Johnny Lau: Cutting the Gordian Knot of Hong Kong democracy

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The Democrats and the Liaison office sit down to speak today. Johnny Lau Yui-siu outlines the many folds of Hong Kong’s Gordian Knot of democratic reform.

Debates on constitutional reforms keep on going. The latest conditions suggest that there are fewer and fewer chances for an amicable solution to our current constitutional conundrum.
At the very least, there will be a another year of Cold War, with more posturing than actual engagement.

Neither Beijing nor the pan-democrats will make any big compromise in the near future. Beijing believes that if they continue to stand firm, then some portion of Hong Kongers may accept Beijing’s viewpoint. Beijing can use the public reaction to gauge democrats’ response and plan their next move.

Pan-democrats will not give ground easily, because they see this as the last battle for democracy. If they fail to get real democracy on this round of negotiations, pan-democrats will no longer retain what little ground they have gained, let alone make any advances in bringing the public onside. Neither party will modify their standpoints until the middle of next year, when the voting for constitutional reforms comes to a head.

Here, I would like to sort out the arguments, disagreements, as well as the pros and cons, in order to inform readers about the hurdles standing in the way of progress.
1. The line on policy

The Central Government emphasises that their policies on Hong Kong have never changed: “one country two system”, “Hong Kong people running Hong Kong” and “High degree of autonomy” are still core policies.

But pan-democrats believes, the so-called “no changes” line represents the period up to 2003. From the large July 1st protest on 2003, Beijing’s policies on Hong Kong have changed from the more relaxed policies of the 1980s to “more control”, and later become complete intrusive. The question of “change or no change” [in policy] has to deal with whether “one country-two system” still exists. The Central Government actions (including the issuing of “White Paper”) have demonstrated a degraded commitment to this principle.

2. Lobbying and communication

The pro-establishment parties always say the Central Government has been demonstrating sincerity on the issue of universal suffrage of Hong Kong in words, and has used different methods to demonstrate the pros and cons of universal suffrage. They argue that this is a process which takes time.

But pan-democrats believe Beijing is playing a ‘soft and hard’ strategy, keeping the pro-establishment camp close, and the pan-democrats farther away. The “communication” is only for show.

3. Theory of “Take what you can now”

Hong Kong officials and pro-establishment parties keep on promoting the idea that the proposal on 2017 is not the final version. It can still be modified. The public should accept this step forward and seize their chance for for universal suffrage. If this chance for universal suffrage is missed, the responsibility (blame) will be on pan-democrats.

But pan-democrats think there is a need to let the public know details are important, even if we take the first opportunity for some version of universal suffrage. For example, how will the nomination committee be formed? Can we add more democratic elements to a level that the public would accept? How can they ask the public to accept the first offer Beijing provides if nothing is known about the details?

4. “Theory of threatening”
The pro-establishment camp blames pan-democrats for using Occupy Central and other actions and words to threaten Beijing. They claiming such measures will be ineffective. Moreover, they believe Occupy Central is illegal and will seriously harm the economy of Hong Kong.

The pan-democrats argue the pro-establishment camp is saying that if the proposal of 2017 fails, the central Government will never address universal suffrage again and this is a threat to Hong Kong people. This is a new argument for the pan-democrat camp.

5. The standard of love the country

Beijing and the pro-establishment camp always advocate two qualities required of candidates : “Love the country, love Hong Kong” (愛國愛港) and “Not standing against Beijing” (不與中央對抗). Even Americans do not not oppose the concept that the leader should love the country. They claim that if the pan-democrats cannot accept this basic requirement, they do not respect the right of the Central Government to speak out on Hong Kong affairs.

The pan-democrats believe that the phrases “Love the country, love Hong Kong” and “Not standing against Beijing” are vague political requirements, and there is no objective standard to assess these ideas. Beijing’s right to have a strong voice in political affairs has always been asserted by Beijing and the Basic Law protects it. For example, Beijing has the right not to appoint the candidates whom Beijing does not accept.

6. Foreign power

Beijing and the pro-establishment camp claim emphatically that “foreign power, external force and incoming forces” intrude in Hong Kong affairs and pan-democrats ally with these powers. For example, Martin Lee (李柱銘) and Anson Chan (陳方安生) recently visited the US and the UK, internationalising Hong Kong problems. In addition, media has exposed Jimmy Lai’s (黎智英) financial support for pan-democrats, insinuating the flow of the money seems to have connection with the foreign governments.

In the eyes of the pan-democrats, the pro-establishment camp also accepts undisclosed funds from others, claiming this is common in Hong Kong politics. Actually, pan-democrats do not believe foreign countries will speak openly concerning Hong Kong problems. They can only run to other countries as Beijing has closed the door.

7. The white terror
Pan democrats claim a campaign of “white terror” is underway. Namel, the Police are targeting pan-democrats; pan-democrats have been targets of score-settling at opportune moments (for example, the old immigration paperwork and nationality of Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩)); Beijing looks for dirt on pan-democrats, ready-for-use; the volunteers of pan-democrats and their families have been negatively influenced.

The pro-establishment camp believes pan-democrats are too sensitive, and their claims may only be publicity seeking stunts to gain sympathy.

Honestly, Hong Kong has not reached the level of “white terror”. The above phenomena may only directed by someone in Hong Kong, but not from Beijing. However, the main issue is how to avoid the “white terror”. There will be no benefit in communication among both parties if the situation gets worse.

8. International standards
Pan-democrats have emphasised that the proposal must meet international standards, which means real universal suffrage and no screening. Beijing and pro-establishment camp believe there is no one international standard. Therefore, all details of an agreement should follow local conditions. Elections are inherently, by their nature, a form of screening.

Pan-democrats oppose this, saying that even if some sort of screening is needed, it should be by the people but not the Government.

Actually, the above arguments can all be accommodated. More important is the existence of any trust among both parties. I encourage both parties, no matter the Government or pan-democrats (especially for the former who owns absolute power), to seek out common ground and not just insist on their own viewpoint. This is the only way to untie this Gordian Knot.