“Arbitrariness of power” has become a popular term in China these days. It is indeed a far more vivid and high-level term than “autocracy” to use in describing politics in the country.
The ongoing campaign against corrupt Communist Party cadres, which has taken the entire country by storm, is an attempt to curb this “arbitrariness of power” among officials through, ironically, the willful use of power by the supreme leaders in Beijing.
After the handover, this mainland-style “arbitrariness of power” has become increasingly widespread in Hong Kong, posing a threat to the long-standing legal and administrative systems left behind by the British.
The British colonial government often exercised restraint in its use of power and allowed Hong Kong to develop into a free and orderly society that treasures individual rights and self-determination.
In British culture, arbitrary power is a negative term. In Chinese tradition, absolute power of the ruler reigns supreme, and under the concept of collectivism, the individual basically doesn’t have any role, let alone rights or emotions.
The authority of the supreme leader is unquestionable, and everyone is supposed to be a loyal subject under heaven. Applying this concept, what Beijing has been doing after 1997, especially in the wake of the July 1st march in 2003, is simply trying to turn Hong Kong people from being self-conscious citizens into loyal subjects.
But if Beijing leaders want to win the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people and achieve a “full-scale” return to the motherland, using power won’t be the ideal way.
Thirty years ago when China was just opening up, mainland officials often asked, “How come capital won’t flee the territory if funds are allowed to come and go freely?”
In fact, money flows in precisely because people can take it out whenever they want.
Likewise, Hong Kong people won’t be willing to return to the motherland wholeheartedly unless they are allowed to make their own judgment or decision.
Forcing Hongkongers to identify themselves with mainland values by means of an executive fiat will only lead to more resistance and repulsion.
The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 16.
[Chinese version 中文版]
Translation by Alan Lee
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