Generation 40s – 四十世代

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How will Beijing deal with an increasingly radical Hong Kong?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Surya Deva

Surya Deva says a stubbornly hardline approach by Beijing may perpetuate the cycle of violent action and reaction in the city. It should consider devolving power

Whatever the outcome of the vote on the government’s political reform proposal for the chief executive election in 2017, this key “constitutional moment” will have implications beyond both 2017 and Hong Kong.

If we look at the bigger picture, it appears that the current political climate and governance stalemate are also providing fertile ground for germinating radical behaviour. In recent times, there have been attacks on journalists and newspapers. No one could forget the repeated clashes the “blue ribbons” had with democracy supporters during the “Umbrella Movement”. Earlier this year, Hong Kong witnessed aggressive protests against mainland parallel traders. During the June 4 vigil, a few student leaders burned copies of the Basic Law. The latest in this long series is the alleged plot to detonate bombs to coincide with the Legislative Council debate on political reform.

But why are Hongkongers resorting to radical action? There are a number of reasons why some people turn radical. First, people may perceive that a certain “other” ideology is working to destroy whatever belongs to them – identity, culture, values and resources. Second, if formal institutions and channels of communication do not listen and respond “equally” to diverse views, some might feel alienated, leading them to explore extra-legal means of protest. Third, when certain people start finding that upward mobility ladders are out of reach, they start acting outside the contours of law, believing they have “nothing to lose”.

All these reasons are unfortunately present in Hong Kong. Many democracy supporters believe the Communist Party is bent on stifling freedoms and democracy development in Hong Kong, while the leaders in Beijing regard pan-democrats as agents of anti-Chinese Western forces. Moreover, all government institutions in Hong Kong and Beijing offer little space for constructive engagement to resolve political disputes. Finally, given the control exerted by Beijing coteries and business tycoons over Hong Kong’s politico-economic system, many Hongkongers – especially the young – feel cheated by the system.

The central authorities basically have three broad options to deal with Hong Kong’s radicalisation. First, they could persist with the current hard approach and try to manage dissent. Second, rather than waiting for 2047, Beijing could convert Hong Kong into another Chinese city and rule it accordingly. Third, it could apply historical lessons learned elsewhere and adopt a power-sharing model rooted in a genuine devolution of power to local people in exchange for maintaining territorial integrity.

Adopting the last model would entail Beijing treating Hong Kong as a special administrative region at a horizontal (rather than vertical) level. A collaborative sharing of power is possible even within the principle of “democratic centralism” enshrined in China’s constitution. Beijing would then continue to have powers in theory under the Basic Law, but, in practice, it would not exercise them, unless there was a real threat to national unity and integrity. Rather than itself becoming the gatekeeper, Beijing should bestow this controlling power to local people and institutions.

Which of these options would Beijing pursue? While the third option may be most sustainable in the long run, it is doubtful whether the current leaders in Hong Kong and Beijing has the acumen or courage to embrace this vision. Instead, they are likely to hold their ground and continue blaming pan-democrats and certain radical elements for the current situation. However, by doing so, the central authorities and the Hong Kong government will only strengthen a vicious cycle of radical action and reaction.

Time is running out for Beijing: before it is too late, it should come up with a viable plan to govern a part of its territory where a significant number of people neither trust it nor its views on governance. The choice is between the devolution of power, or accept instability in Hong Kong as a way of life.

Surya Deva is an associate professor at City University’s School of Law who specialises in business and human rights, and comparative constitutional law


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Reform package’s defeat is a time for hope, not despair, in Hong Kong

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion LEADER
SCMP Editorial

A chapter has closed on Hong Kong’s fight for universal suffrage following the defeat of the government’s electoral reform package in the Legislative Council yesterday. But as we turn the page, an even more daunting challenge looms. The disputes over the past 20 months have deeply divided the community. We need to put aside the political differences, build bridges and find a way to move forward.

The government’s failure to get the reform package passed was a foregone conclusion. The 27 pan-democrats and an independent lawmaker kept to their script and voted against it. What was surprising, though, was the farce within the pro-establishment camp. In what is believed to have been a colossal strategic miscalculation to delay the death knell for the package, most Beijing-friendly legislators deliberately stayed away from the chamber while the five-minute voting bell rang. The package was eventually rejected with just eight votes in favour.

The drama may have added spice to what otherwise would have been an uneventful debate. The shorter-than-expected proceedings might also have helped avert the gathering of large crowds outside the Legco complex. Although emotions ran high occasionally, the rallies staged by the opponents and supporters of the reform package were, thankfully, largely peaceful.


The almost comical end to the debate in Legco, however, has done nothing to remove the uncertainties that we now face. Not only has the opportunity for greater democracy – however flawed – been wasted, the city’s governance and relations with the central government are also left in doubt. It is unclear whether Beijing will further tighten control over the city. Since the landmark July 1 protest in 2003 against national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Beijing has widely been seen as having dropped its softly-softly approach towards Hong Kong’s affairs in favour of a tougher stance. But the change in tack has apparently backfired, as reflected in the strong show of discontent during the Occupy protests last year. If opinion polls are any reference, public trust in the central government remains low. It is in the interest of both sides to improve relations.

Yesterday’s outcome does not spell the end of Hong Kong’s quest for universal suffrage. People’s aspiration for democracy will not disappear because of this setback. It is good to hear that the central government remains committed to implementing universal suffrage in Hong Kong and upholding the one country, two systems principle.

The pan-democrats immediately called for a fresh start to the electoral reform process but a relaunch in the next two years seems unlikely. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has already said his administration will focus on improving the economy and people’s livelihood during his remaining term in office. Given the political setback, the chief executive may think this is a sensible way forward. But whether the government can achieve much is another matter. The filibusters and non-cooperation campaign by some pan-democrats have already hampered effective governance. The situation may even take a turn for the worse if the animosity continues. What is needed now is reconciliation and cooperation.

But this cannot be achieved without a resolution to the long-standing schism between Beijing and the pan-democrats. The electoral reform episode has exposed serious mutual distrust and hostility. Both sides should reflect on their stance and find a way to foster dialogue and cooperation, without which a consensus on universal suffrage can never be reached.


The reform process, for now, has come to an end. But the blame game continues. The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office swiftly hit out at the pan-democrats for acting against public opinion, saying they blocked the city’s democratic development in favour of their own, narrow interests. The chief executive echoed those sentiments, but said the government would maintain dialogue with the pan-democrats.

Finger-pointing does little to unite the community; it only fuels animosity. But the question of who should shoulder responsibility for the failure of the reform process will inevitably linger. It may even turn into an issue in the district council elections in November and the Legislative Council polls next year. Whether the pan-democrats and pro-establishment camp will face any backlash at the ballot box will affect the balance of power after 2016, which in turn will have an impact on governance and the success of future democratic reform.

Hongkongers have been struggling for democracy for decades. Having weathered bitter disputes over the past 20 months, the community is understandably frustrated by the lack of progress. While yesterday’s outcome was disappointing, we should not despair. As long as we learn from this experience and move towards consensus, universal suffrage can surely be realised.

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Ronny Tong’s resignation the latest sign that the feuding pan-democrats are coming adrift

South China Morning Post
News›Hong Kong›Politics POLITICS

Ng Kang-chung

Ronny Tong’s resignation is the latest sign that the split in the camp is widening, as moderates and hardliners fail to agree on the way forward

After months of speculation, the end was swift. All eyes had been on lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah since Sunday night as rumours swirled he was going to quit politics. Tong woke up earlier than usual yesterday to reflect one last time before announcing his decision.

At 8am he sent a letter to colleagues saying that he was quitting the Civic Party.

“In less than 10 minutes, the letter had already been circulated online and reported by media,” Tong said. “If I had not kept the news to myself until the very last minute, I am afraid I could have been flooded with media inquiries before my announcement.”

He reassured supporters: “Don’t treat me as a democracy traitor. I am still a friend of democracy. I just like to jump out of the framework to look at things from a different viewpoint.”

Tong’s withdrawal from the political party he co-founded and his resignation from the Legislative Council are the latest testament to the growing split within the pan-democratic camp, with moderates and hardliners increasingly unable to agree on how to deal with Beijing and the fight for democracy.

While moderates may appear pragmatic, the more vehement pan-democrats see them as being too timid to take a stand, said Dr Chung Kim-wah, an assistant professor of public policy at Polytechnic University. He described the sentiment within the camp as, “you are either with me or you are my enemy”.

Because of that, more moderate pan-democrats were likely to follow Tong’s lead and split from the loose coalition, said Professor Sonny Lo Shiu-hing, head of social sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Those moderates, he said, were likely to run as independent candidates in next year’s legislative election when “the voters will tell them if their ideas are welcome or not”.

Chung said public sentiment had changed. “The people seem to be getting impatient and want quick results, though sometimes the means they choose to employ may not be altogether workable,” he said, citing last year’s Occupy protests. “On the contrary, the moderates like to seek compromise to arrive at a solution that provides a workable outcome.”

Tong, founder of a public policy think tank called Path to Democracy with moderate pan-democrats and academics, hopes to explore “a third road” for political development and improving relations with Beijing.

His stance contrasts with that of the Civic Party, whose leader Alan Leong Kah-kit favours a more hardline approach towards Beijing.

Tong’s withdrawal came weeks after news that veteran Democrat Nelson Wong Sing-chi could be thrown out of the Democratic Party for expressing “alternative” views about constitutional development. Wong, a founding member of the party, was earlier kicked off its central committee after voicing support for the government’s electoral reform package.

“I just tried to raise an alternative view. The bad thing now is that the pan-democrats are fighting among one another for political gain at the expense of Hong Kong’s interests,” Wong said.

“The problem we have is more than just supporting the government’s political reform or not. It seems Hong Kong’s democracy force is crumbling because of a loss of direction.”

Political scientist Dr James Sung Lap-kung of City University said the lack of a strong leader like Szeto Wah in the pan-democratic camp was to blame for the “directionless democracy drift”.

Szeto, who died of cancer in 2011, was widely regarded as a spiritual leader of the camp.

“The situation could have been better if Szeto was still here to head the camp,” Sung said. “He led social movements since the 1970s and knew the Communist Party and understood how it deals with opponents.”

Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing “does not seem to be able to control her men”, he said. Leong “seems not to be able to provide a direction either, except for saying no to whatever policies are proposed by the government”. Even former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Democratic Party co-founder Martin Lee Chu-ming are “yesterday’s people”, Sung said.

City University political scientist Dr Cheung Chor-yung, a member of Tong’s think tank, shared similar views, but added: “The younger generation’s refusal to recognise the older members’ ways of fighting for democracy is also contributing to the pan-democrats’ split.

“Some think resorting to violent or radical protests can force Beijing to back down, while others think Hong Kong can simply become independent.

“These naive ideas surely offer no way out. Instead, the young groups only further weaken our democracy movement.

“I am not saying the pan-democracy camp is tipping into a kind of civil war. But the split will likely complicate the prospects of the pan-democratic parties in the district council elections this year and in next year’s legislative poll.”

Over the past year, pan-democrats have been in the news as much for internal disputes as their fight for democracy.

Ahead of the Occupy campaign, the Democratic Party quit the Alliance for True Democracy – a grouping that consisted of 26 out of 27 pan-democratic lawmakers – because of a row with the People Power party and other radicals in the alliance over the approach to democracy.

The subsequent Occupy campaign that started last September in protest against Beijing’s framework for the 2017 chief executive election demonstrated that mainstream pan-democrats had lost the ability to lead and provide direction, Cheung said.

It was the Federation of Students and Scholarism which emerged to helm the 79-day protest after leading young activists who tried to storm the government headquarters in Admiralty.

Things got even worse after the protests. Even the federation fell apart as it was hit by a wave of disaffiliation campaigns by member unions at universities.

The reform package was voted down in the legislature last week after opposition by all the pan-democrat lawmakers. They now risk being punished by moderate voters who think Beijing’s offer is better than nothing.

“Beijing, perhaps, will be the sole winner from divisions within the pan-democratic camp”, Cheung said.

A history of turmoil in Hong Kong’s opposition pan-democratic camp

2002 Some younger members of the Democratic Party, unhappy with the leadership’s election strategy, quit to join another pro-democracy group called The Frontier.

2004 Pro-democracy legislators Mandy Tam Heung-man, Dr Kwok Ka-ki and Joseph Lee Kok-long won’t support fellow pan-democrat Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung’s motion for a referendum on universal suffrage.

2006 A group of pan-democrats form the League of Social Democrats to represent grassroots and working-class interests.

The Civic Party, regarded as a major competitor to the Democratic Party, is formed.

2009 The Democratic Party declines to support a “de facto referendum” plan initiated by the Civic Party and the League of Social Democrats.

2010 The Democratic Party supports the government’s political reform package after behind-closed-doors talks with officials from Beijing’s liaison office. The package is passed thanks to their votes.

People Voters is set up to mobilise those unhappy with the Democrats’ support of the government package.
So-called Young Turks of the Democratic Party, unhappy with its strategy, quit to form the NeoDemocrats.

2011 Wong Yuk-man and Albert Chan Wai-yip quit the League of Social Democrats and join People Voters, which later evolves into People Power.

2014 The Democratic Party quits the Alliance for True Democracy over criticism of its support for the 2010 reforms.

2015 Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan announces plans to resign from the legislature to trigger a de facto referendum on universal suffrage.

Democrat Nelson Wong Sing-chi calls on the pan-democrats to support the government political reform package. He is removed from the party’s central committee and suspended from the party.
Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah announces plans to convene a platform to consolidate “moderate power” in Hong Kong politics.
The Federation of Students, which led the Occupy protest, is hit by a wave of disaffiliation as students from the University of Hong Kong, Polytechnic University, Baptist University and City University vote for their student unions to disaffiliate from the group.
In order to focus more on local issues, The federation announces it will not join the June 4 vigil organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, of which the federation is a founding member.
Ronny Tong quits the Civic Party and announces he is resigning as a legislator

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Hong Kong’s elitist election system plays right into hands of tycoons

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Michael Paskewitz

Michael Paskewitz says Beijing’s proposal would only increase inequality

The central government’s proposal to effectively use the nominating committee to veto potential pro-democracy candidates for the Hong Kong chief executive election has been the primary story, but there is a potentially larger issue at stake. The other big concern is the committee’s ability to veto candidates that pose a challenge to the city elite’s business interests. Currently, at least half the Election Committee – on which the nominating committee is to be based – consists of business and industry sectors, including real estate, financial services, tourism, and even those groups with no obvious business ties, but which are often represented by high-wealth individuals – for example, the Heung Yee Kuk subsector representing rural interests, and led by billionaire landowner Lau Wong-fat. The fact that businesses and tycoons have such a powerful say in who leads the city, rather than the general public, is very worrying.

In order to be put forward to contest the election, candidates would need 50 per cent of the nominating committee vote. This is problematic for several reasons. First, the business elite wish to protect their wealth and the best way to do so is to maintain the status quo.

However, with rising economic inequality – Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient is the highest in all Asia – comes social unrest, as we see in the Occupy protests around the world. The protests in Hong Kong are strikingly similar, with the young and middle class being the primary demonstrators against issues of inequality. Young people, especially, bear the burden of high economic inequality, as the prospect of owning property is completely out of reach for most. They see no possibility of an affluent future because their interests are not represented at the decision-making level.

Despite the fact that Beijing, the Hong Kong government and business leaders are always reiterating the narrative of a “prosperous Hong Kong”, that prosperity remains in the hands of a few and income mobility is minimal for the vast majority.

Second, other concerns, such as cage homes, environmental or civil rights issues are unlikely to be addressed by chief executive candidates unless these matters are represented in the nominating committee. Although almost 20 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, the interests of the poor are hardly represented on the current Election Committee.

Chief executive candidates would, therefore, be more motivated to create an election platform that caters to nominating committee members. The easiest votes to receive would be from the largest bloc – business and industry elites. Any such candidate, as leader, would then be beholden to these elite, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. By furthering the interests of the select few, no progress can be made in society.

It is no wonder that the central authorities put forward such a proposal, given that one of the most influential lobby groups they hear from are the business tycoons (led recently by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa last month) through their trips to Beijing. Alarmingly, the World Bank has indicated that Hong Kong billionaires’ combined net worth equals 80 per cent of the city’s gross domestic product – evidence of a stark rift between the haves and have-nots. Maintaining this status quo is therefore to the detriment of the majority, who have no option but to voice their opinion through protest.

How can issues of inequality be solved if potential chief executive candidates must all vie for the votes of the elite?

Hong Kong’s prosperity is internationally recognised, but it will soon be an international shame if inequality issues are not addressed. By agreeing to the 50 per cent nominating committee threshold, there would be no foreseeable end to rising inequality.

Michael Paskewitz is a government relations specialist and a Hong Kong Canadian living in Toronto

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