Hong Kong at a Crossroads
Key Players Look at the Future
Once seen as purely "economic animals," the people of Hong Kong have taken to the streets to protest Beijing's restrictive political reforms. CommonWealth Magazine spoke with the leaders of the demonstrations. Here's what they said.
Key Players Look at the FutureBy Ming-hsien Lee
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 557 )
Change Nomination Threshold
Jasper Tsang is the chairman of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo), a body marked by a host of minor parties and wide differences of opinion. He is also the former chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), Hong Kong's largest pro-Beijing political party. The dual position calls for smooth political tact and even keener political judgment. A veteran of Hong Kong's political scene, Tsang is more concerned about potential ongoing class conflict in the wake of the current Occupy Central movement.
The following are excerpts of Tsang's interview:
The decision of the NPC's Standing Committee caused a lot of disappointment, which is understandable. However, accusations by pan-democratic councilors that Beijing has breached trust and gone back on its word are unfair, because the central government never promised unrestricted universal suffrage but rather a progression, with a broadly representative Nominating Committee nominating candidates.
The central government's position is that the Nominating Committee acts as a watchdog, reducing Hong Kong's risk in three respects. First is the risk of antagonism between Hong Kong and Beijing – candidates who produce conflict and tension between Hong Kong and Beijing cannot be allowed to emerge. Second is the risk of populism, as the business community fears the emergence of a pro-labor, social welfare type candidate. The Nominating Committee can ensure that the business and professional communities account for one-half of the representation. Third, and most important, is averting the risk of a veto, as we cannot elect Hong Kong's top executive under universal suffrage only to have Beijing reject the decision, as that would cause a constitutional crisis.
Choosing Candidates for Oneself
My view is that the nomination threshold should be lowered, and candidates' qualifications eased. Beijing should consider that the universal suffrage the people of Hong Kong envision is about having choices, not drawing a circle and making us choose only from inside it.
The most rational approach would be for everyone to decide to take a step forward. For the 2017 election with universal suffrage, everyone should happily vote and be proud that we produce Hong Kong's first popularly elected chief executive in democratic fashion.
Whether it is Occupy Central or boycotts of classes, when the dust has settled we still have to get back to thinking about how the system will work. Right now, young people not only have questions about elections through universal suffrage but are also unhappy with social inequality. Although these are not issues universal suffrage can resolve, if it weren't for facing the prospect of the 2017 election nobody would be giving serious consideration to administrative and legislative reforms.
Occupy Central More Than a Battle
Chan Kin-man, associate professor of sociology at Chinese University of Hong Kong, once a strong advocate for rational dialogue between Hong Kong and Beijing over democracy, subsequently came into prominent public view as one of the three founders of the Occupy Central movement. Chan has clearly stated his intentions going forward to employ both negotiation and protest tactics on behalf of Hong Kong.
The following is a brief look at Chan's thoughts and expectations:
When you're involved in activism in Taiwan, at most all you have to worry about is getting beaten or avesdropped on. But in Hong Kong we are up against a national security-level response, where you have to worry about the People's Liberation Army and tanks coming after you. This is the difference between democracy and authoritarianism.
I have gone from being an intermediary for communication between Beijing and Hong Kong to an opposing role. This is due to my personality. I like to be reasonable, so I'm willing to sit down and talk about anything when feasible, my bottom line being that it has to stay rational and reasonable. People cannot go back on their word. Once that line is crossed then I go ahead and take action.
My metamorphosis did not come with the Occupy Central movement. Back in 1983 when I was still in school I discovered that Hong Kong's east district needed a hospital. My research was published to broad acclaim in the newspapers, but officials of Hong Kong's British administration told me they would not go along and build a hospital just because I suggested they do so. So following graduation I worked as a social worker for two years, during which time I took advantage of Hong Kong's first district council elections to urge all local candidates to incorporate support for a new hospital into their campaign platforms. After they were elected, they exercised enough leverage through the council to see the hospital through to fruition.
Victory only Possible with Hope
This is why I don't see Occupy Central as a battle, but as a war. As long as people don't give up, that's enough. Beijing should actually be most fearful of the students. They're at the forefront, they're young, and they have a long road ahead of them. This is how Occupy Central can define the significance of this era.
Of course, every crisis is also an opportunity, and it is vital to figure out how to integrate fractured forces together as a whole. At this juncture, participation in civil society is more meaningful than working through the representative legislative system. After the Occupy Central movement is over, we must consider how to increase the force of our resistance, and how to focus the thrust of our negotiating power.
A Fight Needed to Keep Hong Kong Free
Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) member Emily Lau, a former broadcast journalist, is the first female councilor representing Hong Kong's Democratic party. She is further distinguished as the leader of the largest party in the "opposition" camp, which advocates such universal values as democracy, equal opportunity, and human rights. Here she offers her analysis of the difficulties encountered by opposition forces in the Legislative Council and her stance on legislative reforms:
I am all for young people boycotting classes and occupying Central. They are society's future, and I support their expression of independent thinking and respect their views.
The democratic alliance is up against a difficult climate in Hong Kong's political realm, because although we can win the majority of the votes in direct elections for councilors, we can never become the majority party due to the functional constituency arrangement. This relegates us to acting as a critical one-third minority watching over the passage of legislation, which has led people to describe us as "spoilers."
Our objective for the current political reform legislation is for the people of Hong Kong to have universal political rights, meaning not just the right to vote but also universal and equal rights to stand for election. Election bills cannot have unreasonable restrictions, and voters must have real choices.
I am well aware that some people are inclined toward compromise, and some simply have never believed that one person, one vote was possible. Still others do not understand why we still want to fight for democracy when Hong Kong is one of China's richest and freest cities. I can appreciate these views, since the people of Hong Kong have never enjoyed a democratic system. They care about freedom, the rule of law and clean government, but often overlook that only by fighting for it can we safeguard Hong Kong's freedom; without that struggle, we might have no freedom at all.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman