16 November 2018
With Carrie Lam just weeks away from being installed chief executive, the usual suspects are buzzing about a 'middle way'. Photo: Reuters
With Carrie Lam just weeks away from being installed chief executive, the usual suspects are buzzing about a 'middle way'. Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong’s ‘useful idiots’ prepare for Carrie

It is now a matter of no more than weeks before the new administration of Carrie Lam will be installed and, yet again, the usual suspects are buzzing around expressing their hopes for the new chief executive to steer a course between the demands of the ultra loyalists and the democratic opposition.

They keep banging on about a middle course but this is a mythical concept with little meaning in Hong Kong politics. We can, however, at least give some credit to the Leung administration for keeping well away from this nonsense and dropping all pretense of being anything other than a hardline enforcer of edicts from up North. Maybe CY Leung’s tone is harsher than that of his predecessors but his mode of government and objectives are little different.

Anyone who thinks that a one-party state will somehow tolerate a liberal government in Hong Kong is living on cloud nine. Yet, the central government’s enforcers, not just in the Liaison Office in Western, but elsewhere, are quite happy to entertain the antics of those who advocate a “middle way” for Hong Kong.

The Soviet dictator VI Lenin had a name for people of this kind: “useful idiots”. They were useful because they had some credibility as independent voices by virtue of not being Communist Party members and they were idiots because they could be manipulated to serve the party’s ends.

Hong Kong’s useful idiots generally end up saying that if only the democratic camp would be “more realistic” and prepared “for compromise”, Beijing would look more benignly on the SAR and tolerate a great level of democracy.

They are even claiming that the setbacks to constitutional change are entirely the responsibility of stubborn democrats. This is a lie that was inconveniently exposed during the recent farce of the chief executive “election”. If the central government’s proposals for reform had been accepted when to put a vote in Legco, this election would not even have taken place because the key part of Beijing’s 2014 plan was to limit participation to candidates securing the support of over half the members of the Election Committee. As Lam was the only candidate to have achieved this level of backing, she would have been the sole candidate.

However, the useful idiots do not even have the decency to be embarrassed by this reality as they pursue the argument that somehow a middle way can be found to bring Hong Kong’s deeply divided society together, and that the alleged middle way invariably involves the democrats giving up their “unrealistic” demands for genuine universal suffrage.

The seemingly reasonable advocacy of moderation has some traction as no one likes to be seen as being unreasonable. However, Hong Kong people are also shrewd and understand that when push comes to shove, the middle way is an illusion; this is manifest in elections when the only successful candidates come from both ends of the political spectrum, not from the middle.

The loyalists are becoming more extreme in their determination to make Hong Kong just another Chinese city, and now mobilize thugs to intimidate democrats. While on the other side, the traditional democrats have, to some extent, been pushed aside by localists and people who believe that the battle for democracy needs to be centered on the streets, not in talk shops.

This polarization of opinion is hardly confined to Hong Kong; the desire for clear and unequivocal politics is sweeping through the United States and many European countries that used to pride themselves on “moderate” politics.

In Hong Kong, things are different because the real government is located in Beijing where a dictatorship rules, and local politics largely consists of finding ways of dealing with this reality. The useful idiots think this can be done by being as meek as possible, hoping that making nice down here will somehow encourage the old men in Beijing to be nice back. No wonder they are indeed useful idiots – VI Lenin must be chuckling from the grave.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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