Zhang Dejiang visit may only win votes for separatists

May 03, 2016 13:35
National People's Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang (center) in plenary discussion with Hong Kong delegates during this year's NPC session. Photo: Xinhua

A top Beijing cadre is coming to town later this month.

National People's Congress Standing Committee Chairman Zhang Dejiang (張德江), a third-ranked member of the Communist Party’s Politburo and director of the central coordination group for Hong Kong and Macau affairs, will pay a three-day official visit to the territory from May 17 to 19.

At the invitation of the chief executive, Zhang will speak during the Belt & Road Summit, the government announced.

I find that unusual since none of Zhang’s official titles have anything to do with the "One Belt, One Road" initiative.

Rumor has it that Zhang is coming here with a hidden agenda. Being one of the top decision-makers on Hong Kong affairs, he may be visiting to gauge the city’s status quo first hand.

And, don’t forget the retrogressive 2017 electoral package, which set off the 2014 mass protests, was handed down by the Chinese legislature on Zhang's go-ahead.

The political wind has changed its direction before his visit.

Mainland law scholars are once again stepping into the act after they found Hong Kong’s laws cannot deter people from talking about independence.

Leung Chun-ying also raised the rhetoric last week, warning “no central government will support a city that seeks independence”.

A smarter way for Beijing is to battle separatists in a public opinion war, rather than misinterpreting the city’s legal system which cannot smother the pro-independence discussion.

Beijing’s well-trodden tactic is to befriend the middle-of-the-roaders and marginalize those who remain most defiant.

Aside from key members of the pro-Beijing camp, Zhang may summon other political figures who also oppose Hong Kong independence.

Among other chores, he will exhort the assembly to love the nation and support the SAR government as the future remains rosy.

All attendees will then echo his clarion call to denounce “a small bunch” of separatists.

Enticed by the obvious and hidden political rewards, many will join the chorus, and Beijing can heave a sigh of relief as calls for independence or self-determination are drown out.

But that effort may boomerang and help send pro-independence activists to the Legislative Council after the election later this year.

Under today’s political climate, dissidents, radicals and all those who appear to be suppressed by the authorities can easily draw voters’ sympathy. 

The number of these voters and hardcore supporters don’t need to be very high, as you can clinch a neat win with just a small share of the vote under the current polling and counting arrangements of the Elections Ordinance.

The more they are pressured, the higher the chances they can secure Legco seats.

The ball is in Beijing’s court to prevent that from happening.

The CY Leung administration’s refusal to start electoral reform consultations afresh is contrary to the Basic Law’s principle of gradual and orderly progress.

Beijing should now placate some moderate democrats and prod Leung to relaunch the process.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 27.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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