25 October 2016
Marchers hold up a banner that says  "Don't trust the government" during Wednesday's march. Photo: HKEJ
Marchers hold up a banner that says "Don't trust the government" during Wednesday's march. Photo: HKEJ

Is the July 1 march still relevant after recent events?

It’s time to get a fresh perspective on the July 1 march.

The march emerged as a mass movement in 2003 after Hong Kong people took to the streets in great numbers to oppose a proposed national security law, forcing the government to shelve it.

For the most part, it has been an annual ritual by the Civil Human Rights Front featuring a parade of pan-democrats and people who don’t recognize the rule of the Communist Party in Hong Kong.

But things have changed, especially after the Legislative Council crushed a Beijing-inspired election reform bill last month.

That was by far the single most powerful rebuke by Hong Kong to Beijing and the clearest expression of its political sentiment.

So, is there still a point in dramatizing these feelings in slogans and marches?

To be sure, society will be split on this question but the fact is there’s a compelling reason to move on.

That means engaging in what limited democracy we have, with a clear grasp of issues surrounding 2047 when China resumes full and incontestable sovereignty over Hong Kong.   

Also, it means providing strong and effective oversight of the political process and of individual politicians.

Young people, who have the most at stake in Hong Kong’s constitutional development, should be encouraged to vote.

Hongkongers, in general, have not been active in elections. The average turnout has been 60 percent or less.

But only 59 percent of qualified voters between 18 and 30 are registered, fewer than those 50 and above at 78.8 percent.

It’s not difficult to understand why young voters are not too excited about elections.

Most believe that their vote makes no difference in a political system in which there are no real choices.

In the extreme, they may not recognize the government at all.

Such a mindset hinders Hong Kong’s ability to deal with any attempt by Beijing to openly intervene in its affairs sooner rather than later.

State-run People’s Daily is warning that if Hong Kong people don’t accept China’s authority, constitutional development won’t move forward.

In a commentary apparently geared to a world audience, it accused Hong Kong people of “turning a blind eye to the ‘one country’ part of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle”.

Beijing did promise Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy but the present crop of Chinese leaders led by President Xi Jinping has decided to put aside “two systems” in favor of China’s own development.

That undermined the uniqueness of Hong Kong and reduced it to a piece in Beijing’s geopolitical chess game with Southeast Asia, the United States and the European Union.

But Hong Kong people, especially the younger generation, cannot rely on their foreign friends to fight for their own autonomy. They should call upon themselves and each other.

That’s the importance of participating in local affairs.

With social media, it’s easier and faster to express their views and be an effective public watchdog.

A good example is the case of a pro-Beijing district councilor who was called out for misusing public money on a Quarry Bay rain shelter.

The news first appeared on a Facebook community page and the poster used it to pressure other district councilors to act on the matter.

Is this such a big deal? Probably not.

But the incident showed how the public and individual citizens can be a force to reckon with in monitoring the conduct of pro-Beijing politicians.

The more engaged young people are, the more effective they can be in ensuring Beijing loyalists don’t mess up Hong Kong.

It’s a small step, but at this stage in the run-up to 2047, it’s a leap for Hong Kong people.

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EJ Insight writer

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