15 September 2019
Emily Lau (center, right picture) and her Democratic Party colleagues are seen by Beijing as an ideal 'loyal opposition', according to Lau Siu-kai (left). Photo: HKEJ
Emily Lau (center, right picture) and her Democratic Party colleagues are seen by Beijing as an ideal 'loyal opposition', according to Lau Siu-kai (left). Photo: HKEJ

Is the Democratic Party about to fall for Beijing’s charms?

What have we here?

We have been hearing about “loyal opposition” after a meeting last week between Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office deputy director Feng Wei and a group of pan-democrats.

It seems Beijing is trying to establish a credible opposition in Hong Kong with communist characteristics.

The theory is that the communist mandarins in Beijing will tolerate — even encourage — opposition to their anointed Hong Kong administration as long as they’re left in peace.

And by their own reckoning, the Democratic Party fits the bill, although they could very well build their preferred opposition from scratch.

The phrase “loyal opposition” came from Lau Siu-kai, chairman of the National Association of Study on Hong Kong and Macau, who thinks Beijing is trying to woo the opposition camp into becoming Communist Party loyalists.

Lau argues that the Democratic Party has the potential to be the puppet opposition Beijing seeks because of its support for “one country, two systems” and its recognition of the legitimacy of Communist Party rule.

Beijing is thinking long-term even though its immediate objective might be to gauge how Hong Kong people feel about its latest attempt to bring all political parties into line.

“The Democratic Party has solid public support. It has a sense of patriotism and nationalism not seen in other pan-democrats,” Lau told a radio talk show on Monday.

Pan-democrats in general have been less than solid because they have different backgrounds, although they might share the same goals and vision for Hong Kong.

By contrast, the Democratic Party has a Greater China mindset inspired by founder Szeto Wah.

For instance, the party continues to play an important role in the commemoration of the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown.

The Communist Party might be willing to see the June 4 commemoration in Hong Kong, the only place in China where it’s allowed, as a show of patriotism.

But it will not allow the event to be used to encourage nativism, especially in the aftermath of last year’s Umbrella Movement. 

Democratic Party members were relatively low-profile during the campaign, leaving much of the action to student activist groups, the Civic Party and the League of Social Democrats.

Now Beijing is exploiting weakness in the pan-democrat ranks to shake their support base and bolster loyalist candidates in the upcoming local elections.

It’s trying to use the Democratic Party to achieve that goal by turning it against its allies.

The first test comes in November during the district elections.

Pan-democrats will face a slew of young candidates who came of age during last year’s democracy protests.

The result of the vote will influence how Beijing will behave toward local political parties in the future.

But the bottom line is that the Communist Party rules and all other parties are there to play a supporting role.

If the Democratic Party wants to avoid being co-opted to such a perfunctory function, it has to do more than resist Beijing’s charms.

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EJ Insight writer