November 02, 2005

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Hong Kong's broken democracy

I respectfully hand over the stage to Hemlock:

someone in Beijing has decided that now would be a good time to switch on the Mouth-Frothing Anti-Democrat Diatribe Machine – albeit at a low setting. The manufacturer claims it will divide and isolate democrats, but in practice it seems to draw them tighter together and remind 70 percent of the Hong Kong public why they voted for them. A timetable for universal suffrage would be illegal, it hisses. Sifting through the mendacity and half-logic the device has spat out, I find a desperate but vaguely sensible point – that a timetable for universal suffrage could be too long as well as too short – and a cheering pat on the head in conclusion…

The apprehension that ‘universal suffrage would be forever delayed’ is by no means warranted.

The writer refers to the Fifth Report on Constitutional Development as “actually the implementation of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s April 26 decision.” That’ll be news to the Hong Kong Government, which thinks it’s the result of extensive consultation with the people of the Big Lychee (for whom it won’t be news).

The Big Boss doesn’t think it’s funny. He is worried that the pan-democratic camp might turn tough and muster enough brainpower to recall that China originally guaranteed Hong Kong autonomy over political reform after the first 10 years of reunion with the glorious motherland. That’s why Annexes I and II of the Basic Law read the way they do. It’s what Beijing’s Lu Ping spelt out in 1993. A mealy-mouthed British report last year buried it in paragraph 56*, but otherwise it all goes unspoken in polite society. “What if they look us in the face and come out with that?” the visionary tycoon wonders. “What do we say?” I think about it for a few seconds.

“Simple,” I reply. “Beijing’s broken its promise. What’re you going to do about it?”

*The report is the Six Monthly Report (January - June 2004) on Hong Kong by the Foreign Secretary. Paragraph 56 reads:
The British Government was surprised by the intervention of the central authorities on these issues. In 1993 Lu Ping (then Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Office of the State Council) stated that "how Hong Kong develops democracy in the future is entirely within the autonomy of Hong Kong" (People's Daily of 18 March 1993, quoted in South China Morning Post of 30 March 2004). Moreover, although Article 158 of the Basic Law gives the NPC Standing Committee the power to interpret the terms of the Basic Law, Lu Ping reportedly told the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce on 26 April 1989 that the NPC Standing Committee "would restrict itself to interpreting only the provisions which are the responsibility of the Central Government or the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR". We do not consider that the formation of the Legislative Council concerns the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR. We consider, therefore, that the 6 April Interpretation together with the 26 April Decision place new limitations on the autonomy of Hong Kong which appear to be inconsistent with the Joint Declaration.
Meanwhile, if anyone can clearly decipher the China Daily rant about demands for a timetable for universal suffrage, you're a better person than me. As I've said elsewhere, Beijing is missing a golden opportunity to use Hong Kong as an arms-length testing ground for universal suffrage and full democracy, with little cost to itself and with plenty of kudos to be gained. It doesn't look like the powers that be will be able to overcome their short-sightedness and use their imagination. That's what you get when you're ruled by engineers.

posted by Simon on 11.02.05 at 11:44 AM in the Hong Kong democracy/politics category.


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