December 19, 2005

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Hong Kong's democracy reforms

Now the WTO carnival has left town, it's time to focus on Wednesday's Legco vote on Donald Tsang's constitutional reforms. It looks very likely that the democratic camp will veto the changes, even after The Don today offers to phase out appointed democratic councillors by 2015 (nothing happens quickly in this game). Everyone is pondering what next, with The Don flying to Beijing next week to get further instructions and to shore up his position even though he's screwed up the one thing Beijing tasked him with doing in his 2 year apprenticeship.

Below the jump are the results of a poll done by the SCMP on what Hong Kongers think about the democracy reforms. People are split on whether the reforms should be passed, but a pluarity think the pace towards universal suffrage will slow if Legco vetoes the package. It's another perverse example of the democrats vetoing the package despite it conferring many advantages for them. Wang Xiangwei in the SCMP says a veto plays into Beijing's hands:

If democrats hold up hopes that the veto of the reform package could pressure Beijing to make more concessions on the timetable for universal suffrage, they are seriously mistaken. The rejection of the package would play right into the hands of Beijing, which has no intention to accelerating political developments in Hong Kong.

From Beijing's perspective, when the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping laid down the rules that "everything remains unchanged" in Hong Kong for 50 years after 1997, the package was wholesale, meaning that neither the economic system nor the political system should change much. Following this logic, for any timetable on universal suffrage, Hong Kong people would have to wait until after 2047. It may sound depressing, but that seems to be Beijing's bottom line...

After the rejection of the package, Beijing is most likely to adopt a policy of "sitting tight in the face of 10,000 changes" on the political developments in Hong Kong, to borrow a Chinese proverb. However, that does not mean mainland officials will pay less attention. In fact, they are most likely to heighten their alerts as the December 4 march has stoked their fears about the impact of Hong Kong's democratisation on mainlanders.

Ever since the recent series of "velvet revolutions" in neighbouring Central Asian nations such as Kyrgyzstan, Beijing has become paranoid about such a revolution spreading to China and has begun taking tougher measures against dissenters.

The Lychee revolution? That said, when you read James Tien's SCMP piece today, you'll understand why vetoing is the only way. It begins:
Imagine you are the parent of a young child. One day, that child begins to crawl. How would you react? Would you encourage the child and look forward to the day it will take its first steps, or would you tie the child to a bedpost and announce that you will force it to sit still until it can walk properly?
With analogies like that, there is no alternative but to veto. The far more clever pro-Beijing forces are hoping the democrats veto the package because of the benefits it confers on the democratic camp. Again the SCMP:
Many are privately hoping the proposal, which they see as favourable to the democrats, will be voted down.

A leader of one pro-Beijing organisation said quite a number of those in the leftist camp were viewing the administration's woes over the reforms with indifference. "Many would actually prefer the existing electoral arrangements to remain intact."

The leftists don't care much for Donald Tsang but aren't brave enough to stand up to him...yet.

So what will happen after Wednesday? Nothing. The democrats still won't have a timetable, and they won't have the potential for electoral advantage either. If the democrats could see past their short term politicking they might realise that sometimes large change is best achieved by gradual steps. This is an opportunity wasted by the democrats.


posted by Simon on 12.19.05 at 10:58 AM in the Hong Kong democracy/politics category.


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In the end, it is simply a battle of wills, isn't it, between a parent and a child. Logic in such power plays (as I am sure you are aware Simon!) plays generally a secondary or tertiary role. Except in this case, if Hong Kong is the child, it is much wiser indeed about what it really needs and wants than the parent - and knows it.

Beijing already moved the goalposts a little by acknowledging the failures of their previous representative in Hong Kong, Tung Chee-Hwa. Unfortunately, I actually think the democrats do not believe that the Chinese have the political will to say that if the current reform bill does not pass, you will simply get nothing. They believe that China is afraid of democracy, but that it is even more afraid of social instability in Hong Kong. And because the democrats know that China can always go through some torturous cogitory exercise to justify anything they do in Hong Kong on the basis of the Basic Law - the same way the CCP justifies its current rule based on reinterpretations of Marxism-Leninism with Chinese characteristics.

posted by: HK Dave on 12.19.05 at 11:24 AM [permalink]

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