Hong Kong government tells conflicting stories

January 12, 2015 15:30
Student leader Joshua Wong confronts Chief Secretary Carrie Lam at Hong Kong Commercial Radio. Photo: Epoch Times

Last Thursday, student leader Joshua Wong was at Hong Kong Commercial Radio to record a program when he ran into Chief Secretary Carrie Lam. The 18-year-old immediately reached into his schoolbag and pulled out a criticism of the government’s public sentiment report released two days earlier.

“Why did you conclude in the report that it is a common aspiration among Hongkongers to implement a system of universal suffrage based on the National People’s Congress’ Aug. 31 framework?” he asked. “Don’t you think this is distorting facts?”

Instead of answering his question the chief secretary – second-in-command in the Hong Kong government – talked about how and why the report was compiled, causing the student leader to repeat his question.

At that point, the station’s officials broke up the unscheduled interview, saying it was time to start the program.

It is easy to understand Joshua Wong’s frustration. After all, he and thousands of other students had spent the last several months protesting against the Aug. 31 decision, and they clearly had the support of a considerable segment of the public. To be told now that the Hong Kong government believes that there is a “common aspiration” to support the decision did not go down well.

To quote the report’s conclusion: “It is the common aspiration of the Central Authorities, the HKSAR Government, and the people of Hong Kong, to implement universal suffrage for the CE elections in 2017 in Hong Kong as scheduled and strictly in accordance with the Basic Law and the relevant Interpretation and Decisions of the NPCSC.”

Joshua Wong wasn’t the only one surprised by the report’s conclusion. After all, the report was meant to tell the central government about public sentiment in Hong Kong in the wake of the Aug. 31 decision.

The “common aspiration” assertion implied that there exists wide support in Hong Kong for the decision, which denies Hong Kong people the right to vote for the candidate of their choice by screening out those not acceptable to Beijing, when in fact the whole 79-day occupation saga was an attempt, albeit unsuccessful, to have the decision reversed.

As it is, the Hong Kong authorities know full well that the community is not solidly behind them. In fact, the day after the release of the public sentiment report, the Hong Kong authorities released a second document directly contradicting the earlier one — this time on the second round of public consultation on universal suffrage elections in 2017.

That report avoids extravagant claims of support from the community. Instead, it candidly acknowledges, “Whether or not universal suffrage for the CE election could be implemented as intended in 2017 would depend on whether the community agrees to complete the ‘Five-Step Progress” within the framework of the Basic Law and the Decision of the NPCSC."

Under the Aug. 31 decision, the Chief Executive has to be a person who “loves the country and loves Hong Kong” and, to ensure this, there had to be “institutional safeguards”.

Thus, a nominating committee, similar to the current Election Committee, will nominate two to three candidates, each of whom must receive the support of more than half of the members of the nominating committee. The composition of that committee, as is true of the Election Committee, ensures that only the names of Beijing-approved candidates will appear on the ballot.

It was hard to imagine more hardline terms. Opposition from pan-democrats to the new NPCSC decision was immediate, with the Democratic Party publicly vowing to veto the bill the Hong Kong government will draft to turn the NPCSC decision into local law.

Reaction from the general public, too, was negative. A poll commissioned by the South China Morning Post newspaper found that those who supported a veto outnumbered those opposed to it by 48 percent to 39 percent. If the bill is vetoed, it would mean that the chief executive will continue to be chosen by an Election Committee, with members of the public not having a vote.

If there was a “common aspiration” to implement universal suffrage in accordance with NPCSC decisions before Aug. 31, this new decision strained it to the breaking point.

The Hong Kong government’s credibility is at perhaps its lowest point, with the administration seen as telling another untruth while ostensibly trying to set things straight. But as Beijing is talking about the need to “re-enlighten” the people of Hong Kong (read: “re-educate”) to achieve a better understanding of the “one country, two systems” policy, it is difficult to see how the Leung administration’s problem can be repaired in the short term.

-- Contact us at [email protected]


Frank Ching opened The Wall Street Journal’s Bureau in China in 1979. He is now a Hong Kong-based writer on Chinese affairs.