What Is Beijing So Afraid of?
Translated by Vivian L. and Karen L., Edited by Chen-t'ang, Written by 無妄齋 (Edward Tang)
Looking back when Hong Kong is still a British colony: the time around 1982-84 is the watershed in the developmental history of the post-war Hong Kong under the Queen's rule. Prior to 1982, colonial rule saw an unprecedented success in carving Hong Kong into a prosperous metropolis. Yet from policy making to the running of government, Hongkongers' involvement had been minimal, if not none at all. The colonial government had had little to say on the ways people live or do business, and government intervention was next to nothing. Without doubt, the long-standing policy of positive non-interventionism
had brought us prosperity and stability, but it also planted the seed of capitalist greed, that paved the way to ever widening income gap that plagues the city to this day.
In terms of politics, majority of Hong Kong people were apathetic. Public education under British rule was such that people were discouraged from discussing in political issues. Matters were dealt only by the colonial administration but never taken directly to the Queen in the continent.
Hong Kong: from highly capitalist to highly political
Things changed after 1984. The Sino-British joint declaration had been signed. The transfer of sovereignty to China was a done deal. Some Hongkongers were more optimistic about the future following the handover. They placed their hopes on constitutional reform and the drafting of the Basic Law
. While some voiced their opinions to the Chinese government through the Xinhua News Agency's local branch, the Drafting Committee, Consultative Committee for the Basic Law, some formed pressure groups and started political parties, ran for legislature, pursued social activism, initiated discussion on Hong Kong's future in public discourse, these all helped created political momentum in the local population. Meanwhile, as the British gradually relinquished power over the territory to prepare for the ultimate departure, a new power was consolidating its political prowess. On the economic side, the colony continued to thrive by the looks of things, but capitalists who were wheeling the city's economy had other plans in their minds.
In the face of unpredictable changes, many Hongkongers felt powerless. And this is not hard to fathom. There was no way the British would give up the enormous China market for the sake of a tiny Pearl of the Orient, so it was a time to plan an elegant exit rather than help Hong Kong resist the Communists. On the other hand, China was eager to reclaim its long lost land.
But for the whole period of turmoil, Hongkongers had been shut out of the negotiation table of the Sino-British Joint Declaration
. Even after the negotiations, the public was not consulted before it was passed. In other words, for the ordinary people of Hong Kong, it was merely a change of flags from the Union Jack to China’s red banner. The question of whether China would honour its pledge to maintain Hong Kong people’s way of life for the next 50 years remained uncertain, for we were not in command in our own affairs.
What awaited was a succession of changes. There were talks of constitutional reform and the Basic Law, and the establishment of committee after committee such as the Drafting and Consultation Committees, the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group and the Sino-British Land Commission. Hong Kong had gone from a money-making metropolis to a city of heated politics.
Many who had led a life free from politics were now baffled by the whole new state of affairs. A number of concerns were rife among Hongkongers: Will the pledge of one country two systems, high degree of autonomy and Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong be realized? Can the Chinese Communist Party be trusted? What would sent Hong Kong into a state of upheaval? The string of questions pointed to one origin: the people of Hong Kong were unsure of their new ruler. The doubt cast then persists even to this day.
The last governor of colonial Hong Kong (source
Beijing's roadmap towards universal suffrage fixed long ago
While the powerlessness that haunt Hongkongers lingers on, the consultation on electoral reforms is now on full whack, but the public has yet to reach a consensus on the system of universal suffrage. Amid fierce debate among Hongkongers over the issue, the Chinese State Council Information Office published a white paper on "The Practice of the 'One Country, Two Systems' Policy in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
" on June 10, appearing to be echoing Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her remark about public nomination three months ago, when the Chief Secretary sided with Peking University law professor Rao Geping in ruling out public nomination, saying Rao’s comment on the city's electoral reform
“set a definitive tone”. Adding even more uncertainty to the upcoming electronic referendum to select a universal suffrage proposal on June 22.
As a white paper is an authoritative document that serves as a prelude to presenting major policies, it is safe to assume that Beijing has fixed upon a narrative on Hong Kong's roadmap towards universal suffrage for long. And its plan will presumably be highly exclusive. The two rounds of consultation merely act as smoke screen of delaying tactics.
The white paper extends over some 10,000 words, but there is little new all the same. It repeatedly stresses how Hong Kong is "indebted" to China, and that Beijing is in command of Hong Kong’s political future with legal and practical grounds. Albeit lacking in novelty, there are two points worth noting.
Powers to supervise new laws, declare state of emergency, make new authorization
First, in principle, the content of the white paper is not in violation of the Basic Law. It also shows Beijing’s consistent stance on Hong Kong. In particular, the section “The central leadership directly exercises jurisdiction over the HKSAR in accordance with the law” contains elements that are seldom covered. Now let us take a closer look at some key parts (to reveal) other implication beyond the obvious.
The NPC Standing Committee has …
“… the power of supervision over the laws formulated by the legislative organs of the HKSAR” (verse 17);
On the surface it means every new law or amendment passed by Hong Kong’s legislature shall be “put on record” at the NPC, granting the NPC actual power of supervision in Hong Kong’s lawmaking. But on closer look, this power is not comprehensive but a limited one (link). In practice, only when the body of the law either involves matter handled by the central government or Hong Kong-mainland relations does the NPC has powers to oversee the legislation, remit any new law that contravenes the national constitution to the SAR government and declare it unconstitutional. The way the white paper addresses its power “to supervise” and to demand “record” is clearly misleading.
“… the power of decision on the HKSAR entering a state of emergency” (verse 18);
This refers to in the event of rebellion threatening social security that has advanced beyond the government’s control, the NPC has the authority to declare Hong Kong to be in a state of emergency, and in turn effect an order to enforce the national law on national defense as detailed in Annex 3
. According to the Law of the People's Republic of China on Garrisoning the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
, the Chief Executive may ask the central government for assistance from the Hong Kong PLA Garrison in the “maintenance of public order”, and the power of command shall rest with the CE or the PLA officer authorized by him. One cannot help but be reminded of the CE race 2 years ago when then contending CE Leung Chun-ying was rumoured to have said in an Executive Council meeting shortly after the July 1 protest in 2003 that he intended to crack down protesters with riot police and tear gas
[report by Badcanto]. Should a riot broke out in Hong Kong, the idea that someone could order an crackdown by riot police and the Chinese army by a mere command is enough to make anyone panic.
“… the power of making new authorization for the HKSAR” (verse 2[sic])
This indicates that the high degree of autonomy, including executive, legislation and jurisdiction powers, as prescribed by the Basic Law that Hong Kong enjoys today is subject to the authorization of the central government. Judging from the political reality at present, it is highly unlikely Beijing would insist on exercising its jurisdiction to redefine the scope of Hong Kong’s autonomy, thus risking constitutional crisis, but a statement like this means that the so-called “high degree of autonomy” is far from indestructible. On that account, such can be viewed as an act to intimidate. Much similar to how chairman of the NPC Law Committee Qiao Xiaoyang said last year that the Beijing will not appoint a CE who go against China.
Reading between the lines, it is clear that the white paper is gearing towards public nomination and the referendum, while the subsequent Occupy Central movement is seen as a gesture of defying the Communist rule. In the eyes of China’s top officials, past citizens’ movement on the mass scale have encouraged the idea that showcasing the power of the people can force Beijing to answer people’s wishes. Therefore, it now has to reiterate “historic facts” and “legal grounds” to guide public discourse. It starts off with the “power to supervise over lawmaking” to illustrate that any proposal of universal suffrage that goes against the Beijing’s interests, albeit backed by a popular vote, will be rejected without second thought. Then with another round of literary and political attack, Beijing once again warns the opposition camp must not provoke the bottom line of CCP through means like civil disobedience, as the final call is made by the CCP.
Sign reads: Carry Forward Revolutionary Traditions, Promote Communist Ideologies
“Love China, Love HK” resurfaces
Ever since Qiao put forward the criteria that the CE candidates must be patriots who “love China and love Hong Kong”. Politicians and scholars alike rushed to decipher his true meaning. Pan-democrats also protest against the requirement that the CE “must not be confrontational towards the central government” fearing Beijing has closed the door on them. Even the patriotism criterion “love China and love Hong Kong” is not written on the Basic Law, nor on the decisions or any legal documents of the NPC, people readily conceive the concept, which is neither legal nor realistic, only to be baffled by its political and legal implications. Now the white paper has formally adopted these words of patriotic declaration as part of a guiding document despite the fact that the no formal definition has been given about concept itself. With reference to Article 43 of the Basic Law, the Chief Executive is responsible to the central government and the HKSAR government, none of which include being patriotic in any way.
To further elaborate the criteria in addition to what’s written in the law, Qiao defined the candidates for CE were “not to take part in activities such as attempting to overthrow the Chinese government or undermine the mainland's socialist system”, whereas Rao Geping asserted CE hopefuls must “uphold the Basic Law and China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong… and that in recognizing China’s sovereignty and its jurisdiction over Hong Kong, one would be obligated to love the country, and safeguard national interests, and ensure the implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ and the Basic Law.”
These restrictions show how fearful the Communist Party is of party politics taking roots in Hong Kong. It was feared that those in the opposition camp who gather year after year demanding the vindication of Tian'anmen Massacre, and the end to the rule of the Chinese Communist Party would rise to the ruling class if Hong Kong is to realize real party politics, Hong Kong would then turn into a centre of subversion against Communist rule. Outside forces would be introduced to weaken and challenge the very root of China’s governance and ideologies, political systems and constitution. Even the most dreaded idea of independence would mushroom to split the country.
In reality, Beijing’s fears, each arising from failing to extend the country’s stability maintenance machine into the territory, have yet to happen. Anyone who speak up for the sake of the country’s fundamental interests and Hong Kong’s long-term interest on the whole cannot escape the faith of being labelled trouble-making rebels. One of the vices of Chinese societies is that the ruling class and those who enjoy vested interests would often turn a deaf ear to criticisms towards themselves regardless of their substance and intent. Worse still, those who raise voice would be denounced as trouble seekers. In today’s Hong Kong, people who have no principles litter the place, whereas people who stands up for one’s beliefs are hard to come by.
Meanwhile in Britain, the opposition camp prides itself as “Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition
”. Being a patriot should never be confused with being a parrot to who submit oneself to authority.
A poster calling on Chief Executive, CY Leung to step down (source
“Patriotism” not a gauge of leadership
Consider an example: if you are to seek advice from someone, but you screen every candidate with of the gauge of being a Marxist, then the people you can consult with would be limited to those who advocate Marxism. Fortunately, Hong Kong prior to the handover operates on meritocracy, as former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping famously said, “White cat, black cat, what does it matter as long as it catches mice?” No one would judge you based on your family’s wealth or lineage, but on professional merits. No one cares if you are patriotic, but if you are up for the job. Puppets who answer blindly to political leaders are always abound, but those who truly know the right thing to do are a rare sort. Puppets who answer blindly to Beijing are always abound, but true leaders who know what’s right for Hong Kong are a rare sort. They have their own vision and values of leading the city independent of outside influences. They will not be contend with being Beijing’s puppets.
This brings us back to the dilemma of Chinese politics: an authoritarian regime breeds flunkies who know nothing but to make their master happy. An exact opposite of meritocracy, powers are not rewarded based on excellence nor popular consent. For instance, a Chinese political leader is much like a rich man with a lot of children. Imagine one day he decided to give all his wealth to the child who shows the most love and respect for him. What do you think happen next? Everyone will put on their filial piety face. Some may be genuine, some not. But you can never tell. So the father finally passes away and the one who put on the best act gets everything. Only then will the deceitful heir shows his true self. Whether it is former British administration or the top brass of state-controlled conglomerates, putting on a patriotic act and slamming rivals as not being patriotic enough becomes a rather cheap stunt.
Universal suffrage of CE: Beijing and local opinions equal
Hong Kong’s political situation exists rather a congenital conflict than a sudden mutation as CE in the current system has been selected by a small circle election and has been appointed by the central government of People's Republic of China. Beijing's marionette seems to be the system's nature while at the same time, half the members of the Legislative Council can be selected by the public. In this way, legislators will have to vote according to public will, in order to retain their posts.
Leadership failures suffered from C.H. Tung to C.Y. Leung can be traced back to the same root -- public will has been put behind the orders of Chinese Communist Party. They both uphold the executive dominance, as a result, the inaccessibility of ordinary operations in legislature and judiciary are encountered. To untie this dead knot, what possibly can Hong Kong do?
Take Chris Patten, the Lord Patten of Barnes and the last Governor of Hong Kong, as an example and you'll fully understand it. He had governed not only with Charisma and sophisticated political spin, but with his boldness confronting with Beijing's views, for the benefit of Hongkongers.
Only the government with civil identification, as anyone who has an understanding of politics might know, is able to be a strong one. Otherwise nothing significant can be done. Patten knows this principle, that is why a weak status has never calling for him. If he was to attempt the other way round, it would stand for no possibilities for his "dignified and honorable" withdrawal from Hong Kong.
In times of British Hong Kong, before the election system been introduced, such conflict were not sowed. The reason is straightforward --The Governor of Hong Kong and the Legislative Councillors are appointed directly by British Foreign and Commonwealth Office with no public involvement and intervention. Translation: To stay in office, it's all about obedience to only British.
A twist has come to the Board since 1985 when the LegCo of Hong Kong started to introduce part of the members by direct election. British recognised the old method was no longer feasible for governance, which then evolved into situation against Beijing. Even Patten was condemned by Lu Ping as a "wrongdoer who would be condemned for a thousand generations", he still got the mission completed and received praises from many regarding his effective governance of Hong Kong.
CE meant to be the communication bridge between Hong Kong and mainland China
To be CE of today, some say it takes to choose between acting as a tame parrot of Beijing or being a much revered leader of Hong Kong. You may wonder, does it truly not leaving the criteria much freedom of manoeuvre? Well, I say, false dilemma is it. To be a successful CE, the one is capable both to observe and to act. Taking citizens' views into consideration and prescribing the existing problems some appropriate strategies should come first in his/her mind.
The striving progress of universal suffrage for 07/08 and now for 17/20 -- Aiming to select CE in 2017 and to form the LegCo in 2020 by direct election has shown Hongkongers’ eagerness pushig forward the democractic development after the handover of Hong Kong. Through years of effort and pains, opposite voices are still there claiming that Hongkongers should patiently wait for a "progressive democracy" as a result of the unawareness of Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR and CE reporting conservative and filtered opinions to the central government would gradually become a resistance force of universal suffrage.
The CE has a vital role being a connection between Hong Kong and mainland China, which he/ she on one hand assists decisions making of the central government, on the otherIllegally speaking, "One Country" might go first rather than "Two Systems", but when it comes to practical governance, it's upside down. Thus a CE should follow shift a balance between the two.
In politics, Hongkongers have been longing for democracy, which purpose not to opposing the central government in the first place. On livelihood issues, Hongkongers desire the ruler to weigh options carefully taking into account citizens' feelings instead of just follow those awkward data from quantitative analysis. Combined with timely reflections and corrections followed by huge mistakes, it is a promising and responsible government.
The sign reads: The things in the world - If I give out alms, then it's yours; if I don't, you can't asked for it. (Source)
What is Beijing’s fear?
The cause of concerns raised by leaders of Chinese Communist Party is the distrust of Hongkongers. They don't seem to understand Hongkongers’ unwillingness to turn their home into a chaos, which reveals in each and every large-scale demonstration. You'll always find Hongkongers remain peaceful behaviours in rallies unlike citizens in other districts or countries who might probably bring serious sanguinary conflicts, even with a smaller number of protesters than Hong Kong.
Hongkongers act sensibly and rationally, no matter striving for which election. They have realised the existing system is suppressing the function of political parties.
Legislatures of many advanced countries in the West are constituted through full democracy. So far they have been carrying out effective governance. It is supposed to be a normal question to ask why couldn't Beijing allow it in Hong Kong? What is wrong with the world’s trend? What is Beijing so afraid of?
Hong Kong's political situation remains to be shrouded by uncertainty. It's impossible for Hong Kong to develop party alternation, but only to continue being a paper tiger government. The existence of this white paper worsens the existing problems. And by a simple estimation, universal suffrage will stay unrealised in the future. As Peter Woo's statement on the annual general meeting of the Wharf Holdings Limited mentioned, "Hong Kong is said to remain unchanged for 50 years ONLY and ONLY got 34 more years left for now. You all better behave yourself."