21 April 2019
Student protesters in Admiralty watch live TV broadcast of government officials' talk with student representatives last week. Photo: Bloomberg
Student protesters in Admiralty watch live TV broadcast of government officials' talk with student representatives last week. Photo: Bloomberg

Amid govt’s empty words, what lies ahead for HK?

Just as expected, the government’s two-hour dialogue with student representatives last Tuesday turned out to be nothing but a waste of time. Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam and her four colleagues uttered a lot of empty words. I wonder if we need such dialogue any more.

When the Chinese legislature handed down its conservative framework on the 2017 chief executive election, it was apparently a slap in the face to Hongkongers who share common aspiration for genuine democracy. Local officials, who should have discharged their duties as middlemen to voice out people’s discontent and oppose such a despotic ruling, instead lost no time lobbying us to “take it first”, in a gesture of political allegiance to Beijing.

The four-point proposal raised by Lam during the talk — 1) explore room for maneuver within the NPC framework such as a liberal composition of the CE candidate nomination committee, 2) future elections beyond 2017 can be further enhanced with more democratic elements, 3) set up a multi-party platform to discuss long-term constitutional development after 2017, and 4) submit a report to the Chinese State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office about the protests — was nothing beyond Beijing’s ruling.

As for composition of the nomination committee, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying hinted shortly after the dialogue that corporate votes within the functional constituency of the current 1200-strong CE election committee — a prototype for the nomination committee — can be replaced by individual votes to enhance transparency.

But that’s still an elaborate trick, because pro-Beijing tycoons and company executives can easily dictate their employees to vote for those from the establishment camp to make sure that Beijing’s mandate can be implemented throughout the entire nomination process. The effectiveness of such a workaround has already been proven during the August pro-Beijing march: a number of company directors and executives reportedly asked employees to sign anti-Occupy petition letters.

The pledge that elections subsequent to 2017 can be enhanced is indeed a renewed call to “take it first”, and people should not be fooled. The reason is obvious: after Beijing successfully introduces a sham universal suffrage in Hong Kong as it wishes, it will never agree to change it in any way after 2017. Promises are meant to be broken.

Given all of these, a multi-party platform on constitutional development after 2017 is just a castle in the air. If Beijing and Hongkongers cannot reach a consensus on the 2017 election, what’s the point of discussing future ones?

And, the SAR government’s report to the State Council is a superficial measure to soothe people’s anger. Beijing has ears and eyes everywhere in the territory and knows too well — may be even better than local officials — about how Hongkongers feel. There are also some suspicious, Putonghua-speaking pedestrians in protest zones taking photos or recording videos of demonstrators. Not to mention that Lam has already emphasized that the report is for Beijing’s reference only.

Thus, people should not waste any time on Lam’s proposal. Instead, they need to focus on the prospects of the movement.

It’s likely that separate protest groups will come up with their own plans for a protracted war. But eventually, if the 2017 election method gets vetoed in LegCo next spring and Occupy Central organizers surrender themselves to the police as they have indicated, Hong Kong’s democratic movement will enter a brand-new phase.

It’s now crystal clear that the so-called “democratic reunification” — a motto advocated by members of the pan-democratic camp that Hong Kong’s democracy can coexist with China’s suzerainty — has turned out to be an out-and-out false belief. Many of them supported reunification with China prior to 1997 but now no one will regard Beijing as a trustworthy party to talk to.

Hong Kong’s democratic development will take a new turn to estrangement and although still politically infeasible, the territory will see a spike in the number of pro-independence groups.

The situation will be similar to that of Tibet, where locals also share their own set of core values (mainly Tibetan Buddhist doctrine) and their pro-independent movements are generally peaceful as well. Overseas Tibetans advocate a self-governing political entity in the region while the umbrella movement has also touched a deep chord among overseas Hongkongers, many of whom emigrated before the handover due to fear of Communist rule, and who support Hong Kong independence.

LegCo will be another battlefield in which pan-democratic camp and pro-Beijing lawmakers will have a showdown on vital political issues and neither side is prepared for even a slightest compromise. The antagonism will also spread to the passing of other bills, paralyzing effective governance. The political landscape will change further in the next decade when many student protesters cast their first ballot in LegCo election.

Democrats in Macau will take a page and probably stage their own sit-ins as the sister SAR faces many similar problems from social inequality and Beijing’s interference that caused stalled constitutional development.

As for Taiwan, it will further distance itself from China as Beijing’s policy towards Hong Kong is perhaps the most vivid example of everything Taiwan should avoid when it comes to its relations with the mainland.

To Taiwan, what can serve as a good reference of alarm is Beijing’s veiled hand through economic means to turn media, business sector, educational institutions and even triads into tools of agitprop to tame Hongkongers. Taiwanese must stay vigilant to Beijing’s sweeteners and keep their independence and core values intact.

This is a translation of Mr. Lian Yizheng’s commentary that appeared in the Oct. 23 issue of the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

Translation by Frank Chen

–Contact us at [email protected]


Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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