more thought to Hong Kong’s’ latest exercise in voter-based political defiance.
It’s a gamble but it might just work … unless something better comes along first.