Hong Kong and democracy

Thank you all for your many comments in the last 2 days – I will respond but I am juggling too many things at the moment. In the meanwhile I will try to explain what’s afoot in HK, politically.

Under British colonial rule HK never knew democracy. A Governor was appointed and administered the colony on behalf of HMG. The Last Governor was Fat Pang, otherwise known as Lord Patten or as he simply was then, Chris Patten.

After the Great Chinese Takeaway in 1997 HK became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. We have a Chief Executive answerable to the Legislative Council and ultimately Beijing. The CE is voted in by 1200 legco members who represent a fairly narrow swathe of interests. It is not democracy in any real sense. Beijing has a right of veto.

However Beijing granted HK considerable autonomy under the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’. In 2017 there was a promise of universal suffrage. In its simplest interpretation this means one person, one vote. The current brouhaha is about who is allowed to stand as a candidate.

The democrats in legco want ‘civil nomination’. That is to say the public can nominate anybody to stand. Names would then be screened by a nominating committee and everybody eligible would cast their vote. At the last legco election candidates needed the support of only 12.5% of members to stand. This enabled a democrat, Albert Ho, to stand against the 2 establishment candidates, Henry Tang and C Y Leung. Ho could never have become CE because Beijing would not have approved him but if sufficient legco members voted for him it would have created a political embarrassment. As it was C Y won and has since proved to be the perfect puppet for Beijing. He is almost universally loathed.

The democrats have been lobbying vigorously for true democracy. At the weekend Beijing delivered its verdict. Max 2-3 candidates allowed to stand. Each candidate needs to be approved by 50%+ of the nominating committee. This means no democrats can possibly be on the ballot paper. And of course Beijng has a right of veto.

Well known and respected democrat Martin Lee asked “But what’s the difference between a rotten orange, rotten apple and a rotten banana?”

Emily Lau, a legco member said: “This is one person, one vote, but there is no choice. They have that in North Korea but you can’t call it democracy,”

The biggest issue now is the role of a democracy movement called Occupy Central. They have promised a campaign of civil disobedience (with love and peace) in protest. The figurehead is a university law professor, Benny Tai. Many people worry however that it is the younger generation that will end up in the front line, fuelled by idealism. A prime example is Joshua Wong of Scholarism. They can mobilise hundreds of thousands of protestors and some fear a repeat of Tiananmen Square. It is evident already that the police will take a vigorous approach towards protests. Expect to see tear gas, pepper spray and lots of arrests. The PLA is on standby in its HK Barracks. How will it end? It will end up with Occupy Central being crushed and defeated. I don’t think Beijing wants bloodshed but it wants civil disobedience less and if bloodshed is the price to pay, so be it.

The other angle here is that currently the democrats have a blocking minority vote in legco. So they can theoretically block Beijing’s proposal. They have promised to do this. Then any form of universal suffrage is off the table and it is back to the 2012 method to re-elect CY in 2017. I am not so sure how this will play out.

Minor protests have started and there is a visibly high police presence all over HK’s Central business district. I saw it at first hand on Sunday night and Monday morning. We live about 45 minutes away by car from Central and our approach will be to stock up with food and water and hide in our bunker until the fallout has drifted away.

Whatever your idealism true democracy was never going to happen. Beijing will not let the genie out of the bottle. They would rather smash the bottle, contents, genie and all. What does it mean for the future of Hong Kong? Well the expats here are, in my discussions, more optimistic than the locals. They think it will ‘blow over’. HK will muddle through. We shall have to wait and see. For now though the tension is high and it would not take much to set off the tinderbox.

15 thoughts on “Hong Kong and democracy

  1. Goodness, it’s all happening in Honkers. Thanks for this post, Andrew. It’s always interesting hearing what’s happening on the ground so to speak – especially coming from our favourite Asian Correspondent. I hope things don’t escalate and get out of hand. Have you stocked up on Lulu’s favourite dog biscuits and extra Haagen Daz for you?

  2. Thank you for this lucid account of what is going on there. I can usually make very little of what I read in the papers. May you have ample water and supplies, and may it blow over peacefully.

    • It remains quiet for now. I think the democrats are trying to work out what they can do that won’t backfire on them. Beijing has thrown down the gauntlet. There are no easy options for the democrats.

  3. Thanks for putting it all so clearly. I’m afraid you are right, that in the grand scheme of things (particularly today) HK will be at the back of any queue for both media or practical attention. Please keep us updated, we have connections there.

    • All quiet so far, Hilary. There is a feeling that Occupy Central may be backing down in the face of Beijing’s refusal to negotiate. The Pan-Democrats however may not go so quietly.

  4. There are a couple of modest homes on the market in my neighborhood, Andrew. 🙂

    It is good to hear about your plans to bunker through the unrest. I don’t think the world is ready, willing or able to deal with China any more than it will with Russia. And Russia, I think, is probably a little less willing to do wholesale slaughter on citizens in this day and age than China gives the impression. However things play out, I doubt heavily that anyone, Obama or any other leader, will do more than threaten economic sanctions…and then only as far as there is no severe personal pain by doing so.

  5. Well ain’t that a tank of turkey feet. The biggest mistake as I see it but then I’m no politico or historian, is that Great Britain gave up Hong Kong and should have held onto it. But maybe that is backwards thinking from my perspective. The deal was done years ago and sealed the fate of Hong Kong. There will never be a democracy and I can’t see Obama doing much or anything at all. We are in debt to China up to the kazoo so that speaks for itself. We are neck deep in parts of the world where we have no business. In my humble opinion it is all a lost cause.The US needs to put its money in keeping our borders safe from the yahoos that want to blow us up.

    I hope that things pan out for the best. But is Hong Kong a safe place to live? I suppose no place in this world is safe and what a sad affair to know that our world is fast killing itself.

  6. Thanks for the explanation. Normally, I only pay attention to local news. Really local, like my town. Mainstream media here is like watching a tv drama, it’s played up for viewing stats. Sad.
    I hope everything works out.

  7. It seems to me that the old communist guard is worrying about HK and the influence it will have on the mainland citizens. If china allows to much freedom and concessions then the people on the mainland will start to want the same. In a similar way Russia’s current aggression with Ukraine is similar. Ukraine joins the EU people and there will be change. Many Russians live min Ukraine and tell their family back home about the democracy and investment as well as raising living standards and the Russians will question why they can’t have it.

    The question will be how much attention China wants on the situation as it is spreading its money in investments abroad and wants to be treated an equal by the international community.

    • Unless something hugely calamitous happens the world will watch and do nothing, Ben, just as it usually does. As it stands today it is an internal matter for China. Even if Obama draws a red line as he did on Syria he will probably back off for economic reasons. No oil in HK.

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