Emotions ran high as Hong Kong legislators opened debate on a controversial electoral reform package on Wednesday.
Supporters and opponents made last-ditch efforts after extensive campaigns to influence public opinion.
(In the end, the measure was roundly rejected, with 28 votes against eight in favor of the bill after most of its supporters walked out.)
As if these were not enough drama, police smashed a bomb plot on Monday that recalls conspiracies such as the Gunpowder Treason Plot, a failed assassination attempt on England’s King James in 1605, or the Reichstag Fire, an arson attack on the German parliament building in Berlin in 1933.
One can’t help feeling that worse things are about to happen.
The British colonial authorities didn’t bother with so-called “desinicization” of Hong Kong.
Rather, they gave way to local customs and did not force people to spurn Chinese history, culture, religion and the like.
Under the British, Hong Kong earned a place on the global map as a prosperous metropolis unequalled in any Chinese society.
China’s rapid rise as a global power and its growing ambitions have had a negative effect on local politicians and the business elite.
They have become Beijing’s lackeys to promote its political agenda in Hong Kong including a controversial roadmap to the 2017 chief executive election.
Young Hong Kong people see such moves by Beijing as a bad omen, especially after it issued a white paper last year in which it asserted full control and authority over Hong Kong in contravention of “one country, two systems”.
Their concerns, dismissed as unrealistic and doomed, remain unanswered by Beijing and their own government.
What’s worse, they are increasingly alienated by a government that is not above questionable tactics.
Their disaffection has been used as an excuse by so-called “localists” to push separatism.
That used to be a pipe dream. Now, the notion of Hong Kong independence has entered the real world.
Secessionists are a minority but in a time of globalization and social networking, their message may be catching on.
Although it might take a long time before they hit world headlines and begin to rattle China, it cannot be completely ignored.
It has only been three years into Leung Chun-ying’s administration and we’re already seeing a precipitous decline in social cohesion.
Leung’s style of governance has led to increased public grievances and exacerbated political and social tensions.
And continued bickering over constitutional reform has overshadowed the historic significance of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty.
The government’s response has been to exaggerate issues and stir up disputes, resulting in a crippling polarization of society.
When it became clear in public opinion polls that more people were opposed to the election reform proposal, the government discredited the surveys, saying they had been manipulated.
I wonder if Beijing also thinks that way, so that it simply ignores public sentiment as long as it has a loyalist at the helm.
We have already seen that in Leung.
The result of the voting on the election bill is no longer relevant to the future of Hong Kong’s democracy.
If it is passed, we will all have our shameful share of the big swindle. If it’s voted down, it merely reaffirms what we’ve been saying all along — we prefer nothing to something fake.
Rejection of the bill won’t lead us back to the right track either, and the Hong Kong government will simply continue with its naked lies about freedom, democracy and universal suffrage.
Life will go on but the years to come may not be the kind of future we want.
The odds of seeing a truly democratic Hong Kong are tremendous. And we may be seeing the last of Hong Kong as we know it — stable and prosperous — as we stagger into an even more uncertain future.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 17. It was written before the Legco vote on the election bill.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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