Many Hong Kong people are coming slowly to a reluctant acceptance of the deal offered by Beijing for the process of electing their Chief Executive in 2017 and the realization that they will never have a free choice while the Communist Party remains in power.
After months of deliberation, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress ruled on Aug. 31 that a committee similar to the 1,200 who chose the 2012 candidates will select two to three candidates to be submitted to the vote of all the electors in 2017. To be chosen, a candidate must receive at least 50 percent of the votes of the committee members.
“The Communist Party will not give way,” said Leung Gin-chi, a factory worker. “In Beijing in 1989, it used the army to kill students and workers in order to remain in power. It would do the same thing again. We must not allow the situation to deteriorate to that point. They have many soldiers in Hong Kong.
“I oppose the method of choosing the CE in 2017 and support the Democrats in their objectives. But I do not want to put the economy and stability of Hong Kong at risk,” he said.
Another man, Wong Lam, took the same point of view. “The Communist Party is ruthless. They betrayed everyone — Chiang Kai-shek, the Americans, the Soviets, the intellectuals and many of their own members. They will do anything to keep power, including the use of the army.
“I wonder if some of the radicals are actually working for them, with the mission of provoking chaos and disorder in Hong Kong, so that they can interfere and do whatever they want — like sending a party chief here, as they do with all cities and provinces. So we must remain calm and pragmatic,” he said.
“The reality is that, as long as the Communist Party remains in power, Hong Kong will not have a free election. Its legitimacy does not come from popular election. So it cannot allow people in one city in China to choose their leader freely. If it’s going to be allowed in Hong Kong, why not in Guangzhou or Shanghai?” he said.
Leung and Wong supported continued protest against Beijing, in the form of marches and demonstrations, but only those that were approved and did not disrupt normal life and business. They should be held on weekends or public holidays.
They did not think that many people would take part in a movement to occupy Central during business hours: to do so, the vast majority would have to leave their jobs and risk being absent for an unknown period. University students are the most probable participants.
Another factor is the knowledge that the democracy movement does not have substantial support from abroad, even Britain, which was the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong in December 1984.
Nervous of discouraging Chinese investment and capital flow, the British government has remained silent since the NPC decision. Even those members of parliament and senior figures who have spoken out admit that London has no leverage over Beijing.
How the world has changed since 1984. While Britain has slipped to second-rank status, with a declining military and high government debt, China has become the world’s second largest economy, with US$4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves.
For taxi driver Lao Guok-ming, the key issues are jobs, housing and pay. “If I went to occupy Central, I would lose wages. I cannot afford to do that. What my family needs is earn enough so that my children can buy a house and raise their families.
“We cannot do anything to jeopardize the economy of Hong Kong. If the protests went out of control, that would badly affect the city’s tourism and business. Would foreign companies and visitors still want to come? We cannot take that risk,” he said.
Tang Hing, who runs a small business selling incense sticks, said he was neutral on the Occupy Central issue. “I respect both points of view. For me, the biggest headache is housing prices and rents. I have a girlfriend but she will not marry me because I do not have an apartment. I earn too much to qualify for public housing. Then the influx of money from the mainland is pushing up commercial rents, making it very difficult for people like me to find space we can afford. The big conglomerates are taking over.
“I ask if Occupy Central can solve these housing issues. I do not think so,” he said.
“Hong Kong people talk a lot but, in the end, are practical. They are not jihadis who will sacrifice themselves for a cause and be given the 12 virgins waiting for them in heaven. They see the unequal balance of power as it is. They will accept the NPC decision, reluctantly.”
The writer is a Hong Kong-based journalist and author.
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