23 February 2019
Liaison Office chief Zhang Xiaoming said Beijing's electoral reform proposal is a 'pretty girl' while netizens said it's a fake election like the Miss Hong Kong contest. Photo: HKEJ,
Liaison Office chief Zhang Xiaoming said Beijing's electoral reform proposal is a 'pretty girl' while netizens said it's a fake election like the Miss Hong Kong contest. Photo: HKEJ,

How pro-Beijing hard sell could backfire

It’s getting a lot more interesting.

On the one hand, Occupy Central and its pro-democracy backers are admitting their popular support is waning. On the other, the government is ratcheting up a public relations campaign to win Hong Kong’s so-called silent majority over to Beijing’s recently announced electoral framework for the next chief executive election.

The hard sell began with a speech by former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa on Wednesday, two days after the proposal was announced by the National People’s Congress.

Tung said Hong Kong people are sensible and patriotic — perhaps the first time pragmatism and love of country were mentioned next to each other in the ongoing raucous political debate.

He called on Hong Kong democrats to set aside their political differences with Beijing to achieve universal suffrage for Hong Kong people in 2017.

For the record, the Tung media event was organized not by the government but by a public relations firm.

Now comes a wave of television ads targeting Hong Kong at large and it’s even a harder sell.

The pitch is built around a catchy slogan (“My vote. Gotta have it”) and a dubious, utterly sexist line made by Liaison Office chief Zhang Xiaoming on Wednesday, comparing the proposal to a “pretty girl” and implying a you’d-better-take-her conclusion.

But as Tung said, Hong Kong people are smart and we agree, so we dare say they will have seen through this naked attempt at brainwashing.

Hong Kong and Beijing obviously see this as a nice, soft approach to win people’s hearts and minds.

And if Occupy Central is right about losing popular support for its hard-line campaign of civil disobedience, the government TV ads might make it easier for the silent majority to back the pro-Beijing camp.

Or it could backfire and drive Hong Kong people into the embrace of Occupy Central.

There’s a touch of irony here.

In the ad campaign, the government is harking back to the “good old days” before the much unloved administration of Leung Chun-ying.

In a series of historical flashbacks, the ad shows how Hong Kong chose its post-colonial leaders — by a small Beijing-backed election committee — and contrasts the exercise with the prospect of direct election by one-man, one-vote in 2017.

If nothing else, it’s a stark and powerful contrast that is not hard to understand by an ordinary citizen.

And by wheeling out Tung, who was Hong Kong public enemy No. 1 before he was forced from office in 2005 as its first chief executive, the pro-Beijing forces are highlighting how far Hong Kong has come.

The idea is not so much to get Hong Kong people to embrace the election proposal as to decimate Occupy Central and the political hardliners into irrelevance.

After all, the real battle is not about the wider population; it’s about a handful of legislators who can make or break the proposal.

All 27 pan-democrats have vowed to vote against the measure which means it won’t pass muster.

The pro-establishment campaign will only harden the pan-democrats’ resolve but in the end, there’s no stopping the government steamroller.

Occupy Central and its supporters will have to build on friendly forces such as the United States, Britain and Japan and turn their campaign into an international issue.

Exactly how they will do that is unclear, but to be sure, the effort will take time, perhaps longer than it will take Hong Kong to reach the 50 years within which it has been guaranteed a high degree of autonomy under a now-controversial agreement between China and Britain.

Related stories:

Miss HK voting, like Beijing election reform, slammed as sham

Politically incorrect: Xinhua unit hits Miss Hong Kong results

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EJ Insight writer

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