20 February 2019
Zhang Dejiang’s praise of Macau could be interpreted as a soft warning to Hong Kong. Photo: CNSA
Zhang Dejiang’s praise of Macau could be interpreted as a soft warning to Hong Kong. Photo: CNSA

No need to be afraid in face of Beijing’s intimidation

Last week, the chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, Zhang Dejiang, paid a visit to Macau, during which he praised the SAR government for having “successfully and accurately” implemented “one country, two systems” and the Basic Law since the city’s return to China in 1999.

As the ancient Chinese saying goes: “pointing at the mulberry while cursing the locust tree”, Zhang’s words were apparently intended not for the Macau public but for the people of Hong Kong, who, he obviously thinks, have been doing a poor job in this regard.

The fact that Zhang was explicitly holding Macau in high regard while implicitly putting down Hong Kong at the same time speaks volumes about what Beijing means by “successfully and accurately” implementing “one country, two systems”, which is as follows:

1. Beijing can exercise its direct and de facto control over the affairs of the Special Administrative Region through the SAR administration.

2. There is never such a thing as “checks and balances” in the philosophy of Beijing, with the legislature and the judiciary being merely the governing tools supporting the executive branch.

3. Economic development should be given overwhelming priority under all circumstances and there shouldn’t be any dispute in society.

4. Patriotic education must be carried out fully in schools.

5. The SAR should enact Article 23 of the Basic Law as soon as possible.

However, while Zhang was praising the Macau administration under Chief Executive Fernando Chui, he might have forgotten that things were actually not all that hunky-dory under the Chui administration, and the people of Hong Kong are not alone in having mounting grievances against their own government.

In fact, in May 2014, a popular campaign against a controversial bill proposed by Chui’s government on retirement protection for chief government officials took Macau by storm, eventually resulting in the withdrawal of the bill.

Under the proposal, the Chief Executive of Macau and other chief officials would be entitled to fat and juicy retirement benefits, and the CE himself would be granted immunity from criminal prosecution while in office.

However, much to Chui’s surprise, the bill provoked fierce public backlash because many citizens were dismayed at the fact that their own government leaders were proposing a law to give themselves special privileges.

To express their anger over the bill, more than 20,000 Macau citizens took to the streets (let’s not forget the total population of Macau is only 500,000). At the height of the campaign, as many as 7,000 angry protesters surrounded the Legislative Council building and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the bill.

The 2014 mass movement in Macau, which eventually ended with the triumph of the people, was reminiscent of the massive July 1 rally in Hong Kong in 2003.

The July 1 rally raised the political awareness of an entire generation of Hong Kong people and opened a new chapter in the history of our pro-democracy movement. More importantly, it planted the seeds of democratic aspirations in the minds of the public and paved the way for the Occupy Movement 11 years later.

The 2014 popular campaign in Macau may also turn out to be a watershed in the city’s history and could also pave the path for another even more massive resistance movement in the days ahead.

Macau might be business as usual right now on the surface, but there could be an undercurrent of mounting grievances and discontent with the current government among the public, and it could just be a matter of time before those grievances finally reach their tipping point and lead to another massive resistance movement.

If Zhang’s words could be seen as a mild warning for Hong Kong, or the so-called “carrot”, then what Wang Zhenmin, director of the legal department of Beijing’s Liaison Office, said recently, might amount to a “stick”.

At an event to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the promulgation of the Basic Law, Wang warned that if the people of Hong Kong continue to stress “two systems” and ignore “one country”, and even allow separatism to go unchecked, Beijing will be forced to take decisive action to preserve national unity and security by revoking “two systems”.

If that scenario took place, he added, all Beijing would lose would be face, but Hong Kong would lose everything.

Zhang’s and Wang’s remarks were aimed at intimidating the people of Hong Kong and bringing us into line. However, I believe the people of Hong Kong, and Macau as well, have no need to be afraid.

All we need to do is stay the course in standing up to autocracy within the system by gaining as many seats as possible in our legislature and persevere with our pro-democracy movement outside the system.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 15

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong

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