South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Alice Wu says the lack of trust between Beijing and Hong Kong is so serious that it now threatens ‘one country, two systems’
An awakening. A conspiracy. A revolution. Call it what you will. What has been laid bare is how deeply entrenched social, economic and political problems erode trust and, when left unresolved long enough, breed crippling mistrust.
The way Hong Kong’s social fabric has come apart in the past few weeks is testament to the fact that when put under enough pressure, for a long enough time, we will crack.
Pragmatism? The Lion Rock spirit? Forget it. Mong Kok, more than the other places of the “occupation”, embraced anarchy. We’ve never been as close to the gates of Hobbesian hell as we now are.
The highly emotional tenor of this movement, revolution or stand-off, and the equally emotional responses – without much in the way of a possible way out – have taken the city down the slipperiest of slopes. But it hasn’t happened overnight.
Bottled-up frustration over social ills, exacerbated by growing Hong Kong-mainland tensions – increasingly unaffordable housing, social immobility, extreme wealth disparity, a deeply lopsided economy and flawed political system – have been feeding the consternation for years. And let’s not forget our politicians’ preference for confrontation that has led us to this stage of brinkmanship.
Will we ever recover from the complete breakdown of trust across communities and within families, neighbours and friends? How? Distrust is by far the biggest obstacle to our democratic progress.
The distrust between Beijing and Hong Kong is the most difficult to reverse right now. The dynamics of mistrust were there long before 1997. At stake now is the survival of “one country, two systems”.
And, at this point, no Hongkonger understands this more and is losing more sleep over it than Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing. He made a clear and convincing case for reconciliation in an interview on the Chinese-language website of The New York Times 10 days ago. What worries him most is how Beijing’s tightening of its control and the increasingly extreme forms of confrontation in Hong Kong have been feeding off each other, and how that has propelled the spiralling distrust that could fundamentally damage “one country, two systems”.
In case some are still unclear about why that would be disastrous, here’s what Tsang’s worst-case scenario looks like: if we are stuck in political stasis and allow events to deteriorate to a point at which Beijing can say, “look, it’s you [Hong Kong] not wanting ‘one country, two systems’ first,” then what?
He didn’t spell that out, but he doesn’t have to. It’s 2047 arriving a lot earlier. What that means for Hong Kong, I’ll leave to your imagination.
This must serve as a compelling incentive to demand that those who can facilitate dialogue and conflict resolution begin anew, to lay the foundations of trust at every level, hard as that may be. Democracy is not a panacea for all our ills, or our ticket out of Hobbesian hell. A basic and healthy level of trust, however, will make us better off, socially, economically and politically.
A democracy without it will simply fail.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA