24 May 2019
Without the participation of Hong Kong's youth, Occupy Central wouldn't have been able to achieve its massive scale. It's now time for these young democrats to take the lead. Photo: Bloomberg
Without the participation of Hong Kong's youth, Occupy Central wouldn't have been able to achieve its massive scale. It's now time for these young democrats to take the lead. Photo: Bloomberg

Let young democrats take the lead

At the end of September, or right before the start of Occupy Central, President Xi Jinping stressed that the “one country, two systems” principle will remain unchanged.

But there has been a new “interpretation” of Xi’s remarks. Zhang Rongshun, vice chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and vice director of the NPCSC’s Basic Law Committee, told a seminar in Shenzhen last Sunday that “Hongkongers still lack national identity” and called for a “re-enlightenment and renewed understanding” of the principle.

What Hongkongers loathe most is the Communist Party’s way of going back on its word. As always, those in the local pro-establishment camp will try to fathom what their masters in Beijing really mean. Some of them may even say that Zhang’s call for re-enlightenment doesn’t contradict Xi’s pledge of no policy changes, and that the two points are actually complementary.

Communist cadres always want to be calling the shots. They regard Hongkongers as good-for-nothing layabouts who must be told what to do. Such an attitude could only further alienate Hong Kong’s youth.

Occupy is the young generation’s open revolt against Beijing and the SAR government. Now it’s become fashionable for politicians to talk about youth affairs. Some believe our youth are being manipulated by evil overseas forces and they must be saved, rectified and guided. Others say it’s just an excess of energy, which they have to vent though street protests. (One even suggests the government should consider organizing masquerades and galas in all districts like the colonial authorities did after the 1967 riots.)

Some comments are even more derogatory: They say the young generation is just a bunch of spoiled brats who need to be taught some hard lessons for them to mature.

Also, officials speak in a tone that suggests they regard the youth as problematic. They never admit they are the source of the youth’s problems.

Eric Chu Li-luan, mayor of the New Taipei City in Taiwan and the only Kuomintang candidate who won the local mayoral elections last month, admitted that the ruling party’s rout is the result of its ignorance of the people’s discontent, especially that of the young people.

Chu’s reflection is in stark contrast to the disdainful remarks made by local politicians, and Hong Kong’s youth have come to realize that the right to a free vote, or its absence, determines the kind of leaders the city will have.

There’s no better example than Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who was handpicked by Beijing and elected by a small circle of Beijing lackeys. Early this month Leung flatly rejected the students’ call for talks with the government, saying there is no common ground for a dialogue. In a democratic country, if a top official has “no common ground for a dialogue” with young people, he will be asked to step down. But obviously Leung doesn’t feel such pressure. Quite the contrary, his unyielding stance and steadfast devotion to Beijing are two reasons why he still keeps his job.

When Leung shut the door for talks, directly elected lawmakers like James Tien Pei-chun visited the students who were on a hunger strike and volunteered to relay their message to the government. Simply put, anyone who needs the mandate to govern won’t turn a deaf ear to the people.

Those high up in the political hierarchy will eventually have to solicit the people’s vote. This is true for any political organization.

The contrast between what is expected of Hong Kong officials and how they currently behave can’t be more obvious, and that is why the youth will have to fight for democracy even harder.

A friend who is a member of a pro-democracy party told me that, until the launch of Occupy, the party’s discussions hadn’t touched on the youth’s aspiration to preserve Hong Kong’s core values and way of life.

But thanks to the Occupy movement, mainstream democrats are now heeding the voice of the youth. Last week, Gary Fan Kwok-wai moved a Legco motion stressing the principle to “put Hong Kong people first” in the formulation of government policies.

This is not enough. Traditional political parties need to do more to win the hearts of youngsters. One fundamental initiative is for older democrats to offer their seats to newcomers who have already proven their capabilities by spearheading the city’s largest social movement in decades.

In the 2016 Legislative Council election, the pan-democratic camp must draw a line. Only those below a certain age can contend for seats. If there is no suitable young candidate from within a party, they can give their full backing to independent youngsters just like Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party did to help Ko Wen-je win Taipei’s top post.

Senior party members can serve as campaign advisers and let young people gain first-hand experience.

You can no longer lead them, you can only embrace them.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 15.

Translation by Frank Chen

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A young protester tries to stop riot policemen from dispersing the rallyists on the night of Sept. 28 when the Occupy campaign started. Photo: Bloomberg

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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