In June, British Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote in a parliamentary report that universal suffrage in Hong Kong should give the people a “genuine choice” and a “real stake” in the outcome.
One month later, the parliament’s foreign affairs committee launched an inquiry into Britain’s relations with Hong Kong 30 years after the signing of the Joint Declaration that paved the way for Hong Kong’s 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty.
It invited submissions and recommendations on certain cultural and political issues from the perspective of Britain and Hong Kong.
Not surprisingly, China objected to the inquiry and demanded Britain cancel it, warning it could disrupt Kong’s political reform and damage Sino-British relations.
More pointedly, Beijing warned it will “brook no interference, either directly or indirectly, from Britain or any other external forces”.
Britain decided to continue the exercise, nonetheless, and in a show of pique at the Chinese, the committee will look into Britain’s official position on political and constitutional reform in Hong Kong in relation to universal suffrage, taking note of the wider context of social and economic developments.
That is the backdrop against which Hong Kong democrats have been increasingly looking to Britain for moral support in their fight for more democracy.
The latest to visit London were former chief secretary Anson Chan and democratic icon Martin Lee who met with senior British officials.
The visit highlighted the international dimension of Hong Kong’s political conundrum under an increasingly assertive Beijing, especially in light of its policy on “one country, two systems” which Hong Kong people say is a breach of the Joint Declaration.
Now comes an election reform package from Beijing which rules out any pan-democrat becoming Hong Kong’s next — or future — leader.
The proposal is by no means a done deal. It still requires a two-thirds vote by Hong Kong’s legislature to become law. Given that all 27 pan-democrats have said they will vote against it, the measure is unlikely to pass muster.
Still, Beijing and the Hong Kong government are hailing it as a historic opportunity for Hong Kong people to directly elect their leader by universal suffrage.
But pro-democracy groups are dismissing it as a sham because Beijing has effective control of the election outcome. Just two or three candidates will be chosen by a nomination committee likely to be packed with Beijing loyalists and each aspirant has to have the endorsement of more than half of the committee members.
Details are only now emerging about the election package a day after Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee, briefed Hong Kong officials, politicians and some members of the public.
Meanwhile, critics of the proposal are lining up behind Occupy Central and other pro-democracy groups in “an era of civil disobedience”.
Occupy Central is planning a series of small protests that will culminate with a show of force — a lockdown of the main business and financial district by sit-in protesters.
Pan-democrats could continue to engage Beijing on the ground but it’s time they raised their game a notch by building on Hague’s unequivocal statement on Hong Kong.
As the other signatory to the Joint Declaration, Britain is not a disinterested party to post-colonial events in Hong Kong. It has every right to question whether the spirit and intent of the sacred document is being respected.
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