Harbour View: The End of Illusions

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This is the year when Hong Kong’s future will be decided.


2015 is the end of illusion. There will either be detente and genuine negotiation, or the opening of a cold war, enduring and sporadically violent, to the detriment of both parties.


Like most wars, the beginning will have its origins in each party miscalculating their chances of conducting a successful, lengthy and eventually victorious campaign. Both will believe they can prevail and have the moral high ground. Like the Cold War, official engagement at one level will see vicious proxy wars on a smaller scale with many a shady manoeuvre and lives ruined in its wake.


The illusion


The illusion that was that the Basic Law and ‘one country, two systems’ would, for 50 years, create breathing room for Hong Kong to maintain and perhaps even extend its freedoms a little, while China “caught up.” In 2047, everyone would be on the same democratic and human rights page and China and Hong Kong could dissolve the border and live together in harmony. Taiwan would see China as a responsible steward of Hong Kong, negotiate a German style reunification and the Greater China family would be reunited once more as a global leader of all that was fine and good.


Between sunflowers and umbrellas, the dream is over. In Hong Kong, officials and their ‘bosses’ are mistrusted by a population feeling overwhelmed by their mainland neighbours. Seemingly ridiculous complaints about too many tourists and milk powder shoppers belie a fear of a more sinister mainland takeover of institutions that protect freedoms.


The past three months have done much to erode trust between the people, their chosen representatives, and other bodies like the police. Those Beijing can lean on directly, like the President of the Law Society, heads of companies and Chambers of Commerce, have faced rebellion from their constituents. The police, previously enjoying perhaps the best public-police relationship in the world (who better?), felt the strain of 79 days of unpredictable and unfamiliar protest, making errors of judgement and passion that damaged their credibility and public image. Blue ribbon vigilantes, paid anti-protest protesters from China and violence have hardened the hearts and opened the eyes of many who would have been happy to live in denial and keep their heads down. On the other side, excess passion by protesters, rogue elements and and overstay of their occupation saw them alienate many who would have liked them to succeed.


Tearing down the curtain


Pan-Democrats have given up doing their part to maintain the pretense of a negotiated settlement as Beijing hammers down on dissent. ‘Seeing behind the curtain’ refers to Toto’s reveal of The Wizard of Oz to Dorothy in the 1939 film depicting Frank Baum’s deeply political novel of 1900. The pan-Dems have chosen this legislative year to tear down the curtain and trash as much of the machinery as they can get their hands on.


As Beijing makes it clearer and clearer that there will be no genuine choice of candidates in the 2017 election, with only vague promises of further steps beyond, pan-Dems have given up. The Occupy Movement was much bigger than they could have planned, but did they best to fan the flames of discontent and lay bare for all to see what was at stake. Many went out of their way to provoke arrest. Not just the usual Long Hair shenanigans, but legislators and student leaders declared their intention to get arrested.


Even before that, pan-Dems discarded tradition to seize control of key subcommittees of the Finance Committee (Establishment and Public Works Subcommittee) to block major government plans as the most effective way of making the city ‘ungovernable’ to people who would matter: the wealthy and connected to whom the government looks to for support. Manoeuvres continue apace as Democrats filibuster with abandon.


Government response


The official response to the Occupy is underway and it is not encouraging. Last year saw the pressuring of business to make anti-Occupy statements and pull advertising from non-compliant media outlets. Protest organisers and participants are living under a Damocles sword of wondering if they will be charged or placed on a China ‘no-travel’ blacklist.


Teenage protesters have been taken from families and placed in juvenile detention (since returned pending further action). This of threatening whole families is truly a low point. Editors with children are quietly asking if an aggressive column or op/ed could see them lose their children under some pretence or another. Wayward children are also being mooted as a reason for Beijing to place the Education system, through the Secretary, under direct control from Beijing, according to the comments from Chen Zuo’er at a conference on Hong Kong education in Beijing. As to why such a conference would exist in the first place, it seems to have been put together to announce that Hong Kong was failing to properly mold children into good Communist supporters in the wake of the failed launch of the National Education program. “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” Thanks for the advice, Adolf.


As democratic forces prepare for the next wave of resistance, it will very quickly become apparent if Beijing has decided it has reached the end of its patience and seeks to gain more control over the apparatus of institutions in Hong Kong. Regular readers of our Harbour Crossings column will note the quiet accumulation of appointments of Beijing loyalists to key government related bodies . For example, another CPPCC member, Mr Henry Tong Sau-chai (湯修齊), was appointed to the Education Commission last week.


There doesn’t seem to be any cooling off by either side. Democratic maneuvers don’t seem to be aimed at ‘winning’ anything substantive anymore, but rather seem aimed at making people see what is really at stake by pushing Beijing to suppress them on as many levels as possible.

If that is bait, it seems to be bait China will rise to take. However, this is only one step away from pushing for the martyrdom that the Occupy Movement never had. If people thought that the Occupation of 2014 was tumultuous, the conflict in 2015 will eclipse it as a full -blown cold war erupts. Unless cooler heads prevail, this year will be the end of illusion. The dream will end and the nightmare begin. Of course, if your bed is burning, its probably better to wake up. This is the year it will happen.