The chess game between Beijing and the Pan-Democratic Camp

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Universal suffrage has been a hot topic recently. The seemingly calm and indifferent Beijing central government is busy with all manner of deployments behind the curtain. Three separate teams have formed on the democratic side: The Alliance for True Democracy, who unified most of the democratic parties; Occupy Central, who is more on the radical extreme, and Hong Kong 2020 headed by Anson Chan, a former government bureaucrat. Although the three groups each have their specific constituency, they can transform into a strong coalition at any given time. Nevertheless, different opinions exist among them. Seasoned politicians see clearly that compared with the pan-establishment camp who stands firm behind a uniform order from Beijing, the loose ties among the pan-democratic camp can rather dissolve quickly. Who will win this chess game? Let’s have some close look at the developments.

First, we shall get to know the strategies of Beijing. Rumors leak out that Beijing is using the exact same method they did for the Hong Kong Handover negotiation with UK in the 1980s. The method is fairly straightforward—show the ultimate bottom line, then push backwards. As long as the bottom line is not crossed, then everything else can be put on the table for discussion. China’s bottom line at that time was: there is no question that Hong Kong would return to China and if the UK deliberately made things difficult then China would take Hong Kong back ahead of time. Based on that, UK—in the knowledge they lacked any chips to bargain with— agreed on the proposal, asking in return for a guarantee of huge economic gains in reciprocation. Since then, the democratization of Hong Kong is has been delayed in accordance with this agreement.

So what is the bottom line this time? Mr. Qiao Xiaoyang, Director of the National People’s Congress Law Committee, has already exposed it–“The future CE has to be patriotic” and “he or she should not go against the Beijing government”. One might deem these comments rather vague and ambiguous, yet these BIG principles and guideline have strengths to commend them. First, common citizens find them fairly easy to understand and follow; second, they hugely limit the debate on details such as “what qualifies patriotic” and “how to define ‘going against’”; third, the pro-establishment camp has two focal points now for their propaganda and massive campaign. So by the time CY brings out the real action plan, the two principles will be already deeply rooted within Hong Kong citizens.

On top of this, Beijing has also started its own “grassroots” movement, by establishing numerous regional organizations or providing assistance (e.g. funding, events sponsorship, etc.) to other existing groups through its network here in Hong Kong. These secretly built “relationships” will lead to at least three positives: one, they will be the hearty supporter and promoters for the upcoming “official” reform proposal; two, they might sit on board in the nomination committee; three, they could eventually occupy and dominate the LegCo if the election has to come. Given their limited resources, the pro-democratic camp cannot even imagine competing with them on this.

On the other hand, Beijing has also strategically stopped all communication with people from the pro-democratic camp, including the routine “info-collecting visits”. Part of the psychological war tactic, cutting off all the communication has two effects: putting adversaries under pressure, leading them into fraction and disagreement; and avoiding the negative impact from affecting its own decision making as well. Quoting the sources in Beijing, this is a typical “isolation” strategy.

Although sporadic contacts can still be found—for example, a certain Mr. C in the pro-establishment camp went to “Hong Kong 2020” for information. This is however not part of the comprehensive deployment from Beijing, but rather individual case of “good student doing his homework”.

In fact, Beijing knows clearly that a constitutional plan has to be presented and the pro-democratic camp has to be involved. The question is “when”? The beginning of next year is suggested to be the best time, as both National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference will start their session during that time. The “constitutional plan” will no doubt become an inevitable hot potato on the top of the agenda. Following this logic, Beijing will probably restore the connection with the pan-democratic camp in early January or February next year.

However another leading opinion inside Beijing fears the “isolation” tactic will only aggravate the current situation, alienating the radical faction. The longer one waits, the thicker the ice gets, and the harder icebreaking becomes. Therefore, the possibility of an earlier re-connection is not entirely ruled out.

One experience worth sharing is the discussion during 2009-2010 on how to elect the CE. Many people completely lost hope at that time, thinking nothing would ever change. However the reality they didn’t see was behind the spotlight in Beijing: other forces—researchers and scholars rather than bureaucrats or government officials—are contributing too. These groups have the knowledge about Hong Kong and ability of independent analyzing and critical thinking.

Through them, no less than 11 different reports were presented to President Xi Jinping, dissecting the pros and cons of Beijing interests: Zero changes on political reform will only increase the gap of disagreement between Beijing and Hong Kong, therefore a dialogue with the pan-democratic camps is necessary. Under direction of these internal suggestions, Mr. Feng Wei, Legal Department Minister of the Liaison Office was then able to start the “secret meetings” with Albert Ho, Head of Democratic Party on April 30th, 2010, followed by then three open meetings with pan-democratic camp representatives led by Mr. Li Gang, Deputy Director of the Liaison Office. Using Chinese term, it is “treating the dead horse as if it’s still alive”. Sometimes a miracle might still arise from the last attempt.

By hook or by crook, Beijing will have a say on the political reform. It probably already has a draft, just not openly shared. A seminar focusing on Hong Kong and Macau affairs was held on the mainland not long ago, during which one participating scholar from Guangdong struck me with these direct remarks, “Ever since the handover, Hong Kong has stood up to it [China] even with all kinds of unstable elements. Why can’t we just let them try a free election for once?” Certainly, this voice is still weak among the Beijing officials, yet at least it’s comforting to know that open-minded people do exist.

The pan-democratic camp is certainly not a sitting duck, awaiting its doom. Since Beijing is not ready for the official proposal yet, then they will throw out their plan first. The draft from the Alliance of True Democracy might be far from a mature consensus, but at least it keeps people’s attention and through discussion, it will eventually get there.

Original in Chinese by Johnny Lau
Translated by Fay Cain