Generation 40s – 四十世代

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How can we resolve the conflicts in Hong Kong and ensure ‘one country, two systems’ thrives?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Jasper Tsang

Jasper Tsang says that, as Legco president, his biggest regret is not having been able to improve relations between Hong Kong’s lawmakers and Beijing

On a couple of recent occasions, I was asked what would be the one thing during my tenure as president of the Legislative Council that I would regret most. I have the answer.

I was first elected president in 2008, 10 months after the central government announced that in 2017, we could elect the chief executive by universal suffrage, followed by electing the whole legislature by popular vote. The news came as a welcome surprise to many, including some democrats. However, I knew that it would not be easy to arrive at an agreement on how the election by universal suffrage should be arranged.
I knew then it would be controversial how nomination of the candidates should take place when we try to achieve the final goal in Article 45

Earlier, I had had a talk with a Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, and he had told me, “It is much safer to have the chief executive elected by universal suffrage according to Article 45 of the Basic Law, than to open up all seats in the legislature to popular election, in accordance with Article 68. In electing the chief executive by universal suffrage, we have a safety net, the nomination committee as provided for in Article 45.” The official was confident that the nomination committee would not allow anyone unacceptable to the central government to become a candidate in the chief executive election.

I knew then it would be controversial how nomination of the candidates should take place when we try to achieve the final goal in Article 45. It would be impossible to arrive at a consensus if we did not have the people of Hong Kong, represented by the various political parties, especially the democrats, having a meaningful dialogue with the central government. I also believed that if we failed to bring in election of the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017, it would deal a very serious blow to people’s confidence in “one country, two systems”.

So I took it upon myself, as president of Legco, to create as many opportunities as possible for my colleagues in the legislature, especially from the democrats’ camp, to engage in dialogue with Chinese officials who can represent the central government on Hong Kong policies. I had hoped that by doing so, we could increase the chance of the two sides reaching an agreement.

There were encouraging times. We succeeded in organising a number of trips to various parts of China. We visited the Guangdong provincial government and talked with the authorities about economic cooperation and environmental protection. We visited Sichuan ( 四川 ) a year after the earthquake, and saw how they were rebuilding their schools and rehabilitating the victims. We visited the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010, deliberately taking the high-speed railway for part of the journey to experience the technology and efficiency of the system. Even during the very heated debates leading up to the constitutional reform exercise, we made a couple of trips to Shenzhen and Shanghai, and senior Chinese officials were willing to talk and listen to the pan-democrats.

However, all these turned out to be anomalies in a steadily deteriorating relationship between Hong Kong’s democrats and the central government. The result of it, we all know. It is not only failure to reach an agreement and bring in universal suffrage for choosing the next chief executive. The way things have gone in the past couple of years has put the sustainability of the “one country, two systems” policy at stake. People are asking what is going to happen in 2047. Some fear we are going to lose “one country, two systems” even before that date.

[Pan-democratic legislators signal their intention to reject the political reform proposal, just ahead of the vote held in June last year. There are many within the pan-democrats’ camp who believe Hong Kong can never have true democracy as long as there is a communist party in power in Beijing. Photo: Sam Tsang] In order for “one country, two systems” to succeed, we need more mutual understanding between Hong Kong people and the central government than we now have. There are many in Hong Kong and in Beijing who believe that things happening in the past few years, including the “Umbrella Movement”, the riots and the rejecting of the constitutional reform package, were all conspiracies of enemies within and outside Hong Kong, so the way for us to move forward successfully is to prevent our enemies making any more trouble. For example, “Vote all the troublemakers out of the Legislative Council!”
The central government should understand that for ‘one country, two systems’ to work at all, they have to accept the reality that there will always be an opposition in Hong Kong

At the same time, there are many within the pan-democrats’ camp who believe we can never have true democracy as long as there is a communist party in power in Beijing. They believe that the Chinese Communist Party is, by nature, anti-democratic. They do not see any point in talking to the central government at all.

I do not subscribe to either of these schools of thought. “One country, two systems” is still the best way out for Hong Kong. On the one hand, the central government should understand that for “one country, two systems” to work at all, they have to accept the reality that there will always be an opposition in Hong Kong, supported by a fair proportion of Hong Kong people, and if the central government or the SAR government does something which makes Hong Kong people angry, the opposition will only get more support. This is one thing they must understand. You cannot have “one country, two systems” working if you try to silence the opposition.

On the other hand, the pan-democrats must accept the fact that “one country, two systems” is a policy created by the Communist Party. If they are expecting the party to fall apart very soon, they are very much mistaken. It is exactly because the party still believes that “one country, two systems” is not only good for Hong Kong, but also good for the whole country, that the policy is still in place. The moment the central government, led by the Communist Party, believes the Hong Kong system is more a liability than an asset for the country, it will not have any incentive to let the system go on.

The Chinese government should be aware that there are many fundamental conflicts between Hong Kong and other parts of China. It is precisely because of these conflicts, because of differences between us and other parts of China, that we need “two systems”. Take away those differences, and we no longer have “two systems”. The central government must be tolerant of the different values in Hong Kong. At the same time, we have to understand that China will move on in its own way.

Throughout the past 19 years, the gap between the two sides has grown wider and wider, contrary to what we had expected during the first few years of the SAR. We thought that as China became more and more open, liberal and democratic, and as Hong Kong people got to know China better and better, we would understand each other more, be more tolerant towards each other, and work out a way for “one country, two systems” to move forward. Unfortunately, things seemed to have gone the opposite way.

There are two ways the Chinese government can interpret the things happening in the past few years. They can ascribe all troubles to enemies from outside and within our own society, and decide to assume tighter control to ensure the enemies cannot have their way.

There is another way of looking at our situation, which I believe is more consistent with the teachings of Mao Zedong (毛澤東). Mao said that internal contradictions are always the fundamental driving force of social development. External factors can provide the conditions, the additional elements required for change, but it is always internal conflicts which are fundamental.

If the Chinese government would turn its attention to the internal conflicts that have developed in our society, and to the conflicts that have developed between Hong Kong people and the central government in the past 19 years, then the natural question to ask would be: How can we resolve these conflicts and let “one country, two systems” move forward?

I am stepping down in a few months. I am counting my days and looking forward to my retirement. But when I leave Legco, there is this one thing I will regret most. I have not succeeded in building up a more conciliatory and productive relationship between my colleagues in the council and the central government. I hope the next Legco, with a new president, will have more wisdom and determination to achieve better.

Jasper Tsang Yok-sing is president of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. This is an edited version of a recent speech he gave at a Hong Kong Democratic Foundation luncheon


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Ming Pao


Speech of Mr. Wong Yan Lung SC at the 190th Congregation of the University of Hong Kong on 18th March 2014

Mr. Pro-Chancellor, Chairman of Council, Vice-Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of all the Honorary Graduands, may I extend to the University our sincere gratitude for conferring upon us these exceptional honours, and to Professor Wilkinson for your kind words of citations.

“Has Hong Kong changed?” It is a question we often hear nowadays. Changes can bring progress. Changes can also mean decline. But changes are inevitable. The University is the cradle for the forces of change. It is the place where our young people develop the readiness and resilience to face changes. Changes are inevitable because of diversity in life. Human Interests are diverse; human opinions even more so. Different interests and views divide people rather than uniting them. What holds a society together is a higher and transcending consensus in the form of a shared set of values, upon which the operation of society is fastened.

It sounds all too familiar and clich赌. However, when Kevin Lau, former editor of Ming Pao and fellow alumni of this University was brutally attacked last month, the core of that societal consensus was wounded. The baseline fundamentals are being shaken. The shock went beyond the natural abhorrence to the violence and cruelty. The horrendous act has stirred up a much graver and wider concern: how could such dangers and threats still exist in Hong Kong today terrorizing those who are but dedicated to their calling? The alarm bell is ringing loud, culminating in an equally intense determination to ensure that none of our cherished common values will be impaired. And as we see the increasing polarization of Hong Kong, with opposing camps of demonstrators shouting abuses at each other and even descending into scuffles, with more extreme and irrational clashes among different groupings on the Internet, we know the scope of our hitherto precarious consensus is dwindling fast.

What can we hold on to when changes come to overwhelm us like tsunamis, or when they come to soak us quietly like ripples? How do we take changes positively and courageously, so that we can pick up the surfboard, leave the shore, and ride on the waves of changes? On essentials, may we go for integrity; on non-essentials, liberty, and on all things, charity.

‧On essentials, integrity

The determination between the essential and the non-essential is often subjective, controversial and even philosophical. However, the active pursuit of the demarcation between the two is necessary for the well-being of the individual as well as the community. Because identifying and fortifying something as one’s personal essential can have far-reaching consequences, the task should be undertaken with the greatest of care and as a continuous process. Take the protection of rights as an example. Rights are not mere desires or needs. Even for rights protected under the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights, some are more fundamental than others. As held by the Courts, the degree of inviolability differs amongst those rights, and the margin of appreciation can apply to some but not others.

“Core values” is perhaps one of the most commonly used terms these days. “Core values” very often are equated with a cause or an ideology, and sometimes with a host of rights and freedoms. What can be easily forgotten, however, is this: It is not the cause itself, but the people who are supposed to benefit from this cause, that is far more important. We do need passion if we are to do anything well. Yet passion is but the horsepower; it cannot replace the engine itself. The engine still needs to work with precision and accuracy. Can the people really benefit from what we are advocating and fighting for, or is it just our own passion being satisfied, or our own belief being vindicated, or our own ego being feathered?

However, once established with rigorous examination and firm conviction, the essentials must be guarded at all costs.

First, we must guard our essentials against invasion: when Kevin was attacked, it was not just the elementary law and order, or the right to life and security of the person, that have been violated. The right to the freedom of opinion and of the press, going beyond the individual’s interests, has been subjected to intimidation. To quote from an ancient Egyptian word of wisdom, “To take no notice of a violent attack is to strengthen the heart of the enemy. Vigour is valiant, but cowardice is vile.” When violence strikes to subdue legitimate rights, it is striking at the very fabric of our civil society, and our community has rightly responded with united and strong condemnation. The community must react with the strong hands of the law: let no criminal go unpunished.

We – and particularly those who are in the front line exercising those rights – must react courageously. Respond with the confidence that even the iron knife will break in the bare but righteous hands joined together. Respond with retribution but not revenge, respond with a renewed determination to exercise our rights even more responsibly and to perform our duties even more diligently. This is by far the more effective way to protect any right we advocate, so that the inherent virtue of the right or freedom being protected can be seen. The conquest is not by battle alone but more by the demonstration of trustworthy custodianship. That has often been overlooked and, sadly, the excessive and abusive use of rights by some turned out to be the most destructive agent of those cherished rights.

Secondly, we must guard the essentials against the more subtle erosion. Integrity is the vigilance and resistance against the gradual abrasion. Integrity is the moral strength to resist temptations, to put the essentials above one self and one’s interests. In the wise counsel of the Proverbs : “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Don’t become, as C.S. Lewis described, “men with no chest”, who are deficient in the moral force to turn his head knowledge of virtues into practical power to overcome his animal instincts.

The rule of law is not only the framework, but the entire environment, in which basic rights and freedoms are safeguarded, and by which fairness and justice are being maintained. Like the natural environment, it is vulnerable to slow and gradual changes. We have to be particularly vigilant in our unprecedented constitutional order of One Country Two Systems, where interfaces between the two different legal systems between the Mainland and Hong Kong have generated novel issues with immense legal intricacies and profound political implications, and where judicial adjudication of any constitutional debates is required to simultaneously satisfy both the Basic Law and the common law, as well as the justice of the case. The heightened vigilance to protect the rule of law is also necessitated by the rapid integration between Hong Kong and the Mainland in the social and economic realms. Temptations abound with big moneys flowing in. Having overseen public prosecutions for 7 years and now back in private practice in the commercial field, I can testify that money corrupts and a lot of money corrupts massively.

We will be the best guardians of the rule of law, the indisputable essential, when people less familiar with it can see that we will not trade it for any personal gain or convenience. The values we champion can be best realised and kept if we embrace them in our everyday life: showing respect for the law, insisting on fair play, sticking to honesty, and being honourable in the fields of business, vocation, competition, and other forms of human interactions. The real challenge is not so much denouncing the plain and monstrous evil. The real worry lies in our propensity to permit the lesser evils to slip in gradually. The law is not observed merely as formality but substance. The rule of law is truly observed when we ourselves are not being observed.

Furthermore, cherish and guard our judicial independence. That is the bedrock. While no individual judges are infallible and the high quality of the judiciary must be maintained, the public must respect the judiciary as an institution and as the gatekeeper of the rule of law. Judicial decisions may not always be popular or politically correct. It will be a very sad day if they are. As the Chief Justice said at the Opening of the Legal Year, although disputes between the parties before the Court may have political, economic or social consequences, such as those cases involving matters of government policy, at all times the courts look only to the legal issues that divide the parties.

‧On non-essentials: Liberty

Now onto non-essentials, quite the opposite. For applying the same hard-edged regimen to non-essentials makes one obstructive, destructive and an unnecessary stumbling block to the fostering of any meaningful consensus, agreement or cooperation.

Reluctance to change with times, due to insecurity, ignorance, idiosyncrasies, or sheer idleness leads to stagnation. For an economy like Hong Kong, grandeur or decline depends on how resilient and adaptable we are. Hong Kong cannot afford to be inward looking or self-complacent. Liberty on non-essentials allows us to respect, even if we cannot embrace, people who are different, people of different races, cultures or places of origin, people who think differently, speak differently or behave differently. I have heard lamentations that some of our young people today shun competition, particularly competition coming from outside of Hong Kong. They resort to different forms of protectionism or escapism, and camouflage them by grand facade. The “indigenous culture” and “the Hong Kong identity”, which are of course precious in themselves, are unfortunately deployed as a convenient exit from the race that must be run. Instead of seeking “globalization”, some have retired into “tribalization”. On this type of soil, prejudice and discrimination, particularly on account of race, culture or background, spring up like weeds. Legitimate differences, fanned by some unfortunate scramble for limited resources, escalate into causes for intolerance, blame, repulsion, and even open conflicts. That will certainly bring Hong Kong down. Liberty on non-essentials also breaks the inertia to changes within oneself. It is the lifeline to creativity. It prepares the mind to be stimulated upon encountering differences and changes. It sets the mind free to depart from the old and conformist ways. It is the energy in the new waves that works powerfully within the person.

‧On all things: Charity

Finally, what underpins integrity? What refines the moral steel? What summons courage? What motives the pursuit of goodness above self interests? Conversely, what breeds violence? What spawns hatred? What brings about discrimination? What gives birth to cowardice? What results in compromise? Is my home a castle or is it a refuge? Are my possessions personal takings or accessible resources? Am I “the one and only” or am I just “one of the many”? So much depends on the attitude of the individuals and the culture of the community they build: keen to grab or dare to give.

Look to the movies (the good ones I mean): there are certain universal or eternal themes or endings that bring comfort, warmth and a very satisfying sense of wellness. Why? Because they are in line with what the human soul longs and aspires for. These soothing things need not be confined to productions of the “Dream Factory”. Dreams can give rise to long-term goals and short-term objectives. There are still many “real people and real things” in Hong Kong that touch our hearts: “Ming Gor” who runs the “Canteen for the Poor” in Shamshuipo; the late Dr. Chung Chi-yung of Shue Yan University who gave up her all for the grooming of the young; and many more around you and me, who have gone unnoticed.

Many of the “real things” we do not see, and therefore we play no part in them, because we are all too busy with our lives, our business, our career, our family, our children, and our own pursuit of excellence of one kind or another. On top of the pursuit of excellence, perhaps we should emphasize more the pursuit of the purpose of attaining excellence. In this race of life, if the ultimate prize cannot be shared, it is of limited value. If the crown does not come with the calling to serve, it is but a corruptible one.

Amidst the changes and uncertainties, if we adorn all things with charity, there is still tremendous hope for Hong Kong.