March 03, 2005

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Tung Che-hwa resigning part 2

The first instalment of Tung's resignation.

The Economist hits the nail on the head: The reported resignation of Hong Kong’s leader, Tung Chee-hwa, will be welcome news for the territory’s pro-democracy groups. But the timing of his departure shows how masterfully Beijing is controlling political events in Hong Kong. Yesterday in Beijing Tung refused to comment on the story to reporters, saying "I know you are concerned about many questions. I will give an account at an appropriate time." It really doesn't matter - it is a done deal. The immediate problem is determining the length of the replacement Chief Executive's term. Should he (Donald Tsang, the likely replacement) simply serve out the remainder of Tung's term or should he stay for 5 full years? The Basic Law is not clear on the issue. Inevitably Beijing will resolve it. The Standard opines Beijing prefers a two year term to give other candidates for the post a chance, in effect leaving Donald Tsang as an interim leader for 2 years. They are missing an opportunity. If they say the new Chief Executive will serve a full 5 year term they can postpone any debate over universal suffrage or election reform to 2010. Indeed Beijing may have stumbled upon the perfect method for indefinitely stalling democratic reform in Hong Kong. C. K. Lau points out in the SCMP the resignation is a double blow for the democrats - they lose their main villian as well. The IHT points out this is not a victory for democracy.

The Standard also looks at Tung's legacy and unsurprisingly finds it wanting. More worryingly Philip Bowring writes a sensible op-ed piece in the SCMP. The gist is Donald Tsang is not going to be a good choice as the next CE because he is overly loyal and eager to please his masters, he is a career civil servant lacking wider experience and his track record is patchy. The final paragraph repeats my thoughts from yesterday:

Hong Kong would be better off with a strong-willed mainlander with political clout in Beijing and a desire to make a success of Hong Kong than with a local who is forever looking over his shoulder to the backseat driver. Mr Tsang is just that subservient local.
The SCMP editorial is more optimistic, saying if the new CE serves until 2010 this could bring forward a proper democratic election from 2012. Not likely.

My observations from yesterday still stand. The resignation has been handled ineptly. While democracy is breaking out in the Middle East, Hong Kong is taking a backwards step. And who will get Tung's office furniture? Another issue some are starting to canvass is what else will Tung do in retirement? Will he return to his shipping company OCCL (if so, sell)? I'm hoping he'll take the time to write a tell-all autobiography about his time at the top. It might be self-serving but it would be interesting to hear his version of events.

Reactions and updates

* Peaktalk is also not optimistic Donald Tsang would be any different from Tung.
* At Chatter Garden they are getting a bad feeling over the resignation, seeing it more as a clampdown that bowing to public pressure.
(10:40) * Most of HK's papers ran with this story yesterday, with the notable exceptions of Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, the two pro-Beijing papers. No articles in Xinhua, China Daily or People's Daily either.
(11:54) * Hemlock notes HK is swapping the tycoons for the public servants, which cuts the rest of us out of the action:

“The most important thing,” I go on, “is that we’re not going to be run by a tycoon anymore.” Winky’s ears prick up. Absolutely right, she agrees with a broad smile. “Putting a tycoon in charge of Hong Kong is like giving a timid seven-year-old kid the keys to a candy store,” I explain. “Within minutes, his ‘friends’ are rushing in, opening all the jars and stuffing their faces.” ...Now, our dedicated public servants will have the keys to the candy store. No wonder Winky looks so smug. At least when the private sector is ravaging our common fortune you can buy stock and get a slice of the action in dividends. But you can’t buy shares in the civil service. You’re cut out.

(13:33) * Bill sees this move as an attempt by China to hold off the push for democracy in Hong Kong (via Publius).
(15:47) * Via Fons comes this Tom Plate article, who feels sorry for Tung and offers an alternative perspective.

posted by Simon on 03.03.05 at 03:40 PM in the


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Excerpt: This is the guy that China put into power in Hong Kong after it was handed over from the British in 1997. After some protests against him, the Party promoted him out to a position in China. Bill thinks it has something to do with preventing a democrati...
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Tracked: March 3, 2005 01:13 PM

A Shanghai blog featuring news and views of great interest

posted by: Zhang Liping on 03.03.05 at 01:36 PM [permalink]

Life really must be hell for all the poor oppressed people down there in Hong Kong, having to accept that "while democracy is breaking out in the Middle East, Hong Kong is taking a backwards step."

Hong Kongers must be devastated to live in one of the safest places on Earth, with economic growth of 7.5% and unemployment down to 6.4%, predicted to fall further.

How they must wish they had the freedoms of the Palestinians to be bombed, shot and beaten on a daily basis by an occupying army, while watching more of their land being stolen every week.

Why can't Hong Kong be like Iraq where "democracy is breaking out" and the rate of malnutrition among children has now risen to the level of Burundi; where unemployment might be 30%, 40%, 50% or 60%, but no one knows because it's too dangerous to find out; and where the economy is now such a basket case that the IMF doesn't even try to give an estimate of growth, positive or negative.

Why can't Hong Kong be like democratic and liberated Baghdad, where women now need male bodyguards simply to walk down the street to buy vegetables - for fear of being kidnapped by criminal gangs or religious fundamentalists?

Why does the evil and oppressive PLA insist on staying in its barracks - when everyone knows that the people of Hong Kong want it to round them up en masse, put them in prison and then submit them to sexual and physical abuse - as the US liberators do in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Doesn't the insensitive Chinese government know that Hong Kongers want to be killed - as more than 100,000 Iraqis have been killed since their country was liberated?

Surely everyone knows that Hong Kongers want the PLA to carry out extrajudicial executions, smash their homes and offices and then urinate on their possessions - so that they can be more like those lucky Palestinians.

Isn't it obvious that Hong Kong's elections were patently unfair? No election can be free without suicide bombers. And surely it should be obvious that international observers shouldn't be present at the place where the elections are taking place - the only way observers can establish whether a poll is free, fair and valid is for them to be in another country.

Can't the evil government in Hong Kong see the mass movement of democracy spreading through the world? Haven't they noticed the protestors in Beirut who are saying that no elections in Lebanon can be valid while they're under occupation by a foreign army? Everyone knows that the Lebanese and the people of Hong Kong want to be free like the Iraqis with no foreign occupation - just 130,000 or so US troops who couldn't possibly count as foreigners or occupiers.

All Hong Kongers want is to be bombed, liberated, protected and killed by the United States who would give them real democracy - just like Iraq. All Hongers want is to become homeless, live in squalor and have their land stolen by foreign immigrants like the Palestinians. Is that too much to ask?


As for the evil plot to subvert the will of the Hong Kong people by having Tung resign now (it really is devilishly devious to do what the opposition has been demanding all along) thereby ensuring that his temporary successor is chosen by the same committee that chose him...what, exactly is your point? If Tung doesn't resign now, he will stay in office for the next two years. If he does resign, that same committee will choose someone else to take over for the next two years. How, exactly, is this a step backwards, forwards or any direction at all?

Simon, I would like to make you an offer. I am willing to give you my entire life savings and everything I own. My only condition is that you prove you have done one of two things:

1) Go travelling alone and without bodyguards to Iraq for a month - living with ordinary Iraqi citizens in the cities of Baiji, Tikrit, Fallujah and Ramadi.


2) Renounce your Australian citizenship and Hong Kong residency, become a Palestinian and live in a refugee camp in Gaza or Ramallah.

Then tell us how much you are enjoying the democracy that is breaking out around you, and how bad life was for you when were living under that oppressive dictatorship in Hong Kong.

posted by: cat on 03.04.05 at 07:14 AM [permalink]

Only brilliance like your own, Cat, could make all things in the world the same.

posted by: Cover Me, Porkins on 03.04.05 at 09:53 AM [permalink]


Let's work from your challenge backwards. I'm Jewish with stamps from Israel in my passport. I respectfully decline your challenge, which is spurious.

Your main point mixes two different issues. Hong Kong is an economically successful place, whereas countries in the Middle East are not. The reasons why are many and not within the scope of this post. On the other hand, Hong Kong is not a democracy, indeed is retreating from it, whereas Palestine and Iraq have just held elections under universal suffrage. I completely disagree with your spin on the events in Iraq - for example how many Iraqis would like a return to rule under Sadaam or Afghans rule by the Taleban? - but that is not what this post is about. I have not asked for Hong Kong to be "liberated". I do not expect the United States to give Hong Kong "real democracy". There's no need. The Basic Law clearly lays out the road to full democracy.

You ask with regards to Tung How, exactly, is this a step backwards, forwards or any direction at all? Now that's a good question. Maybe I wasn't clear enough in the posts on the matter. Tung is leaving because his masters in Beijing are making him. His replacement will be appointed by 800 hand picked people, who will anoint Beijing's candidate. Whereas previously there was talk of expanding the Election Committee or even universal suffrage for 2007, now the next CE will be appointed under the old rules. That constitutes a clear step backwards because instead of progress the rules are remaining unchanged.

If time permits I will address your skewed opinion on Iraq.

posted by: Simon on 03.04.05 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

I respectfully - and gratefully - accept your refusal of my offer. I have to say that I did get slightly worried that just *maybe* you might be insane enough to take me up on it. I don't particularly want to give you everything I own. And I also wouldn't want to find out that I don't have pay up after all because you've just played the lead role in the latest al-Zarqawi snuff video.

You are right that I muddied the waters by mixing arguments about democracy and economic conditions. But I don't consider this, or my challenge, to be spurious.

Democracy has many aspects and many purposes. One of its main purposes is to enable the people of a community or a nation to live a life in dignity that they choose without fear of persecution or death.

Given a choice, most people would not choose poverty. Most people would not choose to be unemployed. Most people would not choose to see their children die from preventable diseases. Most people would not choose to have a couple of hours of electricity each day, or go for up to a week at a time without running water. Most people would not choose to be killed by a car bomb or a missile launched by a foreign occupying army.

Before the Iraqi elections, Zogby carried out an opinion poll. The vast majority of respondents said they wanted all foreign troops to leave the country "now, or very soon". If there were to be a democratic referendum on that issue now, a month later, would they be saying something different?

When Iraqis were questioned by journalists at polling centres, most of them said the same thing - they were delighted to be able to vote... and they wanted the foreign troops to leave *now*. Many of them said that getting the foreign troops out was the main reason they were voting in the first place. But the foreign armies are not going to go away. We could argue about this for as long as we like and we would probably never agree. So we will have to wait and see. In one/two/three/ten...etc years time, let's see what the situation is then. Let's see if the occupation forces have left. And let's see what the Iraqis are thinking and doing about it.

As I've already said, you would be insane to accept my challenge. But not because you are Jewish, or because you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. My old passport had an Israeli stamp in it. My current one doesn't. But I would still have to have a death wish to do go travelling to the places I listed yesterday.

Margaret Hussain devoted a sizeable part of her life to helping Iraqis and won an enormous amount of gratitude and respect in that country. She was against sanctions. She was against the invasion. She was against the occupation. Even so, she was brutally murdered.

Iraq is now so dangerous for foreigners that most western journalists hardly venture out of their hotels unless they are accompanied by armed "contractors" or embedded with the US military.

All too often, those who do go out without this protection end up wishing they hadn't. Giuliana Sgrena of the Italian communist newspaper Il Manifesto was clearly not a supporter of the invasion. But, as a hostage, her life is now in serious danger.

Christian Chesnot (Radio France International) and Georges Malbrunot (Le Figaro) already knew how dangerous things were - but chose to drive to Najaf anyway because they wanted to do their job. They were kidnapped and their lives hung in the balance for four months.

When they were finally released, Chesnot said: "Don't go to Iraq...You will be killed. No story is worth your life."

This had nothing to do with being Jewish or having Israeli stamps in passports. It was simply a reflection of what life is now like in Iraq.

It might be incredibly dangerous for foreigners in Iraq now, but it's also dangerous for Iraqis. So far, only one serious study has been done on how many Iraqis have died since the invasion. It was published in the Lancet late last year after extensive peer review. It shows that about 100,000 Iraqis have been killed since Spring 2003. The report was dismissed by unscrupulous politicians and incompetent journalists - the same people who assured us that Iraq had massive stockpiles of WMD - but not by anyone who can be taken seriously.

If I mixed my arguments about democracy and the economy, it's because it makes me angry to hear people prophesying doom in a place that is so safe, free and prosperous on every single day of the year - Hong Kong - while championing a semi-farce of an election that took place on one day of one year in one of the most dangerous places on Earth, with virtually none of the candidates even identified beforehand. Personally, I like to at least know someone's name before I vote for him or her.

Hong Kong was never a democracy under the British - if democracy is defined as the politicians being directly elected under universal suffrage. But it did have other aspects that we consider to be part of a democratic society - freedom of speech, freedom to organize and the right to demonstrate, for example. The CE wasn't elected by the people when the British ran Hong Kong. The CE still isn't elected by the people now. But those rights are still firmly in place.

Each time I go back to Hong Kong, the same freedoms that are part of a democratic society are still there. I am still able to go to Victoria Park to mourn the victims of the June 4th massacre along with tens of thousands of others. I am still able to publicly debate issues with people on all points of the political spectrum. And I can still see ordinary people making a real impact and effecting real change in society without any fear of arrest or persecution by the authorities. I can see no change at all in these aspects of democracy.

Popular political action in Hong Kong often has greater impact than it does in places that are considered to be fully democratic.

When hundreds of thousands of people in Hong Kong demonstrated against the proposed security legislation - that the government is obliged to enact under Article 23 of the Basic Law - the legislation was shelved. When a million people demonstrated in London against the invasion of Iraq, the British government ignored them.

The legal process needs to be defended, and I support anyone who defends it. But I simply don't accept that it is under any serious threat.

I have a friend who was a judge in Hong Kong when the British were still in control there. Every now and then, he would sentence someone to death. But because the death penalty had been virtually eliminated in Britain, London would always commute those sentences to life imprisonment. I'm glad they did, but wasn't that interference in the legal process of Hong Kong?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the House of Lords was always the final legal arbiter during the days of British rule. Now, the final arbiter is the National People's Congress. Back then, it was foreigners who decided. Now, it's the Chinese - and Hong Kong is Chinese.

There's an implied racism in those who argue that the Chinese, Arabs and others are not ready for democracy. But there's also an implied racism in those who constantly think they know better than "the natives" how their nation should rule itself. When we're looking for truth and justice, we need to be careful that we are not falling into one or the other of these two opposite but almost equal traps.

You are absolutely right when you say that "the Basic Law clearly lays out the road to full democracy". But it does not lay out a precise timetable for when that must be implemented. That is for the people and government of Hong Kong...and the central government in Beijing to decide. You are privileged, as a foreigner, to be given the right to take part in that decision-making process.

As for my "skewed view" about Iraq, I look forward to hearing your arguments. You are an intelligent person, so I know you will be able to come up with something less spurious and shallow than "how many Iraqis would like a return to rule under Saddam".

I'm glad you will not take up my challenge to go to Iraq, because I don't want you to run the risk of being murdered. But this time, I have a more serious challenge - one that carries no risk at all to your life. Read Riverbend's blog and see what one young Iraqi women's life is like and what she thinks about everything that is going on there:

Go right back to the beginning of her blog when she started it in 2003 and read as far as you can. She is just one person and one person does not represent all the views of a nation. But read what she has to say - it's worth it.

posted by: cat on 03.05.05 at 06:27 AM [permalink]

Cat - I've been too busy today to respond to your post but I promise to do so soon. There's a lot of material in there to cover.

posted by: Simon on 03.07.05 at 05:59 PM [permalink]

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