24 April 2019
These activists will not be easily swayed by misleading analogies. Laura Cha just made them more determined to continue their fight for democracy. Photo: AFP
These activists will not be easily swayed by misleading analogies. Laura Cha just made them more determined to continue their fight for democracy. Photo: AFP

Who are the real slaves: Hong Kong people or Beijing loyalists?

Executive councilor Laura Cha has opened a new front in the battle for the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people by comparing them to black slaves in 19th century America.

She wanted to make the case for acceptance of Beijing’s proposed electoral reform by telling Hong Kong people to take it and gradually improve on it.

Fair enough. But why the black slave analogy?

Granted the blacks did not get to vote in the US until after 100 years since their emancipation, how does that apply to the Hong Kong situation?

Except for suggesting that the democratic process takes time, the comparison is utterly baseless. There’s nothing to compare our circumstances with those of the black slaves. Period.

If Cha had hoped to unify the so-called silent majority, she might have alienated it by insulting all Hong Kong people.

Where has she been all this time?

Just to refresh her memory, Deng Xiaoping never compared Hong Kong people to slaves even when they were under a colonial master.

When talks on the handover of sovereignty began in the 1980s, Deng told Hongkongers to prepare for a system in which they would enjoy a high degree of autonomy.

That came to be known as “one country, two systems”. Governance would be on the basis of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong”.

But in the past few months, Beijing shook the foundation of that system, first with a white paper that says the central government is the source of Hong Kong’s autonomy, and then with an election framework that gives it control of the process of selecting Hong Kong’s future leaders.

These and a host of other political and social issues are at the core of the street protests that entered a second month this week.

That is the background of Cha’s unfortunate analogy.

It’s no surprise that her comment is a reiteration of Beijing’s oft-repeated theme: no deal on election reform.

It would be tempting to call her a slave to that thinking but civil society will not stoop so low.

But in the wake of the sacking of legislator James Tien from China’s top political advisory body Wednesday for speaking out against Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, it would be fair to say that Cha and other Hong Kong officials are on notice to toe the line.

Still, the student protesters and pro-democracy groups cannot be easily fooled by misleading examples to convince them to give up the fight.

Instead of muddling the issues, officials in Hong Kong and Beijing should rethink the election reform proposal.

Recently released documents from Britain’s National Archives suggest that beginning in the 1950s, the colonial government repeatedly sought to introduce popular elections in Hong Kong but abandoned the idea under pressure from Beijing.

The documents, part of diplomatic dispatches requested by reporters from two Hong Kong newspapers, reveal that Chinese leaders were so opposed to the prospect of a democratic Hong Kong they threatened an invasion.

In addition to confirming that China’s opposition to a democratic Hong Kong began almost 50 years earlier than was commonly known, the documents, coupled with published accounts of former colonial officials, also highlight how China’s vehemence intensified in the early 1980s as the two sides began discussing Hong Kong’s future.

In the early 1990s, when Chris Patten, the last colonial governor, began aggressively supporting limited elections, China’s opposition became more openly strident.

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EJ Insight writer

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