Looming ominously over the Occupy Movement’s Harcourt Road venue was the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Headquarters. Many tried to figure out what was going on in the building and up the chain of command. Renowned commentators on Hong Kong-China relations, Johnny Lau Yui-siu (劉銳紹) and Ching Cheong (程翔), are not sanguine about Hong Kong’s future and the ability of the CCP to do the right thing.
Johnny Lau Yui-siu says one of the most notable changes since the Umbrella Movement was a significant growth of radicalism. “How Beijing and CY Leung handled the movement and the following political reform was very stubborn. There was no armed suppression but nor was there genuine dialogue or compromise.”
“Resistance to the political reform shows a strong reaction against Beijing’s line of ‘universal suffrage’. While Beijing did change from holding a resolute stance, to showing willingness to adopt a softer approach to deal with pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong after the dramatic end of reform saga, the attempts so far have been short on scope and substance,” Lau said, referring to a closed-door meeting between deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and senior members of the Democratic Party on August 26.
Push, push back
According to Lau, discontent with Beijing and the Hong Kong administration has risen to a point that has pushed moderate democrats further to the radical end of the political spectrum.
Ching Cheong agrees with Lau, and points out that the reciprocal nature of the relationship can only lead to a vicious circle, “As Beijing continues to tighten their grip on Hong Kong, Hongkongers will react, and the existing separatism will continue to grow. The stronger this consciousness is, the more control Beijing puts on Hong Kong. So it appears to be a vicious circle.”
Ching does point out that Beijing was responsible for triggering off this relationship, but suggests they can stop the spiralling any time.
Inhale, relax, exhale
“The best case would be for Beijing to reverse the cycle and remediate the situation. They’ve made a good start by speaking to certain pan-dems,” says Ching. “If they’re willing to extend that line of communication to the rest of pan-dems, This will slowly reverse the downward spiral.”
Unfortunately, it seems to be one step forward and two steps back for Beijing. “Zhang Xiaoming’s (張曉明), Beijing’s liaison office director in Hong Kong, remarks [on the city’s political system and the Chief Executive’s transcendent position] are not helping the situation,” says Lau. “As long as Beijing shows no substantial change of its stance toward political development in the city, moderate democrats find it harder to appeal to the crowd.”
“It makes people think the olive branch extended was all a ruse,” remarks Ching. “And that their real intention is to tighten control. This only intensifies the vicious circle.”
Hard to let go
At the same meeting where Zhang made his infamous speech, Qiang Shigong (強世功), legal scholar from the Peking University, suggested the Two Systems arrangement might be hindering Hong Kong’s development.
Ching believes this could represent the worst case scenario for Hong Kong. “What he’s implying is, it might be time to reconsider this arrangement. It reflects that there is, in fact, a group of people in Beijing who are considering abolishing the two systems agreement. That is indeed a very worrying sign.”
“The worst scenario [for the pro-democracy camp] would be a case of which Beijing imposes its will on Hong Kong and pays no regard to the principle of ‘One country, two systems’ whatsoever. The political reality, meanwhile, is that it will continue to adopt an assertive approach while recognising the necessity to take the democrats into account,” echos Lau.
To the left, to the right
When asked what the next step may be, Ching concedes that the ball is not in the pro-democracy camp’s court.
“Pan-dems are now in a vulnerable position. What they can do is insist the CCP fulfill its promises in the Basic Law. This is the sole means of defending Hong Kong for the pan-dems.”
Ching suggests that since Beijing seems to be twisting the interpretation and understanding of those promises in the Basic Law, pan-dems can start a campaign to ask for investigations against unconstitutional speeches by officials.
“I feel it is worth examining whether Beijing has violated the principles behind the Basic Law, when it was established, in its actions since the Handover. Perhaps they can establish a Basic Law Arbitration Committee. Of course, they won’t do anything even if you’ve pointed out these issues. But you gain a moral high ground and establish that their actions are unconstitutional.”
While Ching admits the results will be minimal, he questions what radical actions by localists might achieve. His statement is not based on whether he disagrees with their actions, but whether they have public support.
“HKU students stormed the University Council, a relatively mild action, and have already been severely condemned by the broader public. So it’s clear Hong Kong society isn’t ready for radical methods.” says Ching, who is a member of the University of Hong Kong Alumni Concern Group. “If you asked me whether the act was radical, I would say compared to certain scenes we saw during the Umbrella Movement, they were definitely much milder. It was no big deal. If you compared the Umbrella Movement with the May 4th student movement, you’ll see that it was even milder.”
“It doesn’t matter if you call yourself a radicalist, localist, or advocate ‘fighting violence with force’: without society backing you up, you won’t succeed. The localists have received more and more support since the Umbrella Movement, but it won’t get you anywhere.”
Ching paints a rather grim picture by conceding that there just isn’t much that can be done.
“If it’s simply just CY Leung authority, both pan-dems and localist can exert enough pressure to take CY Leung down or change his policies. But in fact, we face the enormous CCP regime, and they are used to trampling on all dissenting voice. The only thing we can hold on to is the moral high ground. So we must remind them of their promises, and insist that they fulfill them. It may seem a bit helpless, but even so, at least we gain [the moral high ground].”
“In the meantime, I can’t see any realistic “good” scenario, not being worse off would be the best scenario,” admits Ching. “But everything is pointing towards the opposite.”