December 26, 2007
Book Review: We Deserve Better by Hemlock

A recent change in circumstances has meant that posting to this site is likely to be far more infrequent going forward...whether that is a good or bad thing I'll leave for you to judge.

As part of my holiday season reading I've just read Hong Kong diarist (blogger seems to prosaic) Hemlock's We Deserve Better: Hong Kong since 1997. Fans of his website looking for more of the witty and satirical ins-and-outs of daily Hong Kong life are not going to find more of the same: there's no Winky Ip or Odell in these pages. Instead this book is a calm and flowing history and political analysis of the Big Lychee over the past decade. It is no surprise to find that Hemlock's is an insightful, thoughtful witness and commentator in addition to a diarist without peer.

The first 12 chapters are a potted modern history of the first decade after the handover of Hong Kong, with the crisis-ridden Tung Chee-hwa's mishaps and mis-steps well covered in intimate detail. By intimate I don't mean that we get a minute by minute coverage of the period, but rather closely observed recollection and commentary of the bad and good (yes, there was some). Hemlock is a talented writer and the pages fly by as a reminder to those of us who lived through it and giving a taste of what it was to be witnessing a great city being pummeled by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. One could quibble with some of what the author has chosen to put in or leave out but that will always be a matter of personal taste and Hemlock managed to cover a vast amount of ground in a short number of well chosen words. The book takes the action up to mid 2007, just after The Don's re-election, and it is entertaining to imagine what Hemlock would have made of more recent events such as the "through-train" stock proposal and purchase of shares in the Hong Kong Exchange by the central government. Perhaps later editions will include an expanded 2007 chapter but what is striking is the common patterns and reactions by various players, almost regardless of the event or crisis at hand. Hemlock's gone some way to unlocking the codes and practices that really drive this city, bringing clarity to a deliberately murky world.

What makes the book come into it's own is the final three chapters. Hemlock takes a broader look at what ails the city and where it could go with a bit of imagination and guts from the ruling class in the city. In the final chapter he even speculates on a way to get from the political dead-end the city finds itself in (and which suits a great many) to something resembling a functioning polity. It's obvious to Hemlock and the reader that even this modest way forward is more a flight of fancy than a realistic guess as to where Hong Kong will get to in the next ten years. What amazes is that Hong Kong succedes in spite of the institutional inertia that actively works against what makes the place work so well. I would have preferred Hemlock to devote more to these last few chapters, further developing both the problems with and solutions to Hong Kong's governance.

One can understand Hemlock's desire for anonymity. He clearly has access at a high level to many of the movers and shakers in Hong Kong and that is part of what makes both his website and this book great: we are giving a peek inside the closed doors we would normally not even be aware are closed. But therein lies the shame of it as well: here is someone that loves this city, has interesting and creative things to say about how it is run and should be governed and yet must hide behind a nom de plume. We are both richer and poorer for that.

This book should be compulsary reading for every member of Legco, Exco, the senior levels of bureaucracy, the oligarchs, policy secretaries and members of the ruling class. For anyone who has lived through or watched post-handover Hong Kong it is both a handy memory-jogger and thought provoking read. And for anyone that is a student of political economy it is a case study of a bastardised political culture that is both dysfunctional and unique. Don't buy this book expecting a "best of Hemlock's website". But do and buy and read it to see how Hong Kong got to where it is and how it might (but only might) be going.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:20
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October 31, 2007
Regina Ip

I know this democracy thing is a bit messy, having to mingle with the masses and all, but could Regina Ip look any more awkward in her public appearances? Best of all, we get to do this election all over again next year.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 16:43
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October 23, 2007
Voting Tsang style

voting1.jpg

Sure it's been done to death (pardon the pun) but The Don's no retracted view of the Cultural Revolution as extreme democracy proves something interesting. First what the Don said:

Mr Tsang was speaking to government radio RTHK on Friday.

"People can go to the extreme like what we saw during the Cultural Revolution. For instance, in China, when people take everything into their own hands, then you cannot govern the place," he said.

When challenged that the Cultural Revolution was not really an example of democracy, Mr Tsang said "[It] was the people taking power into their own hands. Now that is what you mean by democracy if you take it to the full swing."

This falls back on a typical fallacy: that democracy means "the people taking power into their own hands". If I'm not mistake, that's anarchy, a state that more accurately describes the Cultural Revolution. Democracy isn't just about going to a ballot box every so often, although that's a start. It's about that vote being equal for every member of society, rather than having functional constituencies that allow vested interests to have a veto and vote in Legco. But it is also about a free press, independent courts, rights to assembly and protest.

On the other hand, the Cultural Revolution is the complete opposite of that. Indeed it was largely about a meglomaniac running riot (again, pardon the pun) over his country in order for him to consolidate his grip on the party and country after the disaster of the Great Leap Forward.

No-one really believed The Don when he campaigned on "solving" the democracy issue within the next 5 years. But the lack of understanding shown by his inept comparison is enough to make one hope that we don't get Tsang-style democracy anytime soon.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:39
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July 12, 2007
Democratic overload

Donald Tsang is a man of his word...he promises to find some road to full democracy for Hong Kong and then offers up a brilliant way to achieve it: a green paper so full of choices that it's the very model of democracy itself. With 7 million combinations, one for each Hong Konger, it is actually possible for every citizen of this city to choose their own democratic model using Donald's ever-so-easy mix-n-match democracy chooser. You can choose who, you can choose how, you can choose when....so stop complaining already.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 17:34
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July 02, 2007
Hong Kong: China's political legacy

There has been much hoopala and carrying on over yesterday's largely meaningless 10th anniversary of Hong Kong's unification with the motherland. A couple of things stand out. First there were numerous references to Hong Kong's "re-unification"...now students of history can argue many things, but Hong Kong was basically a small fishing village prior to the British taking it over. One could possibly argue the New Territories were always Chinese territory that was under lease, so that part couldn't be "re-unified" as it was already part of China. As for the rest of the city, how do you reunite when the place didn't previously exist?

But that's a minor quibble. A far larger one revolves around President Hu Jintao's statement yesterday:

"One country is the prerequisite of two systems. Without one country, there will be no two systems," Mr Hu said. "One country and two systems cannot be separated from each other. Still less should they be set against each other."

Mr Hu described the "one country, two systems" concept, and its successful implementation, as China's unique contribution to mankind's political development.

China's always got this chip on it's shoulder. It sees itself as a great civilisation, but always worries that the rest of the world doesn't. So there's always attempts to show just how much China has given the world. Now the "one country, two systems" concept may be one such legacy...but is it unique? China's tried it twice before: with Tibet in the 1950s (didn't work out so well) and in an offer to the KMT in Taiwan in the early 1980s as a path for unification (and clearly that didn't happen). But if at first you don't sucede, keep going until you do. I'd argue China's actually given the world a far bigger political legacy: the CCP has become the first political party to give up its ideology without replacing it with a new one.

The Economist has a survey of the Big Lychee which basically says that for the most part China's surprised everyone by not screwing Hong Kong up too badly...partly because Tung Che-wa did a great job of it on his own. The survey conclusion is simple: the place is booming but it can't continue forever as an economic experiment without also allowing it to be a political experiment in real democracy. China has a real chance to use Hong Kong as a willing guinea pig for political reform, safely away from the Motherland. But to date Beijing and its toadies in this city have constantly run from the challenge. The politics of this city is dysfunctional, revolving largely around pro-democracy or pro-Beijing camps while the bureacracy runs the city as it likes. The contradictions between the politics and economics of Hong Kong are sowing the seeds for eventual chaos.

Update: Blogger and Hemlock friend Daisann McLane writes about the handover anniversary in Slate. And over at ESWN, a translation of an article about the Hong Kong you may not know about...if you're a mainlander.

The Economist articles are all reproduced under the jump.

One country, no democracy

If only Hong Kong were allowed to show China the way politically as it has economically

WHEN China took back sovereignty over Hong Kong ten years ago, it promised to preserve its unique “way of life”. The imaginative formula for doing this had two parts. The first was “one country, two systems”—ie, Hong Kong would still be capitalist, while China would pretend, ever less convincingly, to be socialist. The other was “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong”. As China's leaders descend on Hong Kong this weekend for tenth-anniversary fireworks and self-congratulation, the place is booming and has changed far less in ten years than has almost any other city in China (see our special report). Its capitalist system is largely intact. But on its commitment to let Hong Kong people run Hong Kong, China has flouted its promise of autonomy in everything apart from foreign affairs and defence. This is a potential disaster for Hong Kong, and a missed opportunity for China.

China has ensured that elections to Hong Kong's legislature, and those for the “chief executive”—the successor to Britain's colonial governors—are elaborately rigged in favour of “pro-China” candidates. Pointing to Hong Kong's success as an undemocratic British colony, and its continued success as a slightly less undemocratic “special administrative region” of China, the Communist Party can argue that this shows it was right to deny Hong Kong full democracy. That is nonsense.


It is true that, to its shame, Britain never bestowed democracy on Hong Kong. But it did endow it with strong institutions such as an independent judiciary and a free press. They are crucial to Hong Kong's standing as a truly global city. They have survived the past ten years better than many feared. But both have suffered some erosion. Worse is to come unless Hong Kong has a government with the legitimacy to defend them. And that requires a proper democratic mandate.

Curiously, many of those businessmen in Hong Kong who used to argue that full democracy would serve only to destabilise the place and make China cross have become converts to democracy, despite the flourishing economy. They realise that the present constitutional muddle simply does not work: the lack of democratic legitimacy leads to a constant search for an elusive consensus and indecisive government.

The Hong Kong model
There is another reason why democracy in Hong Kong should be welcomed by the government in Beijing: Hong Kong could serve as a laboratory for political change on the mainland, as it earlier served as an economic model.

A crucial element of the reforms unleashed in China by Deng Xiaoping nearly 30 years ago was the recognition that Hong Kong had much to offer China. He saw how much its entrepreneurial people and their capital could do for the mainland; and he copied some of its economic freedoms. Often judged the world's freest economy, Hong Kong is not a bad model. The Pearl River Delta—Hong Kong's hinterland—became China's fastest-growing region.

Hong Kong could now play a similar role in politics, where the Communist Party is again toying with the idea of reform (see article). China remains a viciously repressive dictatorship, where any weakness of the central government is compensated by the even more arbitrary exercise of power by local authorities. But people are immeasurably freer now than they were 30 years ago.

Every year sees tens of thousands of protests—many by peasants over official land grabs. But the new property-owning, shareholding middle classes are also restive. None of this, so far, amounts to a challenge to Communist Party rule. But it does suggest that the instability the party fears may come. Hong Kong would be a good place to try an alternative way of dealing with dissent. On Sunday, after the fireworks have fizzled and China's and Hong Kong's leaders have told each other how well they are doing, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers will take to the streets to demand their democratic rights. It is fair to predict that they will do so without violence and with considerable good humour. They should be cheered on by everybody who wishes China well.

The resilience of freedom

After ten years of Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong's economy is thriving. But politics, says Simon Long (interviewed here), remains a one-horse race AFP THE torrential rain that fell on Britain's end-of-empire parade on the night of June 30th 1997 conjured up apocalyptic visions of the future of Hong Kong. Prince Charles bequeathed a sodden city to Jiang Zemin, China's president, and left on board his yacht with Chris (now Lord) Patten, the last British governor. That very night the city's new masters swore in a new “provisional” legislature appointed to replace one elected under British rule. Television cameramen flocked to the territory's borders with China to film the arrival of the People's Liberation Army. It proved to be almost the last chance to see those soldiers in Hong Kong: they disappeared into their barracks. There were no round-ups of degenerates, dissidents or democrats, and no newspaper closures.

It is tempting to argue that Hong Kong has changed China more than the other way round, as this newspaper and others forecast in 1997. Certainly China has changed the more, though Hong Kong's role in this—compared with, for example, the dynamic momentum of China's internal reforms, and the country's accession to the World Trade Organisation—is debatable. Yet as Hong Kong and China celebrate the tenth anniversary of their reunion, their self-congratulation seems justified. An experiment without historic precedent, the transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty while keeping its unique way of life, has come off—so far.

What has not changed in the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” (SAR) of China is more obvious than what has. The city streets still hum to the rhythm of commerce. The skyline remains one of the glories of urban ambition. Even the grumbles are unchanged. The harbour—the reason this “barren rock” became a metropolis—continues to shrink as Hong Kong island reverts to the mainland through reclamation.

The red flag of China flutters over Government House, Lord Patten's former home, and government offices are adorned with China's state insignia. But the street names still celebrate former colonial governors—Des Voeux, Robinson, Nathan, Bonham (though, for the foreseeable future, a Patten Boulevard seems unlikely). And servants of the colonial regime still play important roles under the new dispensation. Donald Tsang, Hong Kong's chief executive, the successor to the governor, was formerly a senior member of Lord Patten's administration.

Drastic changes, however, were never likely. The 1997 handover was part of a process rather than a life-changing event. The largest part of Hong Kong's land area, the New Territories, had been Britain's under a 99-year lease granted in 1898. China never recognised that agreement, nor indeed the treaties ceding Hong Kong island and Kowloon in perpetuity. But the expiry of the lease presented practical difficulties, such as over land tenure, so China agreed to negotiations with Britain that led to the two countries' 1984 “Joint Declaration”, confirming Hong Kong's reversion to China at the end of the lease.

Unusually, then, the change of sovereignty was preceded by a long planning period. Unprecedentedly, China also agreed that the transfer would happen on the basis of “one country, two systems”. Until 2047 Hong Kong would keep its own economic and political system and enjoy autonomy in everything except foreign affairs, defence and national security. This was an extraordinary concession for a proud, resurgent nation. It reflected the vision of Deng Xiaoping, who was in the process of opening China up from the autarkic blind alley of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. No Chinese leader since has enjoyed the popularity of Deng in those early years. Many in Hong Kong say that the anniversary the island should be celebrating is not this year's but the one coming up in December next year: the 30th anniversary of the Communist Party plenum that marked the Deng restoration.

Even so, there were reasonable doubts about whether “one country, two systems” could work. The whole point of Hong Kong, both for the people living there and the foreigners doing business with it, was that it was not quite China. It was a place of refugees, “a Chinese colony that happen[ed] to be run by Britain”, according to its historian, Frank Welsh. By 1997 it had become a prosperous, service-oriented economy and a sophisticated, cosmopolitan society. China was a poor agricultural nation in the throes of the world's fastest industrial revolution.

Hong Kong had been a colony with only limited self-rule. But Lord Patten and others like to point to the observation of the late Samuel Finer, a famous historian of government, that Hong Kong's was a unique political system: undemocratic but free. China was, and remains, undemocratic and unfree. Optimism in the late 1980s that its opening-up might include political liberalisation was crushed by the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing on June 3rd-4th 1989. For a generation in Hong Kong, that was a defining moment. But 18 years have passed, and for today's bright, otherwise well-informed and sophisticated 17-year-olds mention of it rings only distant bells.

That is not surprising. The biggest challenges Hong Kong has faced in those 17-year-olds' lifetime have stemmed not from Chinese repression but from Asia's 1997 financial crisis, the bursting of the dotcom bubble, and epidemics of bird flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Hong Kong weathered those storms. The economy has just enjoyed its best three years for two decades. As open and free as any in the world, it has proved its flexibility and resilience.

This report will argue that, with some important lapses, China has kept its promises, and “one country, two systems” is working better than many expected. But its continued success is jeopardised by the failure to tackle the big unresolved issue left at the handover: the establishment of an accountable government checked and balanced by a representative legislature. Hong Kong will never sit comfortably in China as long as its politics is a battle between two camps, one labelled “pro-Beijing” and the other “pro-democracy”.

To the relief of Britain and China, Hong Kong has been largely absent from world headlines in the past turbulent decade. But it has not been without its drama. Besides the unforeseen financial and health crises, there was, in effect, a mass uprising four years ago, in protest at an “anti-subversion law” that China wanted Hong Kong's government to introduce. Seeing their civil liberties threatened, Hong Kong's people took to the streets and won a deferral of the law. Their political freedoms, too, are proving resilient.

Democracy deferred

Ten years on, the same old arguments and the same old excuses are trotted out


THERE are countless ways to rig an election, some crude, some more sophisticated. But seldom in the history of electoral democracy has so much brainpower been devoted to ensuring that a poll is a foregone conclusion as in Hong Kong over the past three decades. The result is that the people of Hong Kong still do not directly elect by a simple majority either their legislature or the top official in the executive branch, the chief executive.

EyePress News

Tsang and Leong: not similar enoughDonald Tsang, the present incumbent, was “re-elected” in March by an “election committee” of just under 800 people, chosen according to Byzantine rules designed to make certain that the candidate supported by the Chinese government in Beijing will win. Unexpectedly, an opposition candidate, Alan Leong of the Civic Party, secured the necessary nominations from more than 100 committee members to stand against Mr Tsang. So the election was watched with interest, but not suspense: Mr Tsang's victory was never in doubt.

In fact he would have won a fair election. Opinion polls show him enjoying approval ratings of 70% or more. Mr Tsang (or Sir Donald, as he prefers not to be known these days) compares favourably with his predecessor, the SAR's first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa. Mr Tung had to cope with a series of unforeseen disasters. Even so, his leadership was in most estimations disastrous. China forced him out in 2005 and picked Mr Tsang as his successor.

Mr Tung was a shipping tycoon from a Shanghai family who owed his business's survival to the government in Beijing. Mr Tsang has worked his way up from fairly humble origins and is seen as a local boy made good and a competent administrator. Critics accuse him of being a chameleon. He still sports the bow-ties he wore as a colonial civil servant, but has recently been seen in a Chinese-collared jacket.

Yet Mr Tsang himself has said that the debate about electoral democracy “tortures” Hong Kong. This seems an exaggeration. When, as now, the economy is thriving, the place hardly seems preoccupied with its democratic deficit. But Mr Tsang is right that naturally this is a burning concern for everybody who cares about politics. Increasingly, it also bothers those who want strong executive-led government.

Mr Tsang has promised to resolve the problem during his present term of office, which ends in 2012. According to polls by the Hong Kong Transition Project at the Baptist University, 86% of Hong Kong's people saw him engage in televised debates with Mr Leong and 69% heard him make this promise. That makes it another important reason for his popularity. A government green paper is to be produced later this year, listing three routes to the “ultimate aim” promised in the Basic Law—the mini-constitution for Hong Kong promulgated in 1990—of “universal suffrage” for both Legislative Council (LegCo) and chief-executive elections.

The sooner the argument is settled in favour of representative democracy the better. Since political-party platforms are still defined around when and how “universal suffrage” is to be achieved, the constitutional debate distorts and stunts the development of normal, policy-based political competition. Since LegCo is a mixture of popularly elected delegates and representatives of “functional constituencies” (professional, commercial and other interest groups), its powers—already weak—are attenuated further by questions over its legitimacy. And since Mr Tsang's own popular mandate is even more tenuous, the system is biased towards inaction.

The lack of democracy seems incomprehensible. On the World Bank's figures, Hong Kong in 2005 was the world's tenth-richest country by gross national income per person at purchasing-power parity. One study published this year suggests that its people have the world's highest average net worth (more than $200,000 per person). It is cosmopolitan, modern and open. Its people have proved themselves orderly, moderate and pragmatic—as in their support for Mr Tsang, Beijing's man. They have at times taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands, but they have done so without violence.

When China agreed in the early 1980s to negotiate with Britain to resume “the exercise of sovereignty” over Hong Kong, its starting-point was that the territory should be handed over intact. Officials sometimes used the analogy of a fragile ornament—“a Ming vase”. A better simile might have been an intricate piece of machinery whose workings no one fully understood. At the time, Hong Kong's administrative and economic system had little in common with the newly reforming one-party rule of Communist China, but it worked well. By then Hong Kong had spent some 140 years as a British colony without enjoying the right to choose its own leaders.

So agitation in Hong Kong for Britain to allow a democratic system was greeted with suspicion. Yet Hong Kong's leaders and legislators had to be chosen somehow, and China stated in the Joint Declaration that the chief executive would be appointed by the central government after elections or consultations held locally. LegCo would “be constituted by elections”. The complex system that was devised allowed some direct elections and some indirect ones, via a carefully selected “election committee” (the mechanism also used to choose the chief executive), and some “functional constituencies”, the majority of which would do what China told them. Those elected to LegCo in 1995, under British rule, were meant to be on a “through train” to Chinese sovereignty.

After the Beijing massacre in 1989 a stronger democratic mandate for future Hong Kong governments seemed even more important. The last British governor, then plain Mr Patten, a Conservative politician rather than, as usual, a senior diplomat, seemed to agree. He tried to squeeze the demands for more representative democracy into the restrictive framework he had inherited.

China cried foul, alleging a serious breach of the spirit of the Joint Declaration. But the election went ahead in 1995, and “pro-democracy” candidates trounced the “pro-Beijing” camp. The through train, however, was derailed. Fresh elections under China's rules were held in 1998, and changes in the composition of LegCo resumed “the gradual and orderly progress” promised in the Basic Law. The number of directly elected members rose from 20 in 1998 to 30 in 2004, whereas those picked by the election committee went from ten to nothing. The functional constitutencies remained at 30.

A problem left over from history
In the September 2004 elections “pro-democrats” as usual won about 60% of the votes, despite concerted opposition co-ordinated by mainland-affiliated groups in Hong Kong. This gave them just 25 of the 60 seats. China's “parliament”, the National People's Congress (NPC), the ultimate arbiter of the Basic Law, had already ruled in April 2004 that the time was not right for “universal suffrage” in the LegCo elections in 2008, nor for the chief-executive elections in 2007. The “ultimate aim” is receding into the distant future.

Donald Tsang may be popular, but not nearly as popular as competitive politics. For those seats on the committee to re-elect him where individual voting was allowed in December 2006, pro-democrats triumphed: 114 of 137 candidates who favoured a contested election got in.

Even Jasper Tsang, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the biggest single party in LegCo, would welcome universal suffrage. The DAB, which developed from the clandestine local communist party of colonial days, is the main grassroots “pro-Beijing” party. Yet Mr Tsang argues real elections could free the DAB of an association that puts off many voters, and allow it to exploit its formidable local network and strength on bread-and-butter issues.

Even if most of Mr Tsang's colleagues agreed with him, which they do not, the DAB would be constrained by what he calls its “20-80” problem. The party's core supporters, he says, are among the 20% of the population who toe the Beijing line, and would be alienated by any attempt to stray from it. But a cautious proposal for minor electoral reforms ahead of this year's green paper would not win over many of the other 80%.

Much of the time the DAB finds itself in a de facto alliance with another “pro-government” party, the Liberals, dominated by businessmen. Its chairman, James Tien, agrees with Mr Tsang that universal suffrage is unlikely to arrive in 2012. Unlike Mr Tsang, however, he does not think it desirable, regarding it as “too major a change”. The Liberals' biggest proposed reform for 2012 is to give everybody a vote in the chief-executive elections, but to raise the number of nominations a candidate needs to run; this hurdle would then be lowered in 2017 and removed in 2022. As Mr Tien engagingly suggests, voters “could choose between Donald Tsang A, Donald Tsang B and Donald Tsang C”. Others also see the election committee as a useful mechanism for restricting the choice to candidates Beijing supports.

The “pro-democrat” camp is also diverse and divided. Its leading lights range from free-market liberals to left-wing labour activists to the former head of the civil service under Lord Patten and Tung Chee-hwa, Anson Chan. Mrs Chan (“the best civil servant I have ever worked with, by a street”, says Lord Patten) would have made an excellent chief executive. China may have rejected her as somehow tainted by her experience under British rule, and may feel vindicated by her conversion to an explicitly pro-democracy stance. But that conversion has added to her already considerable popularity.

The biggest pro-democracy party, the Democrats, has seen its dominance eroded since the handover. Some of its younger leading lights joined more radical groups. The Civic Party, formed in 2006, has attracted some support, notably from middle-class professionals. Some of the democracy movement's longest-serving leaders have become wearily pessimistic. Martin Lee, founder and former chairman of the Democrats, compares this year's green-paper exercise to an earlier one, in 1987. This was a shameful episode in Britain's late colonial history. Designed to quell enthusiasm for brisker democratisation, it failed to admit the reason: that China would not allow it. Instead it buried the demand for direct elections to LegCo—as the fifth sub-option of the fourth main option in chapter four. “Twenty years completely wasted,” concludes Mr Lee.

Well, not quite. Hong Kong has acquired a more vigorous and vigilant legislature. But Mr Lee recalls that ten years ago nobody was arguing that 2007—the earliest date for the introduction of full democracy allowed under the Basic Law—was too early. Now few expect it even in 2012.

Under the Basic Law, LegCo electoral arrangements after 2007 are for Hong Kong to decide alone, to be notified to Beijing “for the record”. Yet they may be harder to reform than those for the chief-executive elections, which require the NPC's “approval”. The functional constituencies that occupy half of LegCo at present have become powerful vested interests, unlikely to vote themselves out of existence. Already there is talk of their becoming a second chamber to a popularly elected LegCo. Mr Tien, directly elected himself, says the system works better than the sort where legislatures are full of directly elected generalists who become easy prey to professional lobbyists. “We have the lobbyists in parliament,” he explains.

AFP

The people's flag is deepest redThe delay in introducing full democracy is damaging, for several reasons beyond the affront to natural justice. A representative government in Hong Kong would be the best monitor and guarantor of continued autonomy. And, as Mr Lee puts it, the future of the rule of law in the long run depends on popular control of the legislature. But there is also a growing feeling that the present arrangements simply do not work. The lack of a constitutional link between the legislature on the one hand and the chief executive, his advisory “executive council” (ExCo) and the civil service on the other inhibits both policymaking and implementation. Critics point to the government's inability to reach consensus on issues as diverse as plans for a cultural district in West Kowloon in 2004 and a Goods and Services Tax to diversify its revenue base last year.

Mr Tung tried to tackle the problem in 2002 by filling some of the top civil-service posts with political appointees from business, the professions and academia. Legislators from “like-minded” parties and groups were appointed to ExCo to make it more like a cabinet in a democracy. Mr Tsang now proposes to extend the experiment with a new tier of political appointments to the civil service.

A basic contradiction
Tinkering with the existing structure in this way ignores the basic contradiction: that 60% of the electorate consistently votes for pro-democrats who are not “like-minded”. Yet their candidates are condemned to a minority of LegCo seats and exclusion from these political appointments. This is unlikely to change until the government in Beijing has a rethink, of which there is no sign. The DAB's Mr Tsang thinks that this year's contested chief-executive election will have reinforced its opposition to faster democratisation, despite Donald Tsang's strong popular support.

China had hoped to have him re-elected without a contest. It is still not ready to accept an alternation of ruling parties, fearing that some leading “democrats” are disloyal to China and want to topple Communist rule on the mainland as well. Popularly elected politicians, it reckons, might resort to populist measures (for example, bringing in a minimum wage). The world's biggest Communist party is afraid of democracy in Hong Kong lest it introduce an element of socialism there; and, perhaps, lest it inspire China politically, as it has economically.

Eternal vigilence

A respected legal system and a free press are proving competent watchdogs

AP

Lai holds the fort“THE rule of law and a free press”: government officials and businessmen repeat the phrase like a mantra that can ward off evil. They are not wrong. An impartial, trusted legal system and the free flow of information remain vital elements of Hong Kong's magic: two essential ways in which it is still not quite China. There were fears for both in 1997; both have survived, if not unscathed.

Worries about the legal system centred on the composition of the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) set up to replace Britain's Privy Council at the apex of the court structure. In fact, even strong critics of the arrangement put in place in 1995, such as Martin Lee, concede that the CFA has proved “very strong”. Where the law has looked in trouble it has been because of actual or perceived interference from either the Hong Kong or Chinese governments.

In 1999 the government refused to accept a ruling by the CFA on the rights of abode in Hong Kong of the mainland-born children of Hong Kong parents. It sought an “interpretation” of the relevant passages of the Basic Law from the National People's Congress, which duly overturned the CFA's ruling. On two other occasions the NPC has intervened: in 2004 to rule out universal suffrage in 2007-08; and in 2005 to decree that Donald Tsang's first term as chief executive would last only until 2007.


Nevertheless, the judicial system still enjoys respect at home and abroad. The solicitor-general, Ian Wingfield, is a Briton. He points out that Hong Kong does not even have an extradition treaty with the mainland. And the CFA, closer at hand and less prohibitively expensive to invoke than the Privy Council, has been much better used. Between July 1997 and the end of 2006 it received nearly 800 applications to appeal and nearly 300 substantive appeals, compared with just 103 appeals to the Privy Council in the previous decade.

Some businessmen are worried about a slow chipping away at legal standards. Newer judges, they say, are not of the same calibre as the older ones and may be more susceptible to political pressures. But many leading members of the opposition, such as Mr Lee and Mr Leong, are themselves lawyers, and neither shares that concern. Mr Leong, however, complains about a “lack of commitment to the rule of law”, citing examples where “administrative convenience and expediency took precedence”.

Whatever the worries about the judicial system, the police force, transformed from a byword for corruption in the 1970s to one of Asia's finest, is deemed to have managed the transition well. One of the 200-odd Britons still serving in the force laments the passing of its “mess culture” and the arrival of a more “autocratic” Chinese management style. But he sees no serious contamination from increased contacts with policemen from the mainland, where corruption is rife.

Keeping spin-doctors away
“I've been wrong,” is the rare and refreshing admission of Jimmy Lai, a clothing tycoon turned media mogul, about his pre-1997 gloom. In the 1990s sorrow over the Beijing massacre and trepidation about Hong Kong's future would sometimes reduce him to tears in interviews with the foreign press. Now he finds himself “pleasantly surprised by what has turned out”, especially in his own business. “Press freedom exists,” he declares.

There is, however, a sting in the tail: “We are the only ones holding the fort.” It is true that Mr Lai's Apple Daily newspaper and his weekly Next magazine are among the most outspokenly critical media, and that many other newspapers and their proprietors are, broadly, pro-government and pro-China. The Next group is suffering an advertising boycott from tycoons who do not want to upset China.

There are other, less subtle pressures. In May 2004 three popular radio talk-show hosts resigned, citing political pressure from mainland officials. A Hong Kong journalist, Ching Cheong, is in jail in China as a suspected spy. There are also fears of political motives behind a government-commissioned report this year on public-service broadcasting. It advised against turning Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), a government-owned but independent station, into Hong Kong's future public-service broadcaster.

But most journalists concur that a bigger problem than direct pressure is self-censorship. In a survey this year by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, 30% of journalists admitted to censoring themselves and 40% thought their colleagues did. One newspaper journalist recalls an editor's initial rejection of a column by a well-known Taiwanese independence activist. The column was published a week later, after the editor had reconsidered.

In other ways, too, freedom is still there for those who dare to exercise it. Falun Gong, a religious sect banned as subversive on the mainland, continues to proselytise in Hong Kong. And Han Dongfang, a labour activist who was a leading figure in the 1989 Tiananmen protest movement, lives and works there unmolested.

Every June 4th tens of thousands gather in Hong Kong's Victoria Park to commemorate the Beijing massacre. And, as mentioned earlier, on July 1st 2003 hundreds of thousands protested against planned anti-subversion legislation. They forced the government first into three big concessions in the bill and then into its deferral. It still has not been tabled and is “not a priority” for Mr Tsang's administration. Hong Kong knows the price of liberty and, inspiringly, seems prepared to pay it.

Rather them than us

Taiwan is not convinced by the Hong Kong experiment


HONG KONG is China's third attempt at implementing the idea of “one country, two systems”. Although the language was different, a similar promise—of a high degree of autonomy in everything except foreign affairs and defence—was offered to Tibet in 1951 and Taiwan in 1981. In neither place did it work.

In Tibet the autonomy soon proved illusory. In 1959 Tibetan resentment erupted in a revolt against Chinese rule, soon suppressed. Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile with some 100,000 followers. Nowadays he is willing to accept Chinese sovereignty in return for genuine autonomy, but China will barely talk to his representatives.

Taiwan is a different matter. Bringing its 23m people back into the embrace of the “motherland” has always been more important to the Chinese even than reclaiming little Hong Kong from Britain and, in 1999, tiny Macau from Portugal. In 1981 China offered Taiwan even greater freedoms than those later promised to Hong Kong and Macau, including the right to maintain its own army. Taiwan at the time was ruled by the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT), dominated by the minority on the island who had fled from China's Communists at the end of the mainland's civil war in 1949. The KMT spurned the offer, maintaining the fiction that it was the legitimate ruler of all of China. With Hong Kong, China had the chance to demonstrate to Taiwan that it could respect autonomy, preserve prosperity and make “two systems” work.


In the meantime Taiwan has become a democracy and the KMT has lost power to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose leaders lean towards a formal declaration of Taiwanese independence from the mainland. In that, few Taiwanese back them. China has never dropped its threat to “reunify” Taiwan by force if peaceful means fail. But opinion polls show that even fewer Taiwanese favour reunification along the lines of one country, two systems (see chart 3). They see little reason to swap de facto independence for a promise of autonomy, though some are ready to give China credit for keeping most of its promises in Hong Kong.

In Taiwan, as in Hong Kong, political development has been distorted by the relationship with China. The DPP's Chiou I-jen, secretary-general to the president, Chen Shui-bian, suggests that, in time, another similarity may become evident: that partial elections do not work. When Taiwan liberalised in the late 1980s, the opposition had no hope of winning elections because a majority of seats were reserved for delegates notionally representing seats in mainland China. The combination of relatively free elections and predetermined outcomes proved unsustainable in Taiwan, just as democrats hope it will in Hong Kong.

Light on its feet

The economy has been blowing hot and cold since the handover, but is now flourishing


REALISTS always knew precisely what would follow July 1st 1997: July 2nd 1997. Nor were those who watched financial markets all that surprised when that day brought a sharp devaluation in Thailand's currency, the baht, which had been under speculative attack for some months. But hardly anybody at all predicted that this event would, over the following few months, lead to the most severe regional financial turmoil for decades. Hong Kong, as a regional hub, was inevitably drawn into it. In comparison, the events of July 1st seemed almost irrelevant.

It took some time for the shock-waves from South-East Asia to reach Hong Kong. By the time they did, in 1998, it led to the worst recession in a generation, with GDP contracting by 5.5% that year. Prices fell for five years until modest inflation returned in 2004. A strong recovery in 1999-2000 was stalled by the slowdown in America after the bursting of the dotcom bubble. In late 2001 and early 2002 Hong Kong suffered another recession. Again, recovery was interrupted: this time by the outbreak of SARS in China in 2003, which caused some 300 deaths in Hong Kong and, for a while, crippled the economy.


After three years of recovery, the tenth-anniversary celebrations are held against the more familiar backdrop of thronged shopping malls, packed restaurants and a welter of impressive statistics. The economy grew by 7.5% in 2005 and 6.9% last year. Trade has increased by two-thirds since 1997. More visitors are coming to Hong Kong than ever before—more than 25m a year. It is the world's third-biggest air-cargo hub and second-biggest container port by throughput. Hong Kong continues to top lists of the world's “freest economies”.

That last attribute helps explain the flexibility and impressive strength Hong Kong has shown since 1997 to withstand the battering from so many unforeseen assailants. So, too, does the good shape it was in at the time of the handover, and particularly its extraordinarily strong fiscal position. This was in part a defence against the political uncertainties of the handover, and in part a reflection of China's abiding fear that Britain would empty the safes and cupboards before departing. Although Hong Kong's financial autonomy is guaranteed under the Basic Law, China demanded consultation on the final budget of British rule, prepared by Donald Tsang, the financial secretary at the time.

The all-too-visible hand
The war-chest built up for one campaign proved useful for a different one altogether. In August 1998 the Hong Kong government spent HK$118 billion buying shares on the local stockmarket in response to speculative attacks from hedge funds. Since October 1983 the Hong Kong dollar has been pegged to the US dollar. The peg is backed by a currency board (ie, every Hong Kong dollar is backed by equivalent holdings of US dollars). Attacks on the peg automatically lead to a rise in interest rates, which depresses the stockmarket. So speculators against the HK dollar would also “short” the stockmarket, making money as the market lost value. Because of the peg, the exchange rate remained immune from the contagious devaluations that swept Asia in 1997-98. But the price was paid in five years of deflation and crashing asset prices. Property prices fell by 60-70% from their 1997 peak.

Having intervened in the market—rightly or wrongly—Mr Tsang gained credit for holding his nerve as the scale of the intervention mounted. Alarm about a more active role for the government in the economy turned out to be partly justified. Government officials dropped the rhetoric of non-intervention and adopted slogans such as “proactive market enabler”. But the practical impact of this should not be exaggerated. The government ran fiscal deficits for a number of years from 1998, and expenditure as a percentage of GDP rose as the recession bit. But by 2006 it was back in surplus and its spending ran to only about 17% of GDP, compared with an average for the OECD countries of over 40%.

Even so, critics have accused the government—especially under Mr Tung—of being more partial than its colonial predecessor to three sorts of distorting government activity: picking winners; investing in what should be private-sector projects; and backing favourites. These strands came together in 1999 in the Cyberport project, a property development disguised as an information-technology initiative, negotiated with the Pacific Century Group of Li Ka-shing, the most redoubtable of Hong Kong tycoons. And the decision to put government money into Hong Kong's own Disneyland, which opened in 2005, remains controversial.

Spending taxpayers' money on such projects lays the government open to attack from critics who say its safety net for the poor remains inadequate, despite an increase in social-welfare spending from 1.6% of GDP in 1997 to 2.4% last year. Such criticism has grown louder in two recessions since 1997. Unemployment before the handover, at about 2% of the workforce, was almost negligible. It climbed to 6.2% in 1999 and 7.9% in 2003. Since then it has fallen every year, but at 4.8% in 2006 was still much higher than pre-handover levels. Over the same period median earnings—about HK$10,000 a month—have not changed at all.

Inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, has been rising since 1981 and now compares badly with other developed economies, being roughly on a par with Argentina. The government's financial secretary, Henry Tang, argues that this is a global trend which a small, open economy such as Hong Kong's can hardly resist. Even Alasdair Morrison, former chairman in Asia of Morgan Stanley, a leading investment bank, frets that the ordinary citizen is not getting enough out of Hong Kong's huge success as a global financial centre.

That success is ever more linked to China's soaring economic growth. Hong Kong is still the largest investor in China. Its firms employ an estimated 12m people there. The share of China's trade intermediated by Hong Kong has fallen from about 60% in the 1980s to about 20% now, but the absolute amount has more than doubled since 1996, to $300 billion last year, despite a loss of market share to mainland ports.

Integration with the mainland Chinese economy began in the early 1980s and in many respects has developed independently of the political relationship. Hong Kong remains a separate customs area, with its own fully convertible currency. In the early 1980s Hong Kong still had a manufacturing industry. Rising costs made moving to China an obvious choice.

The transformation of the mainland Chinese economy in the past three decades is well-documented. But on a smaller scale, Hong Kong's own evolution from a low-cost manufacturing base to a hub for services with ever more value added (see chart 5) is almost as remarkable. It has been achieved in symbiosis with the mainland. This gives rise to two common but diametrically opposed prognoses for Hong Kong's economic future.

Pessimists still see Hong Kong as doomed, despite the present rosy outlook. Its fate is now tied inextricably to China's. There are already signs that the mainland economy is overheating. Should it crash, it will drag Hong Kong down with it. But should the mainland boom continue, Hong Kong's importance will steadily diminish compared with other Chinese cities, notably Shanghai. Once China's currency, the yuan, is fully convertible, Hong Kong will be just another Chinese port.

Optimists point to the big helping hand China extended to Hong Kong in the second half of 2003. In the depths of the post-SARS gloom, China came to the rescue in two ways. The “Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement” (CEPA) signed at the time is a free-trade agreement giving Hong Kong firms preferential access to the mainland market. More important, China allowed individual Chinese travellers to visit Hong Kong without joining group tours—a big boost to the local tourist and retail industries. Even if things go badly on the mainland, say the optimists, it will try to spare Hong Kong the worst. And since the city is still integrated into world markets as well as China's, it is somewhat insulated from a downturn in China alone. If Chinese growth continues at its present astonishing rates, however, Hong Kong will continue to share in the feast.

The truth lies somewhere between these extremes: neither success nor failure is inevitable. Hong Kong is too much part of China's economic region not to be dependent on growth there. And it is likely that Shanghai will take away some of Hong Kong's business. Still, even a declining market share in China can mean huge absolute increases, and Hong Kong is uniquely placed to gain from continued growth in its own backyard.

Richer than all his tribe

The workshop to Hong Kong's front office

ONE fear about Hong Kong's future is that the rise of Shanghai might condemn it to becoming the financial hub for “just” the Pearl River Delta (PRD), as Shanghai deals with the booming Yangzi delta region. The worries are premature, such is Hong Kong's lead over Shanghai. But even if they were realised, such a fate might not be the end of Hong Kong.

The PRD is, with the Yangzi delta and the Bohai rim around Beijing and Tianjin in northern China, one of the three most important economic regions of China. The “PRD Economic Zone”, first officially defined in China in 1984, includes the “special economic zones” of Shenzhen, next to Hong Kong, and Zhuhai, bordering Macau, and the neighbouring parts of Guangdong province.

According to a study in 2005 by Michael Enright, Edith Scott and Ka-mun Chang, if the area, including Hong Kong and Macau, were a separate country, it would be the world's 18th-largest economy and its 11th-biggest exporter, ahead of South Korea and India. It has a population of about 65m and the mainland part of it has enjoyed an astonishing average annual rate of economic growth of around 17% for the past quarter-century. Hong Kong firms employ more than 11m people in the region and have provided some two-thirds of the foreign direct investment there. The mainland part of the region has attracted about 22% of all the FDI that has gone into China and accounts for about one-third of its exports and imports. Two-thirds of the world's toys, 45% of its wristwatches and one-third of its consumer electronics, garments and footwear are made there.


No other country in the world has industrialised as rapidly as China; and within China no region has matched the sustained growth of the PRD. To the outside observer it looks hideous: a proliferation of ugly building sites, cramped factories, poisoned waters and filthy smokestacks. Yet there are signs that the region is ready to move upmarket.

Air pollution is now causing a growing clamour and land turns out to have a myriad valuable uses. Wages have gone up, so the number of sweatshops has gone down. K.C. Kwok, the Hong Kong government's economist, says some local governments in the Pearl River Delta are establishing links with officials in Vietnam and Bangladesh to refer potential investors on to them. There is also a “Pan-PRD initiative”, covering the nine southern provinces of China, to help spread development from the congested coast to the poorer inland regions. This, says the Hong Kong government, will position Hong Kong as the hub of a region of 474m people, with a GDP much the same as that of the ten members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations combined. Eat your heart out, Lee Kuan Yew.

Smog gets in your eyes

There is doubt about the government's commitment to protecting the environment


MUCH of the border between the New Territories and China is a stark divide. On one side are tower-blocks and the frenetic building of a modern city; on the other rugged, deserted hillsides interspersed with farmland. Hong Kong's countryside is one of its lesser-known glories. Some 37% of its territory is protected in country parks—a remarkable proportion in one of the world's most densely populated places. The corollary is that most Hong Kongers live in small, high-rise apartments arranged along deep canyons. And their natural environment, they believe, is worsening steadily.

Civic Exchange, a think-tank, sums up a common view in a ten-year review of Hong Kong's environment: “Environmental quality is failing to improve, or even deteriorating in many areas...There is a lack of leadership from the highest level of the government on environmental issues, and a continuing reliance on an infrastructure-led economic model that is exacerbating environmental problems.”


The problem that gets the most attention, and that most shocks returning visitors, is the deterioration of the air quality. This started well before 1997. Civic Exchange cites an estimate based on 1996 statistics which put the additional premature deaths per year resulting from air pollution at 2,000. A commonly used current estimate comes from Anthony Hedley of the University of Hong Kong, who calculates that bad air causes 1,600 deaths a year.

Besides such grim numbers, there are two other reasons why air pollution has become such a huge concern. The first is its visibility—in the form of smog, which has become steadily more common (see chart 6). The magnificent views from those soaring skyscrapers in Hong Kong's Central District are often shrouded in haze. The second is that this is starting to deter people who have a choice from living in Hong Kong.

The air is as bad as in any rich-world city. Sarah Liao, the government's environment secretary, says the sea breeze often used to save Hong Kong from the effects of filling the atmosphere with so many poisons. But now “we have got to the stage where nature says 'no-can-do'...We are swimming in a constant chemical soup.”

A government handout insists that “improving air quality tops the government's agenda”. And Ms Liao gives an impressive list of initiatives, including trying to change individual behaviour. She has been urging building managers to turn up the thermostats on their air-conditioning, and drivers to turn off idling car engines. Now she is contemplating legislation. Emission caps have been imposed on power companies, and Ms Liao says that in the negotiations to set new electricity tariffs from next year, pollution control will be as important as volume generated (almost the sole criterion in the present arrangements). Already, all taxis and half the minibuses have been converted to run on less polluting LPG.

Much pollution, of course, comes from mainland China. The same handout suggests that the Pearl River Delta is the source of roughly four-fifths of the pollution. But another study by Civic Exchange found that last year local emissions were the main cause of pollution on 192 days and mainland emissions on 132. Only 41 days were fairly low on pollution.

Many of the polluting factories on the mainland are owned by Hong Kong businesses. It seems that local authorities in China are getting tougher on the worst offenders. But environmentalists believe that Hong Kong's government is not doing enough to persuade mainland local authorities to help: it is “self-intimidated”, according to Eric Bohm, who heads the local office of WWF, a conservation body.

Mr Bohm says the government has decided green groups are “anti-development”. Despite its denials, it is also widely believed to see air pollution as an expatriate's concern, at odds with the hunger of local people for growth. And Donald Tsang's “legitimacy deficit” lays him open to the charge that he is more concerned about the interests of the local businessmen who helped to elect him than those of the average breather.

A tale of two hongs

And two ways of handling a handover

Corbis

When Jardine was a babyTHE rivalry between the old colonial trading houses—the hongs—that used to dominate business in Hong Kong is the stuff of legend. As Hong Kong's reversion to China loomed, two of the crustiest adopted opposite strategies. Jardine Matheson, founded in 1832 and still commemorated in a number of Hong Kong place names, confronted the Chinese authorities and became, say its bosses, a “whipping boy to beat up the British”. In contrast, Swire, heir to Butterfield & Swire, in business in China since 1861, seemed eager to please. In 1996 it sold 25% of Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's “flag-carrier” airline—to CITIC, a Chinese investment firm, and other mainland investors.

Jardine's fall into disfavour followed its decision in 1984 to shift its legal domicile to Bermuda, and then, a decade later, to delist its shares from the Hong Kong market. Both moves dented commercial confidence at sensitive moments. It did not help when Henry Keswick, Jardine's chairman, told a British parliamentary committee in 1989 that Britain was handing Hong Kong over to a “Marxist-Leninist, thuggish, oppressive regime”. Chinese polemicists have long historical memories and linked the fleet-footedness and insults to Jardine's role in the 19th-century opium trade.


Chinese pique was such that, for much of the 1990s, it would have no truck with Jardine. But ten years on, Mr Keswick says, “business has never thrived better.” There is no “post-colonial kickback”. The group remains Hong Kong's biggest employer outside the government. In the past ten years its shares have shown a compound annual growth rate of 21.3%. One subsidiary, Hongkong Land, owns much of the territory's best office space. Others are big in construction, engineering and supermarkets. One-quarter of its revenues derive from Hong Kong and China, and most of the rest from South-East Asia. This, says Mr Keswick, is one of Hong Kong's wonders often overlooked in the euphoria about China: it is the centre of an overseas Chinese commercial diaspora spanning the region.

As Jardine has found before, however, Chinese leaders bear long grudges. Despite the present boom, it may be too early to celebrate reconciliation. And if Jardine can claim vindication for its strategy, so can Swire. It is similarly diversified. But an airline deal it struck last year symbolises the interlocking business interests of Hong Kong and China. Swire gained 100% ownership of Dragonair, a mainly domestic Chinese airline, and doubled its shareholding in Air China, the national flag-carrier, to 20%. Swire and CITIC both reduced their holdings in Cathay and Air China bought 17.5% of it. The arrangement prompted some to ask, as they do of Hong Kong and China, “who took over whom?”

Life on the margin

To secure its future as a world city, Hong Kong needs democracy Digital Vision HAVING grown up to the ticking of a countdown clock, many Hong Kongers have been worrying most of their lives. But Liu Kin-ming, a former head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, points out that their worries now are the exact mirror image of their fears in 1997. Then the concern was that China would meddle in Hong Kong too much, destroying a cherished way of life and a purringly efficient economy. Now the fear is that Hong Kong will be “marginalised”: that China will not meddle enough.

Nowhere is this feeling more acute than in the financial markets. As financial services have steadily grown in relative economic importance, so has exposure to any fickleness in Beijing's policies. This is particularly true of the stockmarket. Last year the amount of capital raised in initial public offerings (IPOs) in Hong Kong was second only to that in London. Some 73% of the Hong Kong total, or HK$369 billion, was raised by mainland enterprises. By the end of 2006, 367 mainland companies had listed shares in Hong Kong. They account for 55% of the capital raised in Hong Kong in that period and now make up nearly one-third of listed companies, half the stockmarket's capitalisation and 60% of its turnover.

They also help explain the burgeoning operations of the big global investment banks that are competing for a slice of this lucrative market, and their worries that the flow of big mainland IPOs might dry up. There are two concerns. The first is that many of the very biggest deals have already been done. The second is that the Chinese authorities might start forcing more companies to list shares in Shanghai rather than—or as well as—in Hong Kong.

In the short term, some of this is a response to the spectacular bubble on the Shanghai exchange this year. As millions of Chinese citizens have discovered the thrill of gambling on the stockmarket, share prices there have soared. By May, the 40-odd shares listed in both Shanghai and Hong Kong were trading in Hong Kong at an average discount of 43% to those on the mainland. Besides the attractions to share issuers of such high prices in Shanghai, the clear signs that too much cash was chasing too few shares have encouraged regulators to increase the supply of listed companies.

In the longer term, China may indeed want to see Shanghai become a truly global financial centre. Already it is taking steps to improve corporate governance, disclosure and accounting standards. It needs to. According to a ranking of Asian companies in 2005 by the Asian Corporate Governance Association, a private-sector watchdog, China came ninth out of ten, whereas Hong Kong came second, behind Singapore. Nevertheless, Goldman Sachs, in an assessment of Hong Kong Exchanges, the listed company running the stockmarket, fretted about the perception of its “eroding pre-eminence” compared with Shanghai. But Paul Chow, chief executive of Hong Kong Exchanges, says that “battle has not started” because the yuan is not fully convertible.

Open for business
Mr Chow may well be right that Hong Kong need not worry yet. It is so far ahead of Shanghai in terms of institutions, laws, connections and English-speakers that catching up will take decades. As China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, put it himself this year, “Hong Kong's position as a financial centre, shipping centre and trade centre is irreplaceable.”

Even if the IPO bonanza were to peter out, there would be other opportunities. For example, China says it wants to invest $300 billion of its foreign-exchange reserves. And if China were to open up further and liberalise its exchange rate, Hong Kong would benefit so much that a loss of market share might be almost irrelevant.

The same factors that make Hong Kong an appealing Asian foothold for financial institutions attract other businesses too. Hong Kong still has 6,300 offices of Chinese and foreign companies. Nearly 4,000 of these are “regional headquarters”, drawn not just by Hong Kong's reliable legal system and free flow of information but by its efficient, well-connected airport. It is hard, for example, to cover Taiwan, the world's 16th-largest exporter and importer, out of mainland China, because there are no direct scheduled flights.

However, there are signs that Hong Kong is becoming less appealing as a base for Westerners. Estimates from Hong Kong's immigration department of the number of Western expatriates fell by about one-third between 2001 and last year, to just over 70,000. Among the factors blamed are air pollution, a shortage of places in international schools and the sky-high price of top-quality accommodation. But the growing role of China in the local economy, generating more jobs that can be filled by local people, may also have something to do with it. And some Western expatriates who have stayed say that far more of them are buying property and investing in Hong Kong for the long term than before 1997.

It is certainly not that foreigners are fleeing because the darkest forebodings have come true and China has made Hong Kong a bad place to do business. When the Chinese government has intervened directly in Hong Kong's business affairs, it has met with vigorous opposition. Last year, for example, there was a row over Hong Kong's largest telecoms firm, PCCW, whose chairman and main shareholder, Richard Li (Li Ka-shing's son), tried to sell the firm's main assets to a foreign consortium. The deal began to crumble when a Chinese firm, China Netcom, which owned 20% of PCCW, objected to the sale. An agreement reached when China Netcom acquired its stake in PCCW in 2005 had in effect given it a veto over any large share sales. The company was reported to have been acting under instruction from Liao Hui, the head of China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. China is not alone in discriminating against foreign would-be purchasers of strategic assets. Its own attempted takeover of Unocal, a Californian oil firm, in 2005 was scuppered by American concerns about ceding ownership to China. Even so, the affair was a serious breach of Hong Kong's commercial autonomy.

Such incidents, despite dire warnings, have not so far done any fundamental damage to Hong Kong. Even before the handover, China's commercial clout was felt in the influence of its big enterprises in Hong Kong and the belief of both Hong Kong and foreign businesses that it made sense to cultivate them. Those businessmen that displeased China, such as Jardine's bosses (see article), or Jimmy Lai, who was hounded out of his successful clothing chain, Giordano, suffered the short-term consequences.

Yet in most respects China has honoured the promise of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” with a high degree of autonomy. The exception, however, makes a mockery of the other promises: Hong Kong's continued inability to choose its own political representatives and leaders. China utterly refuses to yield that kind of autonomy to Hong Kong; indeed it is prepared to intervene egregiously in Hong Kong's affairs through its support for the candidates it favours in Hong Kong's “partial” elections and through its “interpretations” of the Basic Law to make sure those elections remain partial. The response from the present Hong Kong government mimics the “pre-emptive cringe” of pre-Patten British colonial regimes. Rather than stand up for the rights of Hong Kong's people, it is inclined to second-guess the views of the government in Beijing.

Asia's world city
Such a puppet government will find it hard to deliver decisive leadership, and will remain vulnerable to attacks on its legitimacy. With their big demonstration on July 1st 2003, Hong Kong's people not only achieved the indefinite delay of an objectionable piece of legislation; they also, in effect, brought down the government of Tung Chee-hwa. But the conclusion the Chinese government seems to have drawn from the episode is depressing: that full democracy should be deferred further, perhaps for ever. That may be unwise. According to Lord Patten, Hong Kong is a moderate place and no threat to China, but “if there is one thing that could make Hong Kong immoderate, it is blocking attempts to introduce more accountability into the political system.”

At times in Hong Kong's recent history its political system has been a matter of global interest: at the time of the Joint Declaration in 1984; after the massacre in Beijing in 1989; and in the years around the handover in 1997. Ten years on China has managed to make Hong Kong's political demands seem an almost parochial concern. Britain's Foreign Office produces a restrained six-monthly report on the territory, and American politicians occasionally raise the issue with China. But nobody pretends that foreign governments have much leverage.

China clearly has an interest in Hong Kong's success, but cares even more about its stability. That is especially true as China readies itself for the 2008 Olympics, to be held in Beijing—except for the equestrian events, which will be staged in Hong Kong because of the prevalence of equine diseases in Beijing and other mainland cities. Is this a metaphor for what Hong Kong has become: a useful adjunct to the mainland, with better quarantine arrangements?

It is still much more than that; still, in the slogan trumpeted by its government, “Asia's world city”. Hong Kong remains China's pre-eminent international city, competing with London and New York as much as with Shanghai and Singapore. The biggest risk to this status remains China's bizarre idea that it can be an “economic” city without being a “political” one. And its best defence remains the extraordinary resourcefulness, common sense and vigilance of its people.



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June 21, 2007
Fanny Law's talking out of school

While the HK papers have devoted acres of newsprint to the Institute of Education inquiry, most people don't know or care much about it. Yesterday the ICAC's Fanny Law quit because the report said she had been naughty when she was still part of the Education Department. Her crime?

Law was found to have improperly interfered with the academic freedom of former lecturer Ip Kin-yuen and the director of the institute's Center for Institutional Research and Development Cheng Yin-cheong when she telephoned them after the two had publicly criticized education policies.

Law had asked for the dismissal out of anger or frustration but "it must be remembered that Mrs Law was the second most senior government official in charge of education in Hong Kong.

"Her demands and complaints, even if made casually, carried significant weight and, more particularly, could be viewed as attempts to silence the Education and Manpower Bureau's critics. It was unacceptable that she did not express her opinions openly and through proper channels, but instead in a manner with the semblance, if not also the substance, of intimidation and reprisal. The commission disapproves such behavior unequivocally."

She was pissed off, called these guys up and now she's being crucified for it. Meanwhile outside the ivory tower this kind of thing happens all the time, albeit not reported in newspapers. The principles of "academic freedom" and tenure are cherished jewels in universities, to protect academics and allow them to pursue their studies without fear and favour. Personally I'm struggling to see the crime here that's resulted in Ms. Law's resignation.

But more interesting was what Ms. Law said when she resigned:

Clearly, there are serious and irreconcilable differences between me and the commission over the boundary of academic freedom.

"To safeguard the dignity of a civil servant in the implementation of government policies and in the discharge of duties, I have decided not to remain in the public service. I have no regret about leaving the public service, but I do have concerns. If my departure could stimulate discussion and reflection on the unhealthy political situation in Hong Kong, this would be my last contribution as a civil servant."

She's been out of the public service for a matter of hours and she's telling everyone about the "unhealthy political situation" in Hong Kong. Is it that the public service is losing its grip on the city and government? Or something more? That's where the real story is...but I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for more. I'd love to know what Ms. Law's alluding to.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:01
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April 30, 2007
Fearing fear

The SCMP entertains us on its front page with all the reasons that Beijing thinks the deadline for universal suffrage in Hong Kong should slip from the promised 2012 to, ummm, well, kind of, like, about 2104567 years from now:

Beijing has become more fearful about the early introduction of universal suffrage in the wake of the chief executive election, a well-informed pro-Beijing source said. The source revealed Beijing's post-mortem of the March 25 election was largely negative, although state leaders have indicated otherwise publicly...

"The lessons Beijing has drawn from the election are mostly negative," the source said. "It is not possible for them to agree to universal suffrage in 2012. The earliest possible date is 2017." He said the mainland authorities were surprised that Alan Leong Kah-kit secured entry to the election.

"Beijing is concerned the Election Committee mechanism has been unable to screen out people like Alan Leong, who are not acceptable to them, in the nomination period," the source said. "To them, the implication is that the democrats would be able to stand for universal suffrage when the Election Committee is transformed into a nominating committee for the popular vote.

"In a sense, Beijing feels fortunate that they have a popular candidate like Donald Tsang. There will be a degree of uncertainty if the candidate is not Donald Tsang."

Are we getting set for El Presidente for Life Donald Tsang. The logic (and it's a stretch calling it that) is Beijing isn't happy the democrats managed to get someone up, even though he didn't have a chance, so this election was a close shave for them. And The Don shot his mouth off by promising universal suffrage (he actually has only promised a resolution to the "problem", which isn't the same thing). So now The Don has actually displeased his masters in Beijing and when they say they're happy with things what they mean is they are not. With me so far?
The source said Beijing had also expressed unease with some of Mr Tsang's key election pledges. "If it were not for a contested election, Donald Tsang would not have made a firm commitment on issues like universal suffrage."

Mr Tsang has promised a "complete solution" on universal suffrage in the next five years and that a green paper will be issued for public consultation. "The idea of a green paper has come as a surprise to the Executive Council members," the source said, as had other pledges such as those on small-class teaching, health spending and a tax cut.

So by offering pledges that were popular because he was in a contested election, The Don has annoyed Beijing. Things would have been much better if there was no pesky challanger in this election...but the one fly in the ointment is that this convoluted system was contrived and approved by Beijing and enshrined in the Basic Law. They only have themselves to blame.
He said mainland officials were also concerned about the profound change that had taken place in the election process, whereby a candidate must perform well in forums to win public support. "This is a new ball game. It will make it more difficult for Beijing to find potential candidates."
Shockingly, Hong Kong people don't take too kindly to having unpopular candidates for Chief foisted upon them, and Beijing doesn't have a clue how to find popular people who will do its bidding. Luckily they've got 5 years until The Don moves on. Don't worry, Anson Chan, your phone isn't going to ring.

And finally, to make sure the paranoia is complete:

The source also said that "Chinese officials have kept asking whether there are any foreign forces behind the Civic Party".
Yes, lots of foreigners are bankrolling the Civic Party as a beachhead into Communist China.

This source had a little too much sauce, methinks.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:08
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March 02, 2007
Ask not want not

Last night saw the first ever debate between Donald "Shifty Nifty" Tsang and Alan "Don Quioxite" Leong, with Leong being the clear winner and still having no hope of changing anyone's mind. Buried in The Standard's summary of the debate is a perfect symbol of everything that's wrong with the system:

The heated debate took place in front of a live audience of 530 Election Committee members and millions of viewers and listeners on television and radio...A total of 22 questions were raised by committee members, while six were selected at random from questions submitted by the public in advance.
Bear in mind each Election Committee member has or will spend time in one-on-one meetings with the candidates, yet they get to ask the lion share of the questions. Look at it like this: 800 Election Committee members got to ask 22 questions, while almost 7 million Hong Kongers got 6.

This is considered progress.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:01
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February 23, 2007
Look and listen

While it's hard to get excited about an election that is already decided, the fact that there's actually two candidates in this year's Chief Executive election in Hong Kong is progress of sorts. But when it gets down to the nitty-gritty it seems the Big Lychee's officials are looking to the motherland for inspiration in how to conduct these things. The unlinkable SCMP reports:

The first contested election for chief executive may be a historic event, but journalists - who have an obvious role in keeping the public updated about the race - are finding the flow of information leaves much to be desired.

Sometimes, it seems that obstacles are being deliberately put in the media's way. For example, a host of election-related material, such as the candidates' nomination forms, advertisements, expenses and correspondence, is sitting in the Registration and Electoral Office in Wan Chai, open for inspection by the public.

It seems, however, to be up to officials to rule on how these "inspections" are carried out. It is OK to read the material, but you are first reminded that you cannot take notes or photocopies. Once the files land on a desk, you are monitored by a staff member who ensures nothing is written down. In the event that a couple of journalists are present, the staff member also ensures they do not read the same file at the same time, although it is hard to guess the rationale behind this.

The apparent tightening of restrictions has perplexed those who covered the last chief executive election less than two years ago - when reporters were allowed to copy such information freely. Yet a spokesman for the Registration and Electoral Office insists its practices have not changed and the information is only available for public inspection under the Chief Executive Ordinance and the Electoral Procedure (Chief Executive Election) Regulation.

The spokesman said the office had received legal advice that public inspection meant "examine closely" and nothing else - although he noted many journalists had "memorised" the information and reported it on many occasions.

It is as absurd with a hint of Big Brother. It's actually quite like the election itself.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:44
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January 26, 2007
Beast of burden

Who knew The Don could be so funny. He's complaining that being Chief Executive is such a burden during this election, although why the Standard's headline writer put the quotes over burden instead of election is anyone's guess. The result is already known, plans are already made for what The Don will do once he's really truly elected rather than a fill-in for Tung Che-wa and the 7 million Hong Kongers that don't get to vote pray this thing can be over and done with so the newspapers can go back to Canto-pop gossip and gruesome tales of murder.

It's news to all other politicians in the universe that being the incumbent is a burden. Luckily The Don is going to refund the cost of petrol and his security detail for his little trip to the electoral office in Wan Chai. This has now managed to occupy the press for days....and yet no-one seems interested in that other stuff of elections like policies and promises. Again, that's because it doesn't much matter - this isn't an election, it's a coronation.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:56
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December 12, 2006
Shaking

Hong Kong had an earthquake, albeit a minor one, on the weekend. The mini-election to elect a small group to elect a Chief Executive produced something of a shock, which is quite shocking as the system is designed to avoid such things. In Hong Kong's extremely unique democracy, various interest groups get to elect members of an 800 person election committee who then decide on who will be CE. To make it appear like it's a geniune race, a candidate needs 100 nominations from that 800 to run. Remarkably the pro-democrat camp realised they needed to rally around a single candidate to have a chance, which they did. More remarkably the pro-democrats then managed to get around 130 of themselves onto the election committee.

The result is not in doubt - The Don will win. But the system is showing that even supposedly "loyal" sectors are starting to get fed up. The accountants and academics largely voted for pro-democrats, at the same time delivering a substantial kick in the pants to their "establishments". Some grandees in the legal sector also discovered that being the right person doesn't entitle you to automatic election victory. It's not quite a grass-roots victory, but clearly even the professional classes are starting to assert their desire for pro-democrats, which is kind of amazing.

Perhaps not co-incidentally, one-time Chief Executive aspirant Lo Tak-shing passed away. One of his lasting contributions to HK was coming up with the incredible dual-voting structure in Legco, so that even if a majority vote a certain way, the institutionalised vested interests that are the "functional constituencies" have a veto over the democratically elected other half of the chamber. Still, it takes a kind of genius to have two voting chambers within one council.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:40
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November 23, 2006
Unity through gambling

There are some clear lines drawn in Hong Kong's political landscape, especially between the quixotic "democracy" camp and the syncophantic "pro-Beijing" camp. There are constant battles over fundamental issues such as universal suffrage, with the pro-Beijingers again voting the idea down for 2012 because Hong Kong is not politically mature enough...which sets up all sorts of internal contradictions (for example that the politicians of this politically immature city are deciding whether the city is mature or not).

One can roughly summarise the various political parties involved in Hong Kong into 4 groups: the main pro-Beijing party, the DAB, with its roots in trade unions and the "grassroots" (read the people who live in flats less than 500 square feet); the Democrats who are much the same as the DAB but want people to have a vote; the independents who form various groups (eg the Civic party) because even though they're an elite they still think the little people should or should not have a say in things; and the Liberal party, a curious group that would not normally exist except in a rigged system such as Hong Kong, and which is for, of and by the tycoons that control large swathes of the city's economy.

Now you know who's who in the zoo, today's Standard reports the Liberals have managed to do something unique and propose something that everyone else objected to: a casino on Lantau. Congatulations to James Tien for uniting Hong Kong's diverse polity.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:19
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September 22, 2006
Ill-liberals

Turns out James Tien's visit to Beijing, with it's typical quota of sycophants and whinging, didn't go so well, according to the SCMP:

Top Beijing officials have told the Liberal Party to forget about joining a governing coalition, because that would violate the principles of the Basic Law, party sources said.

The officials also apparently gave the party a slap on the wrist for its recent testy relationship with the chief executive, and called on the Liberals to be a "model for fostering harmony" and to get behind Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the sources said.

Oops.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:08
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September 15, 2006
Coup d'Liberal

James Tien's Liberal Party have gone to Beijing to complain that Uncle Donald isn't being nice to them, says the SCMP:

The Liberal Party told Beijing yesterday it wanted to play a bigger role in Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's government but denied allegations it was attempting to seize power...Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun said: "We have expressed that although our relations with the government are improving continuously, there is room for further advancement if we are consulted before government policies are made.

"This is not a demand to share power - we only want to help the chief executive to implement his strong governance by forming a ruling coalition. We didn't want to seize power or even share power with the government."

"Sieze power" is a rather alarmist way of putting it. As a reminder, James Tien quit as an Exco member of Tung Che-wa's administration back in July 2003 after the Article 23 protests and now he's trying to find a way back in. But...
The government has long complained that the support of the Liberals in the legislature cannot be guaranteed despite the party's claims to support the administration. But the pro-business party has said its voters' interests cannot be adequately represented under the existing system.
So Tien can't get into bed with Don on his own terms, so he has to go to Beijing to ask them to force Don. And Beijing will politely listen and ignore him.

What a fun thing it is to be a Hong Kong politician.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:50
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August 21, 2006
You want fries with that?

Democrat politician walks into the Queens Rd McDonalds yesterday after a GST protest and promptly gets bashed with baseball bats. Shocking as it is, it is extremely unlikely that his is a politically motivated incident. At the time of writing, it's impossible to confirm if Hello Kitty was involved but the lesson is clear - McDonalds is a dangerous place.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:27
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July 04, 2006
Democracy's new saviour

The July 1st Hong Kong democracy march again did little to advance the cause. But the release of a summary of Regina "Article 23" Ip's thesis certainly will...so does that mean one person can make more of a difference than 57,000 (or however many marched)?

This week's must-read is from Roland at ESWN: the parachutist's adventure in Hong Kong. He points out how irrelevant the number of marchers is, and how bad a job the current democrat camp leaders are doing. And the fuss over Regina Ip's paper is simply proof of his thesis. Who'd have thought Ip would be the saviour of the democracy cause in Hong Kong?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:16
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June 02, 2006
China's rule of Hong Kong

In contrast to the earlier StratFor piece I linked on the perceived China military threat to the US, in Slate there is an article discussing why the idea of a rising China threat is a godsend for American military programs. I found the link via MR, where Alex Tabarok says:

Read the whole thing [the Slate article] for an assesment of China's true capabilities. Even more important is that rich, capitalist nations are much less dangerous than poor, communist nations. Consider how well China has treated Hong Kong. Moreover, democracy will not be long in coming to China.
My emphasis. The democracy point one can argue - for mine the CCP have enough of a grip to continue walking the tightrope between hardline political control but some kind of capitalist market economy.

Far more worthy of discussion is the statement (without any supporting evidence) Consider how well China has treated Hong Kong. One could certainly argue that one. China has partially let Hong Kong get on with things since 1997 under the "one country, two systems" formula, but only within certain bounds. There have been several "interpretations" of the Basic Law by the NPC, ignoring or contradicting locally made legal and/or political decisions. While not openly admitted, a system of self-censorship exists in the media and politics when it comes to "sensitive" topics. Sure the PLA aren't marching down Lockhart Rd., but they don't need to. Hong Kong needs China far more than China needs Hong Kong - witness the perpetual hand wringing by Hong Kong's worthies over the Big Lychee's place in the Motherland. In the 10 years since China took over, the city has had the Asia crisis, Tung Che-hwa, the Article 23 marches, the right of abode cases, the controversy over Donald Tsang's appointment, the ridiculous rotten boroughs of the functional Legco constituencies, SARS and more.

I throw the question open to my wise readership - how well has China governed Hong Kong?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 21:43
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May 27, 2006
Tamar and the newspapers

"Tsang wins the battle of Tamar" screams the SCMP on its front page today. No, The Don didn't manage to repel the invading hordes. Rather the Democrats rather meekly rolled over because the Government promised to keep a couple of trees and a heritage trail around the old Central Government Offices. With concessions like that, we can all be thankful that these politicians are keeping The Don honest. The rather pathetic DAB are still flogging their Kai Tak idea, even though they've downgraded their ambition from all government offices down to a shop front. Will The Don throw the pro-Bejingers' a bone and let them establish a tiny outpost at the old airport? It's the least he can do.

Hong Kong's political parties have been busy, however. While The Don gets Tamar going, they've been busy collating membership lists because the lawyers that formed the new Civic Party read the law. Due to a legal quirk, political parties are setup under the Companies Ordinance rather than the Societies one...the quirk being under the Societies law the government has the right to shut them down. But under the Companies Ordinance, the parties need to publicly display their membership lists. Somewhat amazingly, no-one realised this was the case until this year. The last few days have made interesting reading, despite the parties having tiny memberships.

But most interesting is this piece from today's SCMP article on The Don's military victory:

Speaking to the media yesterday, Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat said the party had decided to support the funding bid after the government responded positively to its demands.

The party has previously said it wanted Government Hill to be preserved.

The government has made a commitment to that effect in articles published today in the South China Morning Post and some Chinese-language newspapers.

Sure enough, turn to the SCMP's op-ed page and there's the government written piece. Does the SCMP charge the government to do its announcements? Do they worry about being a mouthpiece rather than a centre of critical journalism? Does it feel good to know The Don can want something published and it will be done? Who needs Pravda or Xinhua?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:18
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May 04, 2006
Scenes from a dysfunctional democracy

Some snippets from the SCMP, demonstrating the blossoming democracy that is Hong Kong:

A motion calling for the commemoration and vindication of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest was defeated yesterday in the Legislative Council for the ninth time since the handover...Directly elected legislators voted by 16 to seven in favour of the motion, moved by Democratic Party vice-chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, but functional constituency legislators ensured its defeat.
That's voice of the people for you. Now to part 2.
Legislators late last night rejected a motion calling for a comprehensive fair-competition law.

After a five-hour debate, functional constituency legislators rejected the motion by 13 votes to 10, with one abstention. The directly elected legislators supported the motion 15-2, with five abstentions, but a majority of both needed to support the motion for it to be passed.

You read right - a total of 28 voted for it, only 12 against with 5 abstaining. Yet it still gets knocked down thanks to the distorted system. Yet, to the surprise of some, it turns out the democrats who voted against the proposed political reforms last year are being blamed by the public for it. That's as it should be - the ones that voted against should carry the blame.

But the final and most curious result in this distorted "democracy":

Four in five people want to see competition for the post of chief executive next year, according to a survey commissioned by a US-funded think-tank.

Still, 73 per cent support Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's re-election.

Is that what they mean by a competition law? If the survey is to be believed, Hong Kongers want more than one candidate for Chief Executive, just so they can vote for Donald Tsang in overwhelming numbers. It's a backhanded compliment to The Don...the people want to make a race of it so he can win by a mile. Beijing must be happy.

With a democracy like this, who needs voting?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:22
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April 29, 2006
Any colour you like

Henry Ford once said you can have a Model T car any colour you like, so long as it's black. So too China's attitude to Hong Kong democracy. From the SCMP:

Guardian Wang Zhenmin, deputy dean of Tsinghua University's law school, set out six failings that demonstrate the city is not ready for universal suffrage.
The six criteria are:

1. There's no community consensus over democracy - an ironic reason not to introduce a means of expressing alternative points of view.
2. Too soon for redistribution of economic power - this from a Communist.
3. Article 23 legislation hasn't been passed - mostly because at least 500,000 people found the last attempt too odious for words.
4. No law governing political parties - because there hasn't been a need for one.
5. Equal participation in politics not yet achieved - he doesn't mean by women, he means by various interest groups. This is despite Hong Kong's "rotten borough" system of special interest groups having their own seats in Legco and a veto over legislation.
6. Not enough patriotic education, something well covered previously by Dave.

But wait, there's more:

Another speaker, Basic Law drafter Xu Chongde , said universal suffrage could be implemented only when it could be guaranteed that patriots would be selected to be the political leaders.

"If anyone today could ensure that the [chief executive] selected through universal suffrage is a patriot, then I would suggest introducing universal suffrage today."

Professor Xu said the Democratic Party was misleading Hong Kong people through "blind worship of universal suffrage", which was "just one kind of democracy".

Hong Kong can have universal suffrage, as long as it picks the right person. Again, this completely defeats the point of giving people the vote. As for the blind worship of universal suffrage and being only one kind of democracy, it's not like the people of Hong Kong have had many alternatives. Which is exactly the point.

A black Model T, anyone?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 16:25
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April 28, 2006
China Says HK Needs Brainwashing, Fear of Hitler

According to an official report of a Beijing Commission on democracy in Hong Kong, there should be no plans to significantly expand the franchise for the time being. One Qinghua academic, Wang Zhen Min, said that Hong Kong did not have enough 'patriotic education'.

Now of course, it sounds horrible to have Chinese nationalism forced down our throat, sitting here in Hong Kong. But from another perspective, it is a perfectly reasonable proposition - as a city that is now part of China (and I note this by the increasing number of websites, that when they ask me where I am from, do not have Hong Kong as a separate option but force me to choose China), it is only reasonable that Hong Kong be exposed in its educational curriculum to the civic indoctrination of the rest of the country. But from another perspective it is monstrous, because Hong Kong is above all else, a free-thinking society, where there is liberty even if there is not democracy; it is also unique in having local attitudes that are far less shaped by a sort of patriotic canon than another other territory, owing to its past. To be forced to swallow and submit fully to a nationalism, especially one such as China's that hides so much of its less pleasant history from its own citizens, is very disturbing.

The other academic, Xu Chong De, managed to trump this first one in his suggestions by saying (as did Regina Ip - and got her fired) that democracy wasn't anything special because it led to Hitler and Mussolini. He also went on too warn against 'blind worship of universal suffrage' as only 'one kind of democracy'.

He is, of course, counting the People's Republic of China as 'another' sort of democracy. What people that bring up the bogeyman of Hitler in this instance seem to forget is that the fascism of Europe in the 1930s was due to incomplete democracies, and due to the weakness of political institutions. If there is one thing that is strong and resilient here in Hong Kong, it is our institutions. The fascists they bring up appear more in situations of uncertainty, where demagogues can take power due to weakness of the state and of political machinery. Ones that can subsequently sweep aside any checks and balances in a system and rule by personal fiat. Demagogues, for instance, like Mao Ze Dong...enough said, I should think.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 18:12
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March 23, 2006
The road to communism

Hong Kong's Secretary for Constiutional Affairs, Stephen Lam, has warned the sky is falling in for the Big Lychee? The successful, vibrant way of lifeand high living standards enjoyed by Hong Kongers is under threat....by universal suffrage:

Lam said it is vital for Hong Kong to focus on development as a capitalist society while gradually moving ahead with its ultimate aim of universal suffrage as stated in the Basic Law...the government raised concerns that the current low-tax system with a narrow tax base would not be able to cope with growing public aspirations for more welfare spending...

"There are also views that in other economies with full democracy, governments provide a relatively high level of welfare protection, but at the same time they are also capitalist societies," the paper said.

It's this kind of brilliant reasoning that proves just how good Hong Kong's well paid civil servants are. Work through the logic here: if people can vote, they might vote for those who want to increase welfare spending on the poor and that would be a bad thing because the city has a narrow tax base. This coming from the government that houses half the city and is pushing a GST to expand that narrow tax base. I'm sure it has escaped the report's attention that the United States is both a democracy and far from a welfare state. That said, the American revolution against the British was sparked by a revolt over taxes, so perhaps Mr Lam is continuing that fine tradition of linking tax policy with representation.

What's the big deal if the majority of the population decide they prefer to expand government spending and increased welfare over current arrangements? Plenty of European countries have welfare states while maintaining high standards of living. There will be other political parties standing for the status quo, and in a true democracy people will decide which they prefer. The many living in their 500 square feet dog boxes may decide a bit of welfare is just the thing. But that may mean Hong Kong changes from being the low tax, big business and cartel friendly bureaucracy it is today. And that's the real problem with moving from a benevolent dictatorship of the elite to universal suffrage - the elite loses out.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:07
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March 14, 2006
The cost of democracy

There are many problems with paying lip service to democracy. The just completed NPC session in Beijing is basically a set-piece gab-fest with little real news, as several journalist attendees can attest. But even dictatorships need to at least pretend they have due process and are listening to the "people's" representatitves.

Then there's the monetary cost as well. Hong Kong is going to spend a staggering HK$100 million on the 2006/7 elections. That's despite the result of the election for the Chief Executive position already know (Donald Tsang is the only serious candidate). How can it cost so much for something so meaningless? I know that's a stupid question when governments are involved, but it's both easier and cheaper to just declare the fiat accompli. If shams are so costly then let's top pretending.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:19
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February 22, 2006
HK's Limits of Governance

Today we had the revelation that after years of work, and millions of dollars of feasibility studies, it was decided that the plans for the West Kowloon Cultural District had to go back to the drawing board. The background is well covered by the New York Times and the Standard (for a more local view). In both articles, the journos portray the Hong Kong government, with its overly-amibitious and idealistic plans caught between Scylla (the local property developers) and Charybdis (the Hong Kong people), having to scuttle their ship, or at least come back around for another pass later.

To me, though, it seems to indicate the limits of legitimacy of a Hong Kong government that is not elected by popular mandate. The government's inability to counter both the official and unofficial power of local property developers, and also the skepticism of the public, is because they do not have a strong general mandate of the will of the people to go ahead with their agenda(s).

Many popularly elected governments, it is true, would have the same problems with vested interests, particularly one that makes up as much of the economy as the property tycoons. But if they had been chosen by the people, at least they could brandish that endorsement to get major agenda items like this done.

The process of getting the mandate for a program like this, too, would have forced the government to really explain to the Hong Kong people why they need a cultural centre, and why bringing in the Pompidou or the Guggenheim is making the city more cosmopolitan rather than an example of cultural imperialism. That process would have also highlighted weaknesses in their plan that they would need to address.

The government didn't bother doing it because they didn't have to. And now they are paying the price. They must face the fact that public consultations aren't enough anymore in a complex polity like Hong Kong. The city cannot be run by a civil service on autopilot. Democratic politics is not an inconvenience - it is the fairest way an advanced economy with a highly mature population can sort out what ought to be done.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 18:27
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February 21, 2006
Class wordfare

In the past month there have been several examples of the rise of Marxism in places such as China's central bank and a new Marxist think tank. But did you realise that Marxist class analysis pervades even the world's free-est economy, that darling of laissez-faire economics, Hong Kong? Tomorrow sees runner-up Chief Executive Henry Tang deliver the annual budget, where he explains how another year of windfall gains from restricted land sales and a narrow income tax on the top 10% will keep the city sweet for another year. He has carefully leaked his intention to set up a committee to examine a goods and services tax, which will only be safely implemented long after the 2007 Chief Executive elections. Hong Kong is one of the last remaining developed economies to not have such a tax.

But the details of the budget can wait. What always happens in the lead up to the budget is pleas from various interest groups for tax cuts or government hand-outs. This is not unique to Hong Kong. What does seem unique is the extent to which the debate is framed in terms of class. The newspapers and radio constantly refer to the "lower middle class", the "middle class" and even the "sandwich class". It would seem that both the proleteriat (too poor to worry about) and bourgeoisie (the source of all revenue) are not worthy of mention, but this mythical middle class is where the action is. Who are this middle class? Why are they so worthy of the government's attention? Why always this focus on a particular class (or any class at all for that matter) - the very notion seems absurd in a modern economy.

And they don't even get to vote. But perhaps that's the point. If you don't get legitimacy through the ballot box, you need to get it through keeping the populace sweet. In this town the property developers pay up in the land auctions to fund the government to keep the punters sweet. I don't think that's what Karl had in mind.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:13
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January 25, 2006
CEO Killed the Radio Star

The CEO in this case being Hong Kong Chief Executive Sir Donald Tsang, and the Radio Stars being RTHK, the only public broadcaster in Hong Kong. RTHK, thought up as a local equivalent to the BBC during the colonial era, broadcasts some of the territory's most popular programmes. But Sir Donald doesn't want it airing Top 10 music shows - he wants it to be a mouthpiece for government policies, as this Standard article mentions.

Now the BBC in Britain has certainly demonstrated, perhaps to its detriment, its willingness to expose scandals and issues in its own government, despite being publicly owned. RTHK has not done that, but does air local news in a fairly objective manner. It seems clear that having a lively, free press, and a broadcaster with editorial independence, is important in Britain and Hong Kong. Although Hong Kong is not a democracy, the liberty afforded to its people is what makes it the vibrant place it is today. Given RTHK's prominence in public broadcasting in the city, it would be embarrassing, not to mention unwatchable, for the government to turn them into an unholy aural combination of CCTV and C-SPAN.

But that's what the government seems bent on doing by appointing a 7-person 'independent' panel. It reminds me of my youth, playing around with short-wave radio, and tuning into English North Korean broadcasts - with a beautiful female voice speaking about American imperialists and running dogs. I exagerrate, of course - it will never come to that in Hong Kong, I should think - but is this not the wrong direction for media censorship in Hong Kong?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 10:50
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January 13, 2006
Why HK needs new politicians

Donald Tsang boldly leaps into the unknown and celebrates his moving into Government House by telling civil servants they can work the same number hours in a 5 day week instead of 5 and a half days. Everyone's up in arms. The grandees in Exco and Legco are annoyed because they didn't get the chance to add whatever ridiculous arguements they have for or against the proposal. So instead they parade it through the press:

James Tien, chairman of the pro-business Liberal Party, said the plan will create unnecessary pressure on the small-and-medium sized enterprises that account for about 90 percent of business firms in Hong Kong.

"This will raise expectations of staff at private firms. And if some companies choose not to follow the government's system, they will easily be branded `unscrupulous employers'," he said.

Tien called for the government to rethink the system as he believed it could drive more workers to spend weekend holidays in the mainland and thus hurt the retail and catering industry.

The horror, the horror. It is actually a skill to think up such inanities.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:39
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December 22, 2005
Hong Kong's democratic reforms halted

As expected Donald Tsang's constitutional reforms were voted down in Legco. While a bitter Chief Secretary Rafael Hui had a go, the key question is what will The Don do now? He's off to Beijing next week for instructions and there are two very different paths. The first is to simply say that he tried, he offered and it was rejected and so the status quo will remain until there is a broader consensus on how to move forward. He'll bury the idea in various committees and commissions and the democrats tactical victory will end up being a strategic defeat. The second is The Don decides to engage the democrats and try again on a new package.

The first is the more likely path. The Don came out and said there will be no new proposals on the 2007/8 elections. No doubt The Don worked hard to convince Beijing of the merits of the now defeated package, and Beijing aren't going to cave in to the demands of 24 legislators in Hong Kong. The boys in Beijing will emphasise their support for The Don, especially as we now have Anson Chan as the unofficial leader of the opposition.

The democrats will enjoy the headlines and kudos for the next few days. In the actual vote they played a smart political game and ran rings around the government and pro-Beijing forces. But what have they achieved? They've rejected a positive step forward towards universal suffrage for the longer term goal of a timetable. They have reduced the chances of eliminating appointed district councillors; they have rejected a chance to expand the electoral college that elects the Chief Executive in 2007; they've rejected an expansion in the Legco for 2008 that would likely benefit them and remove the functional constituency veto. Perversely, the democrats have voted to stymie democratic reform and played into Beijing's hands. Beijing and The Don can now say they offered progress and were rejected. Beijing has won thanks to the democrats. This game makes for odd bedfellows.

In short, they've gone for a double or nothing strategy, but with nothing looking the more likely outcome. It highlights the short-termism that pervades the democrats in Hong Kong. It is all well and good to be a purist and hope for an instant transition to full democracy. But politics is the art of the possible and as such it involves compromise and messy reality, not high ideology. The lack of courage and leadership from the democrats is as lamentable as it was predictable.

Unfortunately, Hong Kong is the loser.

Update (14:15) Daisann McLane reports on an extraordinary night for Hong Kong politics in Slate. She yet again mentions "her friend Hemlock". But will she go to jail to protect her sources? And what's with calling locals "Hong Kongese"? For the curious, Hemlock mentioned her back in March (Tuesday, 8th March) and she him in her piece on Long Hair. Hemlock's more switched on than we thought.

Elsewhere, Gateway Pundit gets it completely wrong and shows what happens when you buy into an issue based on glib media reports. Make sure you read the comments from Conrad. God I miss his blogging.

(19:10) LfC looks at local media reaction and wonders if they are all reporting on the same thing?

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December 19, 2005
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.

hkdemocracypoll.jpg



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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:58
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December 15, 2005
Doing the democracy maths

Hong Kong's democrats are set on vetoing the limited constitutional reforms proposed by Donald Tsang. However political scientist Michael DeGolyer explains why the democrats may be shooting themselves in the foot. Absolutely read the whole thing - it explains how the changes could potentially remove the pro-Government veto in Legco, and force the DAB and trade unions to move from letting business do the government's dirty work to having to do it themselves.

Hong Kong has a strange kind of democracy - here parties campaign on essentially one major issue, which is whether they are pro and anti-government. In most other places, parties campaign to form the government, based on a platform of what they intend to do.

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December 09, 2005
The Economist on 12/4

The Economist covers the 12/4 Hong Kong democracy march (no sub. req'd for that one) with some interesting points along the way, including the diminishing aims of the democracy movement (from universal suffrage in '07/08 to now just a timetable), the Anson Chan factor, and the potential benefits of democracy for China as demonstrated by the success of the Kuomintang in Taiwan's recent elections. Nothing earth-shattering but it's a fair overview of the march and actual situation in Hong Kong at present. But the final paragraph is baffling:

Meanwhile, comfortingly for China, as well as for Mr Tsang, there appears to be little appetite in Hong Kong for sustained, let alone violent, protests that could threaten the territory's recent recovery from its prolonged economic malaise. China's leaders should now be clearer what Hong Kong wants, but also of the limits to which it is prepared to go to get it.
Have any of the protests in recent years threatened Hong Kong's economic recovery? Is the Economist suggesting Hong Kongers will need to take up arms to win democracy? The last time limits were tested, fully 500,000 people showed up, the Chief Executive soon resigned and the planned Article 23 legislation was buried and deemed the third rail of Hong Kong politics.

If anyone can decypher the meaning of the article's last paragraph, please explain it to me.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 21:38
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December 06, 2005
12/4 Hong Kong democracy march (Updated Dec 5th)

This post is reposted at the top as it is updated. Please scroll down for other posts.

You've got to hand it to the organisers, a march in a crisp, clear and sunny winter's afternoon sure beats marching in the middle of the summer heat. With the Government and tycoons doing almost everything in their power to make people turn up for today's march (in spite of themselves), it should be a big one. The Don's real test will come in the days ahead - how will he react? Will he try and dismiss another display of people voting with their feet, or accept that even appointed governments sometimes need to listen to the people to retain legitimacy? Will he be able to prevent frothing at the mouth amongst pro-Beijingers and Beijing? And will everyone be home in time for tea?

Update 22:10

The most interesting part of the march so far is watching the media's coverage of it. In the comments Dave has told us the police estimate 40,000, which we can use as a minimum. ESWN has the "scorecard" for what each threshold crowd figure means for the democracy debate.

The score so far:

  • Xinhua naturally calls it thousands and quotes the local commisar: Some bystanders told press that they support the government's constitutional development proposals and held that the most important thing for Hong Kong now is to maintain stability and keep economic growth. There's always "Beauties and their movie posters" if all this marching gets too much.
  • The BBC vaguely refers to tens of thousands of marchers and was largely pre-written, and includes The BBC's Chris Hogg in Hong Kong said the march appeared to be much larger than many had predicted, with many ordinary citizens and their families taking part. Thank God I don't have to pay the licence fee.
  • Reuters has decided tens of thousands means 60,000.
  • Asia News says "at least 100,000" participated.
  • The Financial Times ups the ante, saying hundreds of thousands and/or 250,000 marched.

ESWN is also counting the crowds via other sources. Inevitably a number will be reached and that will become the consensus. Who decides that number? The people counting on the day? No. The people who were marching? No. The papers and media spread across the world who will keep the story going for a couple of news cycles? You got it. My money is on 100,000 being the eventual number, because that makes it newsworthy enough for international reporters to push it with their editors for a while and it suits the democrats. Bear in mind this may or may not have been the real number. The point of the numbers game is all about one thing: will it be enough to force the government to ammend its constitutional reform package?

My biggest question is simple. How can crowd estimates vary from "thousands" to 250,000? Is it that easy to make that many people appear and disappear? Even for China that's a lot. Houdini would be impressed.

Update 12/5 09:04

Crowd inflation is already creeping in. The cops have upped the number to 63,000, the organisers are pushing 250,000. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and here's the reality: it doesn't matter. Crowd numbers are a distraction. Whatever the true number, a significant number of people spent their Sunday afternoon saying "we're mad as hell and want to vote." So far the best Donald Tsang can say is "I've got the message" and he will "perfect" his package, but will his deeds match his words? Now The Don has to do something. Many think he has ruled out a timetable for universal suffrage, but in fact that's not the case:
"I am 60 years of age. I certainly want to see universal suffrage taking place in Hong Kong in my time. My feeling and my wish is the same as most other people participating in the rally today."
Hong Kong's average life expectancy is 78.81 years for males (according to the CIA), so we've only got 18.81 years to go! That sure beats Stanley Ho's timetable of 41 years.

We've got crowd inflation, but timetable deflation!

Update 12/6

The Don is now under pressure on his reform package. His problem is simple: the democratic camp are not going to accept a sop on reducing the role of appointed district councillors, but Beijing aren't going to accept any kind of timetable towards universal suffrage. How is he going to fudge it? That's why he's the Chief. There is probably a way out: set a timetable for a timetable. No charge for the advice, Donald.

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November 29, 2005
Hong Kong's democracy timetable

Beijing emissary and occassional casino operator Stanley Ho has received the word and has shared it with the children of Hong Kong. Despite rumours to the contrary, Beijing already has a timetable for democracy in Hong Kong. If only Hong Kongers would stop asking for it, Beijing will deliver. Sure it sounds like you're dealing with six year olds, but that's what passes for political discourse in these parts. Buried in good ol' Stanley's warnings that Hong Kongers don't know what's good for themselves and should just wait for those that know better in Beijing, comes this:

"I have met some high-ranking central leaders regarding this issue. They told me that I can pass their message to the democrats," Ho said.

"Their reply is: the introduction of universal suffrage will not be later than 2046. Even if we can have democracy in 2046, the central government is still fulfilling its promise made in the Basic Law."

Quick, set up the countdown clock, there's only 41 years left! 2046 is only a mere 39 years later than the Basic Law promised. But you can't rush these things.

This Sunday will see many Hong Kongers out on the streets in the latest example of mob politics. The tycoons and grandees keep telling us these marches don't work, even though they resulted in the toppling of Tung Che-hwa and the binning of the Article 23 legislation. Hong Kongers know better.

David Webb has today's must read on everything that is wrong with Hong Kong's current electoral arrangements and especially the rotten boroughs (functional constituencies) with their veto power, easy manipulation, and perverse incentives, taking the transport sector seat as an example. Incredibly amongst the tycoons that control several votes each, other voters include the governments of Singapore, Dubai, the mainland Government and Hong Kong Government itself! It will make you angry enough to march on Sunday.

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November 28, 2005
Hong Kong's Commission on Strategic Development

It's been done before, but few do it as well as Jake van der Kamp. Today in the SCMP he takes to the newest Hong Kong government wheeze to pretend to talk about democracy, the Commission on Strategic Development. It's a read the whole thing effort, reproduced in full below the jump.

Working paper's tone and questions cast democracy as a dirty word

"Social conflict, public jitters and populism have undoubtedly posed threats to our society."

Secretariat working papers,
Commission on Strategic Development

Undoubtedly, you understand and thus when the members of this new commission meet to discuss the big questions of the day, they will just have to take the statement as read. It is undoubted.

Here is a little more along the same line: "How can democratic development be taken forward without undermining economic prosperity, causing social instability, impairing the efficiency of government, and undermining trust between Hong Kong and the central government?"

What we have here obviously is evidence of a mindset that distrusts democracy as rule by the rabble. The civil servants who coined these statements are unlikely to say so directly but it oozes out of everything else they say. They think you are not mature enough to be entrusted with decisions in public policy. Only they themselves have reached this exalted status. Yours is not to reason why. Yours is but to do and die. It is an old notion and it has not gone away.

But why should social conflict pose a threat to our society? Social conflict is rather the best way of determining what directions society should take in matters in which there is reason for dispute.

For instance, there is no social conflict at all about society's resolve that the police should be set to catch thieves and bring them to justice. Where we get social conflict is in such questions as whether government should continue to reclaim our harbour and turn it into the Kowloon Ditch.

On the one side we have government officials saying that reclamation is absolutely required to accommodate traffic projections and demand for office space in Central.

On the other side we have people saying that an open harbour is a priceless asset and congestion could be resolved if government did not insist on locating its own offices in a financial district.

Who is right? Who is wrong? I have my own opinions but the point is that we have legitimate disagreement here and the only way to resolve it is to argue it out in public, sometimes heatedly.

This makes for social conflict but it is just the sort of conflict we need. Out of it we will eventually get a decision in which we can be reasonably sure that the relevant questions have been fully explored. Likewise those "public jitters". Life itself is a state of "jitters" about the future.

Full consensus you get only in the grave. If you want to tempt an explosion of public unrest, however, there is no better way than to give "public jitters" no outlet.

Democracy does not create them. They always exist. Democracy only allows them to be expressed.

And what do these anonymous civil servants mean by "populism"? Do they say that our elected representatives are all just a pack of baby-kissers who pander only to the baser instincts of their electorates and who scorn real deliberation of public policy issues?

If so, I would like to hear it said directly.

It is certainly implied and it is a rank insult, both to legislators and to you, dear reader.

But let us turn to the questions in that second statement I quoted.

How can democratic development be taken forward without undermining economic prosperity? Let us do it as a survey. You can do it yourself. In one column rank the world's countries by their wealth. In another column rank them by their state of democratic development.

Strange, isn't it, how the two rankings match so well. What is this talk of democracy "undermining"? The evidence says it is rather rule through edict by bureaucrat that undermines.

Causing social instability. I give you a survey again. In one column rank the world's countries by social instability or police state measures to hide social instability. In the other column rank them from least democratic to most democratic. Once again we have a close match. Where would you rather live, Britain or Chechnya?

Impairing the efficiency of government. Hello, North Korea. Yours is a very efficient government. Your bureaucrats can do what they want unimpaired by democracy of any sort. Your country must be the most prosperous on earth.

Undermining trust between Hong Kong and the central government. What trust? There can only be trust between a government and its people if trust is given by choice. Compulsion is not trust. If the central government wants trust from Hong Kong then it should be prepared to trust Hong Kong. The vote determines whether it does.

But our bureaucrats are determined that they do not want the vote. They do not have to say so. They need only let their mindset determine how they phrase their questions and all is immediately apparent.



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November 23, 2005
Hopewell and the mob

Should bird flu break out as a human epidemic, we are told Hong Kong is the safest place in the world to be. Except, perhaps, for Sir Gordon Wu, who has managed to piss off not just the expected thousands of pro-democracy demonstraters on December 4th but also Chief Executive Donald Tsang and the pro-Beijing camp:

Wu [said] protests undermine the rule of law, weaken stability and jeopardize Hong Kong's economy. "Taking to the streets on December 4 is meaningless and not an effective tool to fight for universal suffrage," he said.
Any tips from Sir Gordon on meaningful and effective tools would be most welcome.

One property tycoon's "mob politics" is another's "people power". If there's no other effective form of representation, how are Hong Kongers expected to express themselves? Especially when previous protests have managed to scupper the Article 23 legislation and lead to Tung Che-hwa's resignation. Against that Wu's Hopewell has failed for 20 years to get its massive Wan Chai redevelop rammed through the normally tractable Town Planning Board.

You could score it as Mob Politics 2, Hopewell 0.

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November 08, 2005
Hardtalking Donald Tsang

Clearly The Don is enjoying his overseas jaunt. According to the SCMP, he's just revealed the major barrier to universal suffrage in Hong Kong:

Hong Kong has to convince Beijing that universal suffrage would not bring a "foreign" element to the city, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen says. Speaking in an interview with Stephen Sackur on BBC World's programme Hardtalk, Mr Tsang spelled out the key condition for achieving full democracy.

Asked if he believed Beijing wanted Hong Kong to move quickly to universal suffrage, Mr Tsang said: "I believe this is something [about which] they will need to be persuaded. As soon as we are able to demonstrate that Hong Kong will not splinter off into some foreign element with the nation as a whole, I think we will be there."

That shouldn't be too hard to do? Unless "foreign elements" means democrats, in which case we have a perfect example of circular logic. Below the jump are the relevant parts of the Basic Law. No foreign elements there. Bring on universal suffrage!

The absurdities keep coming too. Last week it was those unruly British soldiers as compared to the angelic PLA garrison we have now (mind you, the PLA are restricted to barracks and couldn't afford the cab fare to Wanchai if they were released, but nevermind):

...he told the BBC the city had had no elections in 140 years of colonial rule. "We started rather late in the day. Look at the progress we have made in eight years."
Hong Kong also didn't have electricity 140 years ago, but look at the progress we've made since then.

Most revealingly, The Don plants himself firmly on the fence when it comes to telling us who he represents:

As chief executive, I am responsible to the people of Hong Kong. I also have a responsibility to [Beijing]."
The question remains to whom is he more responsible: the seven million people of Hong Kong or the seventy cadres in Beijing?

Article 44 of the Basic Law

The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be a Chinese citizen of not less than 40 years of age who is a permanent resident of the Region with no right of abode in any foreign country and has ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than 20 years.

Article 45 of the Basic Law

The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People's Government.

The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.

Article 67 of the Basic Law

The Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be composed of Chinese citizens who are permanent residents of the Region with no right of abode in any foreign country. However, permanent residents of the Region who are not of Chinese nationality or who have the right of abode in foreign countries may also be elected members of the Legislative Council of the Region, provided that the proportion of such members does not exceed 20 percent of the total membership of the Council.

Anyone see any foreign elements?



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November 04, 2005
Lies, The Don and timetables

The Don continues his world tour, spending 15 minutes with Tony Blair and reporting "Tony thinks I'm great, because Dick Cheney told him so." Is he telling Dick and Tony something he's not telling us? Meanwhile back in the city he's meant to be running, a poll tells us the most Hong Kongers want universal suffrage by 2012. More fool us - it's becoming clear the Chief Executive works not for his shareholders (Hong Kongers) but for his board of directors in Beijing.

Stephen Vines has a great piece today saying when The Don misleads the public over small issues, can he be trusted on the big ones? He concludes:

This is not to be fatalistic about the prospects of democratic reform but it is to say that the objective of achieving universal suffrage will not be achieved without a determined struggle. Lamentably, it will not come about by believing the words of the chief executive.
As I've said before, both The Don and Beijing are missing a great and painless chance to make a great leap forward, engender a cultural revolution and complete the path to universal suffrage. They are the fools if they miss the chance.

While the China Daily thunders a timetable is the devil, HK Magazine has stumbled across secret "Democracy Timetable"...

November 2005: Beijing promises the people of HK full democracy just as soon as the city is "mature enough" and everyone can be "relied on" to vote Communist.

December 2005: HK organises a gigantic rally in support of universal suffrage. Lee Wing-tat, Emily Lau and Martin Lee wave joyously to the crowd. Longhair gets another haircut. Organisers say 1,000,000 people attend the march. Police estimates put the number at 38. Beijing says the unrest is a result of the city being "overtired".

March 2006: Despite continued Legco protests, Donald Tsang insists HK is "not mature enough" for democracy. He backs up this claim by pointing out a high prevalence of acne among civil servants, the local fondness for Hello Kitty and the large percentage of office ladies still living with their parents. Longhair protests by leaving a case of Spot Remover at Tsang's office.

July 1, 2007: 2,000,000 HK taxpayers [there are that many? - Ed.] take to the streets in an orderly pro-democracy march. Appalled at such "immaturity", Beijing demolishes the Legco building. Lawmakers must now meet in a bouncy castle.

December 2007: Donald Tsang, anticipating his second term in office, says that everyone's skin is looking better, but you "still need time to grow". Beijing backs his comments, while secretly funding another giveaway of Disney toys at 7-Elevens across the city.

December 2016: Having created a new law giving himself an unprecedented third term in office, Tsang makes a special appearance in Legco chambers [Ed. - I thought they were demolished? Or is this Tamar?]. "It's just your hormones speaking," he says in response to cries for universal suffrage. Beijing is too busy to respond as party members are reportedly out shopping for designer goods.

April 2030: Chia set up a space station on Mars. In what is described as a "controlled experiment in self-governance," astronauts are allowed to vote on chicken feet- or fishhead-flavoured capsules for dinner.

July 1, 2036: Longhair dies while leading 3,000,000 peaceful protesters in a democracy march (police count 12) after his four-metre-long gray locks are caught in Emily Lau's electric wheelchair.

October 2045: In a passionate plea for democracy that stuns the city, Tsang, now 100, bald and incontinent, appears in nappies for his last policy address and pledges to the city: "Goo-goo ga-ga." Beijing dismisses the outburt as "baby-talk".

July 2046: Beijing announces Hong Kong is finally mature enough for full democracy. Citizens are asked to vote either "in favour of the Communist party" or "against those opposed to the Communist party".



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November 02, 2005
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.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:44
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October 25, 2005
Donald Tsang's dictatorship

The Globe and Mail reports on Donald Tsang's visit to Vancouver, the first leg of his junket around America and Europe. Democracy is not around the corner, proclaims The Don. It's not even on the same street map, in fact. In an affront to particle physicists everywhere, he said, "We do not believe in a big bang. We believe in incremental stages to find a solution." Hong Kong's poor, ignorant huddled masses need time to come to grips with this complicated "voting" concept. In a cynical attempt to curry (hmmm, curry) favour with pro-Beijingers, The Don laid into his erstwhile employer, Britain: It was unfair to blame Hong Kong leaders for not bringing in democracy immediately, after more than 140 years of colonial rule when they could not vote. But wait, there's more:

Mr. Tsang dismissed a suggestion that Beijing has been heavy-handed lately in its relations with Hong Kong. The presence of the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong is not an issue, he added. Some even see advantages over colonial days. The soldiers from mainland China are much better behaved than their British counterparts before 1997.

"Every weekend there were brawls in the bars with the British soldiers. We have had not one single incident involving Chinese soldiers, not even traffic tickets. . . . With the British, it was every week."

Thank God for the PLA. The Don clearly doesn't care for the dozens of bouncers now out of work thanks to the orderly nature of drinking holes sans the best of British infantry. Even better, in his eagerness to burish his pro-Beijing credentials, The Don commits a faux-pas:
Mr. Tsang refused to describe Beijing as a dictatorship.

"Dictatorship to me is something like Hitler or Saddam Hussein. One person in it. Certainly that is not the case in China."

So much for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

(Thanks to False Positives for the article)

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:09
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» By Dawn's Early Light links with: Some Excellent Reading Around the World




August 02, 2005
How HK Democracy Was Foiled, 53 Years Ago

You may want to have a look today at a post on my own site, "Blogging... Walk the Talk" that discusses how a bold initiative to create democracy in Hong Kong after World War II was derailed. Governor Young's plan to introduce a broad franchise amongst the Chinese population was axed by his successor Governor Grantham, owing to fears of Communist subversion and inviting the ire of Mao during the Cold War (specifically, due to the Korean War when the invasion of Hong Kong had to be considered a real possibility).

But had democracy been introduced in Hong Kong then, as it was throughout much of the British Empire during decocolonization, what would have happened? Would it have been successful? Would democratic principles have been reluctantly agreed to by Chinese signatories to the Basic Law? Or would Mao have invaded and brought Hong Kong's nascent postwar prosperity to a complete halt? Read on...

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 11:24
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June 03, 2005
The June 4th roundup (updated)

The approach of June 4 means it's that time of year: arrest time. First it was Ching Cheong. Now Reuters is reporting the arrest of members of the Chinese Acadamey of Social Sciences, one of the country's top think-tanks. As usual, no one is quite sure why, but people rarely are in China. But the timing isn't co-incidental, as Richard has also noted.

It's the hallmarks of a police state. It's why June 4, 1989 needs to be remembered.

Update (June 3rd)

Reuters is reporting these arrests are linked to the arrests of Ching Cheong, along with some more interesting information from Cheong's wife. Full article below the fold.

Richard says the arrests are based on the mauscripts of a book about Zhao Ziyang by an old friend of his, Zong Fengming. Not surprising. What is surprising is China's ongoing attempts in dealing with Ziyang's legacy. Too important to completely dismiss and too troublesome to ignore. Excellent to watch.

Tom has plenty of links and notes China's quick backtracking on the spying allegations.

The wife of a Hong Kong-based reporter China has accused of spying said he had worked with an academic at a government think-tank held on suspicion of leaking state secrets, but denied her husband had done anything wrong.

The connection was revealed in an open letter to Chinese President and Communist Party boss Hu Jintao, in which Mary Lau said scholar Lu Jianhua and her husband, Ching Cheong, were innocent and called for their release.

Lu had often sought Ching's views while researching Hong Kong's political situation and Taiwan, said Lau's letter, published in several Hong Kong newspapers on Friday. Ching helped Lu arrange meetings with top government officials, various politicians and academics.

"Whatever Ching Cheong and Mr Lu Jianhua did, they were resolutely on the side of Chinese people and they acted for the interests of China," she wrote. Ching, 55, the chief China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper, was detained by Chinese security agents in the southern city of Guangzhou on April 22.

China accused him on Tuesday of spying for unnamed foreign intelligence agencies, but his wife was adamant he was set up while trying to obtain sensitive, unpublished interviews with the late Zhao Ziyang, toppled as Communist Party chief in 1989 for opposing the Tiananmen massacre.

If charged and convicted, Ching could face the death penalty. Lu, a sociologist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the government's top think-tank, was also taken into custody by security agents in April on suspicion of leaking state secrets, sources familiar with the case told Reuters.

Chen Hui, an assistant to the director of the Academy's General Office, was detained around May, a source said, adding that Chen had had access to classified documents.

HEAVY CRITICISM
Ching's detention has drawn heavy criticism from the United States and media groups around the world. Lau said Beijing's recent moves to reconcile with Taiwan's opposition parties, culminating in historic visits by two key opposition leaders to mainland China in April and May, were a result of Ching's recommendations.

Beijing regards self-governed Taiwan as a wayward Chinese province to be brought back to the fold, by force if necessary. "In order to communicate better, and to secure Ching Cheong's views on Hong Kong's sovereignty handover and the reunification of China, Mr Lu Jianhua often related to Ching Cheong the words of Chinese leaders -- including the sayings of yourself and other Chinese leaders," Lau wrote in her open letter to Hu. "This should be regarded as a necessity of work, and not the leaking of secrets," she wrote.

Ching had also helped Lu arrange meetings with top government officials, various politicians and academics, Lau said. Hong Kong, a former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, has seen huge pro-democracy demonstrations in recent years.

News of the detentions broke ahead of the sensitive anniversary of June 4, 1989, when Chinese troops crushed pro-democracy protests centred on Beijing's Tiananmen Square killing hundreds, perhaps thousands.



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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:14
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» Daai Tou Laam Diary links with: Latest Twist In Ching Cheong Case




June 01, 2005
The Singaporification of Hong Kong

The world has three Chinese political entities: China, Taiwan and Singapore. Hong Kong, while firmly within the PRC's grasp, is rapidly moving towards Singapore's political system.

To wit: Tsang bent on one-man race, with 701 votes win says The Standard. That's 701 votes out of 800. If he secures that many nominations it locks out any other candidate. And it's starting to happen. The SCMP:

Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat suffered a severe blow in his campaign for chief executive yesterday when the strong support he had been counting on from the social welfare sector failed to materialise...The 36 Election Committee members in the sector originally said they would use their votes as a block after polling social workers on their views. But now only 14 members say they will follow the result of the poll.
No prizes for guessing who's got to those electors. Also from the SCMP, a report the pro-Beijing electors are rapidly falling into line:
Donald Tsang Yam-kuen hasn't formally launched his campaign for chief executive yet, but already more than a quarter of the Election Committee - representing pro-Beijing interests - looks like nominating him for the top job...Last night the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong decided to urge its 103 electors on the 800-member committee to back Mr Tsang's candidacy.

Speaking after a meeting of the DAB's central committee, party chairman Ma Lik praised Mr Tsang for his rich experience in public administration and said he was someone who "loves China, loves Hong Kong"...As well as the DAB representatives, nearly 100 Election Committee members - representing farmers and fishermen, the Heung Yee Kuk and district councils in the New Territories - have agreed to support Mr Tsang.

The DAB can't stand The Don. They see him as a vestiage of colonial rule (witness his knighthood, which he refuses to give up), a toff who's "patriotism" (read toadying to Beijing) is questionable. But Ma Lik and his DAB have been given their orders and they are loyal foot soldiers.

How is this like Singapore? Simply because while there is the machinery of an election the result is pre-ordained. There is no real choice in the matter. The PAP have the added benefit of a decent track record to back up their cajoling and implicit consequences of voting against them. Beijing doesn't have the track record (Tung Che-hwa, anyone?) but certainly have a nice line in cajoling and threats.

However there is some good news. Whereas in Singapore defamation laws are an effective tool of controlling speech and opposition, in Hong Kong defamation actions don't always work.

But this slow motion farce of democracy is painful to watch. If Beijing are going to subvert the Basic Law, why not put us all out of our misery and simply appoint The Don. That's what they are doing by other means already.



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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:22
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May 26, 2005
Who's running Hong Kong?

The creaky machinery of what passes for democracy in the Big Lychee saw The Don officially resign so he can begin his campaign for Chief Executive (CE). Why he's bothering to waste money on a campaign office in Central is beyond me, especially as Beijing is doing its damnedest to lock it all up. Appearances are everything, I suppose.

But it leaves a bigger question. Since Tung Che-hwa resigned, The Don has been acting CE in his role as chief secretary. Now he's quit. So who's running Hong Kong for the next 6 weeks while we wait for The Don to officially be "elected"? Secretary for Housing Michael Suen will be acting chief secretary. The same person in charge of the REIT debacle. I predict the next 6 weeks will see a new competition from the various policy secretaries: a scramble to enjoy the limelight until The Don assumes his throne.

The Standard also nicely summarises the various political futures now at stake. The Don is Beijing's choice and there are plenty of politicians with different agendas. The challenge is how he will manage this sea of jealousy and ambition. And most of all how he will respond to whatever challenges fate has in store.

In the interim, why not get the Link REIT IPO back up and running, Mr Acting Chief Secretary?



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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:19
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April 07, 2005
Mr Tsang goes to Beijing

The Don declares the only way forward is to ask Beijing to intervene over the term of the next Chief Executive in Hong Kong. Yesterday's coverage included an op-ed by Margaret Ng that emphasised the importance of the process rather than the politics. Today's SCMP editorial (reproduced in full below the fold) repeats the same point. The Basic Law has the mechanisms in place to properly deal with current events. That process leads to the same end point: asking the NPC to interpret the Basic Law and a 2 year term for the CE. But it would be via the courts, where the arguments on both sides can be aired and ruled upon. The editorial's conclusion:

Mr Tsang says such a move is needed because the government has "encountered a difficulty" and has to deal with a "practical issue". He is right to be concerned that failing to hold the election on time will damage Hong Kong's international reputation. But greater harm will be done by requesting an interpretation that imposes a strait-jacket on the courts and pays no respect to the proper judicial processes.
Set aside if the term should be 2 or 5 years. Its the subversion of due process that is the biggest threat. Worse is the narrow interpretation asked for, only over the CE's term. There are other pressing issues that flow from that decision, such as how many terms and for how long can the next CE serve? It's just setting up for another repeat of this debacle down the track.

The Don is missing an opportunity here. Why not get the NPC to rule on The Link REIT case at the same time?

Other Reading: Tom looks at the litany of apologists in today's SCMP.

Today's SCMP editorial:

A request from Hong Kong to Beijing to interpret the Basic Law is a matter of great moment and seriousness. It should be made only out of necessity, not convenience. The Hong Kong government's request yesterday for central authorities to interpret the Basic Law has the great virtue that it will remove uncertainty about the length of the next chief executive's term. It will also ensure that any legal challenge in the courts is doomed to failure. But this pre-emptive move will strike a fresh blow to the rule of law. The move is not, as the government claims, the only solution to the problem - and it is not the best.

Acting Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen made it clear yesterday the main purpose of the interpretation is to make sure no court action can derail the election planned for July 10. Two legal actions have already been launched. His comments amount to an admission that the government wants to tie the hands of the courts before they have even had an opportunity to consider the case. This is not necessary, nor is it desirable. It will undermine the judicial process.

The decision adds to the damage we believe has already been done to the traditional common law approach to the Basic Law by the decision to give the next chief executive a term of only two years. We have argued it breaches the wording of Hong Kong's constitution, which provides only for a five-year term.

It is abundantly clear, however, that Beijing prefers a two-year term. The central government sees a five-year term as being inconsistent with last year's interpretation of the Basic Law which implies there must be an election in 2007 - with some progress towards universal suffrage. A five-year term would conflict with the timetable the central government has laid down. Beijing has the ultimate power to interpret the Law: the term will be two years.

DAMAGE LIMITATION

The sentiment that the timetable should not be interrupted is shared by many in the pro-democracy camp - even if they give a higher priority to preserving the common law traditions and approaches. The question that now arises is how best to limit damage to Hong Kong's legal system. Mr Tsang said the government's request for an interpretation this month was the only viable solution. He said an alternative solution would have been preferable - if only one could be found.

But there is another way forward. It involves trusting the courts and relying on a process provided for in the Basic Law. If the legal actions had proceeded (in the absence of an interpretation) the lower courts may or may not have supported the government's position. But at least the arguments on both sides could be explored and the decision would be in the hands of our judges.

When a case reached the Court of Final Appeal, however, it would be highly likely that the NPC Standing Committee would be asked to step in. The request would not come from the government - it would come from the court, following the provisions of the Basic Law. Article 158 of the Basic Law requires the top court to refer to Beijing provisions that need to be interpreted in order to decide a case - if the articles concerned fall outside Hong Kong's autonomy. The length of the chief executive's term appears to fall into this category. The appointment of the chief executive is made by Beijing: it would be hard to argue the length of the term falls outside the central government's responsibilities.

MORE RESPECT

If this process were followed, the result would almost certainly be a two-year term. But it would be achieved through a process that allows the courts and the NPC Standing Committee to fulfil their respective roles. It would pay more respect to the integrity of Hong Kong's legal system. A hearing in the Court of Final Appeal would also give the court an opportunity to develop the process by which such disputes are to be resolved. The court would probably have to develop a test for deciding the circumstances in which it would ask Beijing for an interpretation. It would be up to the court to decide whether to make such a referral. But there are strong arguments that it would have to do so.

Mr Tsang expressed concern that the whole process could take so long the election would be derailed. This, too, is very unlikely. The court would have to take into account the Basic Law requirement that when a chief executive steps down a new one must be elected within six months. Confidence in the "one country, two systems" concept is damaged whenever an interpretation is delivered. The government claimed, when first requesting Beijing's intervention in 1999, that such a step would only be taken in the most exceptional circumstances.

Now, Mr Tsang says such a move is needed because the government has "encountered a difficulty" and has to deal with a "practical issue". He is right to be concerned that failing to hold the election on time would damage Hong Kong's international reputation. But greater harm will be done by requesting an interpretation that imposes a straitjacket on the courts and pays no respect to the proper judicial processes.

Full text of the NPC request:

[1] On March 12, 2005, the State Council approved by Order No 433 the request of Mr Tung Chee-hwa to resign from the office of the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. According to the relevant provisions of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China and the Chief Executive Election Ordinance of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, a new chief executive shall be elected on July 10.

[2] At a press conference held on March 12, the secretary for justice of the HKSAR explained the HKSAR government's position on the term of office of a new chief executive elected to fill a vacancy in the office of the chief executive, viz that the term of office of a new chief executive elected to fill the vacancy shall be the remainder of the term of the preceding chief executive. Accordingly, we need to amend the Chief Executive Election Ordinance to set out clearly and explicitly the term of office of a new chief executive elected to fill the vacancy in the office of the chief executive which arises other than due to the expiry of term.

[3] Moreover, we have to address a practical issue, which is that the term of the current Election Committee will expire on July 13 this year. At the same time, we need to elect a new chief executive within the six-month limit stipulated in Article 53 of the Basic Law. If we failed to elect a new chief executive on July 10, we would not be able to complete the tasks within the remaining two months. These tasks include further amending the Chief Executive Election Ordinance to change the 120-day limit stipulated therein for electing a new chief executive, forming a new Election Committee, and electing a new chief executive.

[4] If the HKSAR failed to elect a new chief executive lawfully and in time on July 10, it would affect adversely the formulation of major government policies, the governance of Hong Kong and the normal operation of the government. It might even precipitate a constitutional crisis. Also, residents of the SAR and the international community might cast doubts on the determination and the ability of the HKSAR to implement the Basic Law. It would also have a negative impact on the operation of the financial market and the confidence of investors. All these would not be conducive to the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.

[5] On the term of office of the new chief executive, two different views have emerged in the community. Some support the view that it should be the remainder of the term; others consider that it should be a five-year term. It can be envisaged that the difference in opinion will persist. Moreover, a member of the Legislative Council and individual members of the community have stated publicly that they will be seeking judicial review of the bill to amend the Chief Executive Election Ordinance. In fact, the courts have received one such application on April 4. Therefore, the SAR Government is facing two issues:

(1) in order to ensure the timely completion of the legislative process for the amendment bill, we need an authoritative and definitive interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Basic Law, so as to provide a solid basis for the local legislation;

(2) in the event of a judicial review, once it has been initiated, it will take a relatively long time to complete the judicial process. It is quite possible that we would not be able to elect a new chief executive in time on July 10.

[6] In the past few weeks, the HKSAR government has been actively exploring viable options other than seeking an interpretation. However, we have not yet come across any viable option which on the one hand could ensure the election of a new chief executive lawfully and in time on July 10, and on the other hand, could obviate the need to seek an interpretation by the NPCSC [National People's Congress Standing Committee]. Many in the community have pointed out that, given the pressing circumstances, the only feasible and timely option is to seek an interpretation by the NPCSC.

[7] The HKSAR government very much hopes to avoid as far as possible seeking an interpretation in order to settle the matter. However, having taken into account all the considerations set out above, and bearing in mind the need to ensure the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and the normal operation of all aspects of the community, I submit, in accordance with Article 43 and Article 48(2) of the Basic Law, this report to the State Council and propose to request the NPCSC to make an interpretation of Article 53(2) of the Basic Law regarding the term of office of the new chief executive.

[8] I hereby submit this report.

Acting chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, April 6, 2005



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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:59
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April 06, 2005
The numbers game

Donald Tsang has declared we must go to Beijing for a Basic Law interpretation to prevent certian chaos. Today the Executive Council will endorse the decision to ask the National People's Congress to interpret the Basic Law over the next Chief Executive's (CE) term of office. Hopefully they'll at least ask to clarify how many terms the next CE can run for as well...may as well get it all over with in one hit. This will be the third time since 1997 the NPC has interpreted the Basic Law, which makes me wonder what the drafters of the Basic Law think about their work being "corrected" so often.

Here is the Basic Law and its Article 46:

The term of office of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be five years. He or she may serve for not more than two consecutive terms.
Now you can pretend to be the NPC. Have your say!

ESWN translates a great post by a Hong Kong blogger on the problems facing the pan-democratic camp (orginal post from Shiu Shiu) in offering a candidate for CE. Go read it.

Update: via Fumier comes the Nude King's comparison of the non-democratic elections in both the Vatican and Hong Kong [At least I think it does - my work blocks access to the Nude King!].

Second update below...

Finally from the SCMP op-ed page I'm going to reproduce Margaret Ng, the LegCo representative for the legal profession. Read it all.

The term of office of the new chief executive is a legal question, not a political one. Politically, there may well be much to say for giving Tung Chee-hwa's heir apparent, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, a two-year rather than five-year term. But this is not an available option, since the Basic Law is clear and straightforward. Whether a vacancy in the chief executive's office arises as a result of the expiry of his term, his death, resignation or removal mid-term, the new leader is to be selected and appointed by the same procedure, and for the same term of five years.

These provisions may give rise to unwelcome consequences under some circumstances. For example, anticipated reform may have to be postponed because there will not be a chief executive election in 2007. But even so, fudging the law to achieve a political aim will be too high a price to pay. Democracy must be built on a firm foundation of the rule of law.

The government, which has previously taken the position that the Basic Law is straightforward in stipulating a term of five years for any new chief executive, without exception, is now busy making up an "ambiguity". It says that the Basic Law does not say in so many words that a new chief executive elected to fill a mid-term vacancy has the same term of five years, and therefore some other term may be applicable. Perhaps realising how unconvincing this argument is, the government now puts forward another one: that a five-year term will give rise to an "extraordinary" consequence of postponing Hong Kong's democratisation. This is disingenuous, because the government had already rejected this during the Legislative Council's scrutiny of the Chief Executive Election Bill in June 2001.

A legislator had asked about the term of a new chief executive filling a vacancy which arose mid-term. The government answered unequivocally "five years". At that time, Martin Lee Chu-ming and I raised the question that this would have an implication on the timing of the political reform permissible after 2007, should the post fall vacant before June 30 of that year. The administration was asked to consider the matter carefully but, nevertheless, confirmed its position. It should not now profess surprise.

Many and diverse are the attempts of the government to obfuscate the law: that the Basic Law should be interpreted according to practice in the mainland; that one or two Basic Law drafters recalled that less than a full term was intended; that earlier drafts of Article 53 and Article 46, and records of consultation on them, show that questions were raised about what the term should be; and so on.

The bottom line is that the powerful Legislative Commission, a working committee to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, has taken the view that the new leader serves only the remainder of the term. Thus, all the seeming reasoning of our government is but a charade. Naked power, not the rule of law, governs "one country, two systems".

And so, in the latest round of the so-called consultation of political groups and professional bodies, the government puts the question bluntly: how do they propose to solve the problem?

"The problem" is defined as ensuring that all possible challenges to the government's position will be conclusively put to an end well before the chief executive's election on July 10. The answer that is sought cannot be more obvious: an interpretation by the Standing Committee at the earliest possible date.

Such an event will deal the rule of law and "one country, two systems" a serious blow. It is not just the intervention of the central authorities that will render the adjudication of local courts irrelevant and impotent; the content of the interpretation itself is such that the law will be made to lie.

What she said.

Update 2: Hemlock discusses the Basic Law interpretation with Winky Ip:

The real question is – what’s the point of having a constitution if its meaning is hidden and may bear no relationship to its wording? What sort of guarantees can such a ground-breaking masterpiece provide? Winky, the master manipulator of the public mood, deftly diverts my attention to other matters. “I ordered dim sum and they’ve given me congee,” she says, looking at the tray that has just appeared before her. “And you asked for noodles, and they’ve given you toast.”

We call over Gloria the winsome waitress and point out the problem. With a smile, she pulls out the menu and explains it to us. “What the chef actually intended to mean here by ‘dim sum’,” she explains, “is Cantonese morning meals in general – so obviously that includes congee. And of course toast is simply a form of noodles, both being made from flour.” Winky expresses full agreement, and apologizes to the girl for my habit of always making trouble.

Follow that link "ground-breaking masterpiece". It's hilarious.



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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:53
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March 24, 2005
Hong Kong races

Hong Kong's two major pro-Beijing parties find themselves in a curious muddle. Beijing has made it clear that Donald Tsang is the preferred candidate for Chief Exceutive (CE). So both the DAB and the Liberal Party hung their hopes on Financial Secretary Henry Tang, but he declined to run...this time. Now they find themselves teaming up with the pro-democracy camp in trying to field a candidate against The Don and make this election more than a rubber stamp.

The Standard has a thorough analysis with this line: A Beijing source said the central government is not particularly in favor of Tsang but so far there is no candidate who has proved more competent. Meanwhile James Tien of the Liberals is considering a run, according to the SCMP. China will not let another businessman become CE, either now or in 2007. It's all a desperate scramble by these parties for relevance and leverage over The Don, plus positioning for the real race in 2007. In the meantime we get to watch both the DAB and the Liberals fight two diametrically opposite forces: their desire to please Beijing and their desire for relevance. They despise The Don but they desire a claim on power and Beijing is the source of both.

It's a pleasure to watch. It hints at the beginnings of a truly party political system in this city. It's a shame that inevitably the pro-Beijing parties will bow to their master's will.

Update: ESWN looks at the various HK newspapers covering the CE race and finds yet again a curious editorial decision by the SCMP.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:31
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March 10, 2005
Bicameral Legco

Sir David Akers-Jones, erstwhile Chief Secretary and friend of Discovery Bay, has a proposal for a bicameral (two chamber) Legislative Council in today's SCMP. The full article is in the extended entry. The idea is the lower chamber would consist of only directly elected members (ie those with a mandate from the public). The upper chamber would consist of those from functional constituencies (ie those with a mandate from special interests). Sir David has some ideas on how to deal with differences between the two chambers and notes it is not suggested that the second chamber should unequivocally be given a right of veto. Instead he proposes the (Beijing appointed) Chief Executive have the right to break deadlocks and (this is my suggestion) if he gets it wrong we always know Beijing can set things right.

In fact the idea has merit. It wouldn't take long for the second chamber, much like the House of Lords in the UK, to lose much of its power. It would take a gutsy Chief Executive to continually reject proposals from the democratically elected chamber, especially when the CE is an appointee with no popular mandate of his own. China would find it harder to over-rule and re-interpret laws passed by this chamber. It would be overruling the expressed will of duly elected representatives of Hong Kong pubilc. As a halfway house on the road to a democratic Hong Kong it should be enough to appease those represented by functional constituencies. It could also be a good excuse to re-examine the Basic Law and would subvert Beijing's strong hand in Hong Kong affairs.

For all those reasons Beijing would never let it happen.

Can the conflict between a fully directly elected Legislative Council and the steady progress required by the Basic Law be avoided? The message conveyed by the National People's Congress was that any changes made in 2008 must comply with a requirement to protect the equal balance between the directly elected seats and functional constituency seats, and to maintain Legco's separate voting system. This indicates a clear desire, for the time being, for the continued role of vocational or functional representatives. Is there a middle way, a means to compromise between the popular demand and the need for restraint, for the gradual and orderly progress called for by our national leaders?

When developing their democracies, many countries had to face a similar dilemma, to find a balance between a directly elected council and the interests of the community as a whole. The answer lay in having a representative system consisting of two chambers, which has been adopted by more than 50 nations.

There is no unanimity in the composition of the second chamber - there are representatives of federated states, appointed and vocational members, or even a mixed system. Each has been adapted to suit particular circumstances.

The response to the popular demand to have a fully directly elected Legco, we believe, lies in giving the directly elected members a separate status with a separate chamber, and to create a second chamber, a senate of the vocational representatives - the functional constituencies. To get through the work, the directly elected first chamber might need to be larger than the second and would be the first to consider government business and legislation.

Bills and motions passed in the first chamber would travel to the second for further and wider deliberation and, if necessary, to put forward amendments. The question would arise, undoubtedly, of how to deal with a lack of agreement between the two chambers.

It can be done, for example, by giving the second chamber the power to impose a delay, by appointing a joint committee of both chambers, or by providing for bills to pass between both chambers until agreement is reached. It is not suggested that the second chamber should unequivocally be given a right of veto.

In the event of a deadlock after thorough debate in both, reserve powers to make a final decision could be given to the chief executive in conjunction with the Executive Council. This question of the power that the second chamber would exercise is important, but it is not an insoluble problem. It should not detract from the general thrust and desirability of the two-chamber concept.

A second chamber would preserve the checks and balances of the existing system, and in separating the two components, would reduce the tensions created by the present arrangements and go some way to meet popular demand.

The proposal will require changes to the Basic Law, but we should put that question aside and think about what is best for Hong Kong. Some may also argue that there are countries with a bicameral system changing to a single-chamber model. However, many mature democracies still maintain two chambers, and the merits of the system should be recognised.

Hong Kong's democratic development is at an early stage, and adoption of a bicameral system would amount to gradual and orderly progress towards greater democracy, while continuing to maintain a legislative body which is representative of all sectors. The year 2012 should not be the end of this evolution of our constitution, but the changes proposed represent a significant step forward.

Sir David Akers-Jones, a former chief secretary, is president of the Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong. This is an edited excerpt from the federation's proposal on a bicameral system.



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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:54
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January 31, 2005
Dinner and democracy

I am a big fan of ESWN. Amongst other things tt constantly has thought-provoking, well written and cosmopolitan posts on Hong Kong and China. Allow me to take a leaf from Roland's book and link his dinner party with a post on HK's income tax and mix it all in with a dose of democracy and a pinch of blogging.

Firstly the dinner. I'll let him set the scene:

This was the annual shareholders' meeting for my cooperative apartment building in Hong Kong. There were about 10 people present, and we dealt with the business issues quickly and then we sat down for the meal. As we ate dinner, we had a chance to talk about other matters.

Who are these people? There was a doctor, an English-language teacher, a financial advisor, a retired elderly lady, a restaurant owner and three factory owners. Their ages range between fifty to eighty-three. Given that they own apartments in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Hong Kong (note: Jackie Chen just bought a house down the street), they are presumed to be among the upper class elite here.

What did they talk about? Read the post. But here's the conclusion:
I am thinking about the Hong Kong political blogosphere. I must say that those who write about politics are predominantly oriented towards the so-called pan-democratic 'grass roots' mindset. Who would speak up consistently on behalf of people like my fellow shareholders? Nobody I know. This creates a skewed representation of public opinion in the manner of the "Spiral of Silence" of Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann -- a small self-selected group dominates the share of voice among those who speak out, thus creating the impression that they represent the majority.

So why won't they speak on their own behalf? These people are too busy looking after their businesses to blog!

So there you have it. A sliver of the upper class elite are more interested in the status quo but are too busy to do much about it. To be fair the group were equally unhappy with the HK Government. On the other hand, a couple of hundred thousand Hong Kongers care enough each year to march for democracy. It would be great to have more views and voices in HK blogging so this could be debated in greater depth. The barriers to entry in blogging are extremely low and it needn't take much time. If they want to join the debate, let them. Otherwise they forfeit their right to be a part of the decision.

ESWN also links to a Media Matters fact-check on HK's flat tax regime (a related MM post on the issue is here). The MM people are correct. HK's flat tax is paid by only a tiny minority of all taxpayers. But it also highlights one of the failures of HK's governance. Firstly the numbers:

In the assessment year of 2002-03, among the 3 million or so working population, only 1.2 million people are subject to salaries tax. And among these taxpayers, only 13,000 are subject to the standard rate...According to government figures, the total number of people paying the standard rate of tax will rise to 27,000 in 2003-04 and 44,000 by 2005.

With roughly 3 million workers in Hong Kong, the 44,000 expected to pay the standard rate of tax this year is less than 1.5 percent of the total.

HK's standard rate of tax is 16% of income after allowances. Otherwise people are taxed on a sliding scale, with a person earning the equivalent of US$33,000 paying US$75 income tax. While this is a boon for the vast majority of HK workers, it means HK's Government receives little in income tax. Instead the Government relies on other sources of income and especially land sales and profits tax. What does that do? Let's make a heroic assumption that Governments are rational economic actors. Government looks to maximise its revenue. So it is catering to those who keep it in power and pay it revenue. In Hong Kong this means the Government has incentives to pander to property developers and business tycoons at the expense of the vast majority. There are no elections and most pay little tax. So the Government follows its incentives. If more Hong Kong workers were paying more income tax, you can be sure Government would be even more responsive to their views. Instead the Government is contemplating a regressive flat sales tax to provide a steadier revenue stream that is not at the whim of the property and business cycles. I am not talking about raising income tax rates in Hong Kong. I am talking about broadening the income taxpaying base by reducing allowances and/or lowering thresholds. Anywhere else in the world someone earning US$33,000 is paying far more that US$75 in income tax.

A bargain in the making: an increase in income tax payments in return for democracy. If the Government took the advice of Roland's dinner guests and allowed more economic migrants they'd be laying the groundwork for improved revenue, make the factory owners happy and maybe even advance the cause of democracy in HK. They might even be moved to blog about it.



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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 15:38
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July 09, 2004
Democracy in Hong Kong at last!

EastSouthWestNorth reports on at least one small area of HK where democracy has started to take hold: marking of 3rd grade examinations.

Hong Kong: voting on hearts since 2004.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:20
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July 01, 2004
Hong Kong March

I expect there will be updates on this post through the afternoon.

It is another typical HK summer day: hot and humid. However the anticipated bad weather has not arrived and shouldn't impact the numbers turning up for the march. Interestingly this morning's SAR Handover ceremony was quiet, with Tung Che-hwa saying ""According to the Basic Law (Hong Kong's mini-constitution), to achieve universal suffrage gradually is our common goal." There were no major Chinese dignitaries, partly to avoid confronting this afternoon's protest and partly to keep the Mainland Chinese media away from HK today.

Some of the news services have lead-up articles:

Reuters: HK Readies for Huge Democracy March
Bloomberg: HK Protesters to Begin Pro-Democracy March at 3pm
Associated Press: HK rally expects big crowd
AFP: Tens of thousands expected at HK democracy rally
CNN: HK braces for massive protest

As a contrast the China papers:

China Daily: Flag ceremony kicks off SAR Birthday party
Xinhua: HK Post issues PLA (HK) special stamps

Certainly despite being a public holiday the streets seem unusually quiet today.

One interesting article is in the Taipei Times: Hong Kong 'no model for Taiwan'. China did itself no favours with Taiwan in its handling the HK democracy issue and Taiwan will be closely watching how events progress. However talk of HK being a successful template for an eventual re-unification with China has been replaced by suspicion and distrust. China's actions to date have spoken louder than their words.

UPDATE: Here's an interesting article in Business Day:

Hong Kong people treasure their personal liberties and they expect their local government to protect their freedoms vigorously. What is new is that Hong Kong's citizens are prepared to do something about their political concerns.
It is by a member of Civic Exchange, a pro-democracy think tank.

This Guardian article looks at some of the intimidation tactics used against HK democrats recently and summarises the changing politics of the democracy situation.

ABC Australia reports hackers have tried to disrupt the event by sending hoax emails saying the event has been cancelled.

UPDATE 2:Xinhua have a story on the handover day celebrations. It is a report of Tung Che-Hwa's remarks at the ceremony today and includes:

Tung said the government has indeed improved its governance though there are still inadequacies that need further improvement...He said that Hong Kong is blessed to be back with the motherland as the Chinese mainland takes off.

A flag raising ceremony was held earlier Thursday morning as one of the special programs for marking the seventh anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland. Over 3,000 people attended the national flag and HKSAR flag raising ceremony.

Curiously they overlooked the 300,000 gathering in Victoria Park, just down the road.

UPDATE 3: The march has actually started half an hour early at around 2:30pm and while it is hard to tell, at this stage it looks like the 300,000 target will be met and perhaps exceeded.

Reuters has a report from the march.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong people dressed in white poured onto the streets on Thursday to vent their frustration at Chinese rule and challenge Beijing's refusal to allow them to elect their own leaders.

Waving green and black banners and sheltering under umbrellas from the searing sun, protesters chanting "Return power to the people, fight for democracy" streamed from a park to government offices in the heart of the city several kilometers (miles) away. Organizers said tens of thousands of people had gathered by mid-afternoon and estimated that as many as 300,000 people would join the march on the seventh anniversary of the former British colony's return to China, a public holiday.

UPDATE 4: Word is numbers are looking more like the 200,000 to 250,000 mark instead of 300,000 but no official word.

Some photos coming through:
Number 1
Number 2
Number 3
Number 4
Number 5

Click to embiggen.

hk5_ap.jpg

Other pictures in the extended entry.

UPDATE 5:Even Al-Jazeera is covering this.

Channel News Asia is putting the numbers at around 250,000. Hong Kong has a population of about 7.5 million, so that is 3.33% of the city turning up to march.

Bloomberg and AFP are also reporting the 250,000 figure. The Singapore Straits Times is estimating the numbers as more than 200,000. The Guardian has a PA report with numbers at only 60,000 - clearly the wrong number. Was the reporter actually their today? Obviously not.

AFP has a good photo here.

With that it's time for me to go and join the masses. The interesting part will be Beijing's reaction. Does the more moderate tone end now the march is over or do they continue with their carrot-and-stick approach?

Some images from AP:

hk1_ap.jpg


hk2_ap.jpg


hk3_ap.jpg


hk4_ap.jpg



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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:05
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April 27, 2004
The end of the beginning

China firmly shut the door on any prospect of universal sufferage. In an apt demonstration of Beijing expects things to be, the decision was announced to a packed house of some 900 invited guests, mostly senior business leaders, academics, pro-Beijing politicians and journalists. There were some prize quotes, which speak for themselves:

``Universal suffrage is not a free lunch. Everybody has to pay a price,'' Qiao Xiaoyang, deputy secretary-general of the NPC Standing Committee, said during a 45-minute speech. "Those who dare to say that there cannot be universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008 due to Hong Kong's actual situation and long-term interest, are truly courageous and willing to bear responsibility. They truly care for Hong Kong and its people."...

Qiao [Xiaoyang, deputy secretary-general of the NPC] criticised unnamed Hong Kong people for not fully understanding the one-country, two-systems framework and the Basic Law. ``Almost every day [since the handover], the Basic Law has been questioned, distorted and abused. This is an indisputable fact.'' A rush to democracy, he said, could prove harmful to the nation and lead to negative consequences. ``How can we be sure that there will be no damage to national sovereignty?'' he asked.

Despite the fact that Qiao represents the ruling elite of a communist nation, a key defence of the NPC's actions was to be found in the need to maintain the current system of functional constituencies in Legco, largely in order to protect Hong Kong's capitalists.

Calling Hong Kong a ``mature capitalist city'', Qiao cited Marxist doctrine in saying that the ``means of production'' must remain in private hands and that it was vital to ``protect the business sector's interests'' from being eroded by democracy which could cause Hong Kong to ``lose competitiveness''...

He acknowledged that there were many in Hong Kong who favoured universal suffrage but he said that following popular opinion was not a wise idea. ``A government led by the nose by opinion polls'' will fail, he cautioned.

It's hard to fisk something that is so stupid. What is ironic and amusing is a communist declaring the need to avoid democracy to defend capitalism. Let's set aside the obvious counter-examples of USA, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. It seems the Communist Party has become the party of the businessman. Another irony is the accusation of Hong Kong's political immaturity. I've met many Hong Kongers and they are exactly the same as people in other countries: they have rational opinions. Indeed the more immature politicians tend to be the toadies from the Beijing apologist or business interest parties, with their constant paternalistism and condesention. Most ironic is the distortion of the Basic Law by the NPC and Beijing themselves. It is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

I still maintain Beijing have solved very little by doing this. They'd be far better off to give a little and relieve the pressure. The key test will be the turnout for the July 1st march and Beijing's response to it. They may respond the only way they know how. It is the end of the beginning.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:03
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