The Hong Kong Democracy Controversy

Henry C.K. Liu 


Some political controversies are just tempests in a teacup.  The Hong Kong democracy controversy is a tempest in an empty teacup.

Democracy as an abstract concept, like motherhood, is supported by everyone. But democracy, like motherhood, comes in many forms in reality. Motherhood can be from happy marriages, from unwed mothers, from rape victims or from women with genetic defects or mental problems. Thus motherhood can occur in a variety of social contexts that affects its desirability. Timing is also a key factor affecting its desirability. The same is true about democracy. Universal suffrage is necessary for democracy, but democracy is not always an inevitable outcome from universal suffrage. Universal suffrage failed to end residual institutional slavery in the US long after emancipation had been brought about by the Civil War. Universal suffrage under dire economic conditions and social despair produced a fascist dictatorship in Weimar Germany.  US promotion of democracy around the world is blatantly selective.  In February 2004, US Marines kidnapped and deposed democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti. To the chagrin of US imperialists who are more comfortable with rightwing dictatorships, universal suffrage is producing a rising number of populist governments around the world, most visibly in Latin America, which the US openly works to overthrow. An influential leader of the US religious right, Pat Robertson, who can be viewed regularly on Hong Kong television through his Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and the 700 Club program, publicly and un-Christianly called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected leftist president of Venezuela.

Democracy in the context of a world order of sovereign states needs a requisite socio-political milieu of national unity, loyalty to sovereign and social harmony.  Democracy operates only under loyal opposition, not foreign-supported political insurgents. In colonial Hong Kong, national pride and loyalty to the motherland had been systemically erased by a century and a half of British imperialistic rule. Until residual colonial mentality is effectively expunged, universal suffrage will not enhance true democracy in Hong Kong. Under current conditions, it may take a generation or more before Hong Kong can shed its ingrained colonial mindset. Premature, misapplied and irresponsible universal suffrage for Hong Kong will only be manipulated by a disloyal opposition to give neo-colonialism a new life.

The National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee’s April 2004 decision on electoral reform in Hong Kong has ruled out universal suffrage in the 2007 Chief Executive and 2008 Legislative Council (Legco) elections. This decision has been made in strict accordance with the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. The Hong Kong Government’s Constitutional Task Force has since continued to pursue community consensus on constitutional reform within the limits set by the NPC decision to introduce orderly progress in time for the 2007 and 2008 elections. In March 2005, Tung Chee-hwa for health reasons announced his resignation as Chief Executive to assume a Vice-Chairmanship of the National People's Consultative Conference. In keeping with the Basic Law, Chief Secretary Donald Tsang became Acting Chief Executive pending election of a new Chief Executive within six months of the resignation. A special election scheduled for July 10, 2005 was preempted by the unopposed sole candidacy of Donald Tsang as CE for the two years remaining in Tung’s unfinished term.

China is not opposed to democracy in Hong Kong or any other part of the country or anywhere else in the world. China practices socialist democracy.  In fact, as part of its political reform, China has been experimenting with local elections as the village level.  The Basic Law stipulates that Hong Kong, as a Special Administrative Region (SAR), shall be granted the right by the Central Government to practice capitalism and to keep its previous ways of life and system of governance unchanged for 50 years.  Article 45 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution, stipulates that “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.”  The operative words are: “actual situation in Hong Kong”, “gradual and orderly progress” and “ultimate aim”.

The actual situation in Hong Kong is that democracy agitators have not yet proved themselves as the loyal opposition, nor do they seem to be interested in gradual and orderly progress. They reject the idea of ultimate aim tied to affirmative actual situations of national unity by insisting on a fixed timetable for universal suffrage to politically exploit residual anti-China venom that continue to exercise an infectious hold on the local electorate.  Such venom manifests itself in the personal popularity and political influence of the quintessential colonial running-dog, the former Chief secretary Anson Chan who continues to take her orders dutifully from London.

China, along with many other countries, is opposed to US policy of geographic extension of its version of democracy around the world as a cover for its expansionist strategy to consolidate US global dominance. The US is free to choose the political system it wants, but it does not enjoy any god-given right to export its national political preference beyond its borders. Besides, the US has yet to live up to its own political ideals after more than two centuries of evolutionary history. The US version of democracy criminalized the Communist Party of the USA throughout much of the Cold War. Even though the 15th Amendment in 1870 gave former slaves the right to vote and protected the voting rights of adult males of all races, it took 87 years for the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to be passed as the first law to provide legal protection of such rights. Still, African Americans were not fully franchised politically until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. President John F. Kennedy in his televised speech on June 11, 1963 said: “We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it. And we cherish our freedom here at home. But are we to say to the world - and much more importantly to each other - that this is the land of the free, except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens, except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettos, no master race, except with respect to Negroes.”

Even in the US, which considers itself as the self-proclaimed beacon of democracy, universal suffrage took more than a century to become fact. Many conservative political analysts consider gradualism as the key strength of the US political system.  Yet the self-styled democrats in Hong Kong, never having agitated for democracy under 154 years of British colonial rule, repeatedly staged, with US urging and assistance, street demonstrations in Hong Kong to demand universal suffrage by the fourth election cycle after the return of the colony to Chinese sovereignty. It is by every standard an extremist and disingenuous demand.

When the US Constitution was written in 1790, only white male property owners (less than 16% of the nation’s population) had the vote. It took two centuries for the term "government by the people" to become reality. The last religious prerequisite for voting was eliminated only in 1810, thirty years after the Constitution established the separation of church and state.  Property ownership and tax requirements were not eliminated until 1850, six decades after. The 15th Amendment, rectified in 1870, protects the voting rights of adult male citizens of any race. Yet Chinese Americans did not enjoyed citizenship rights and could not vote until 1943; Asian Indian Americans not until 1946 and Japanese and other Asian Americans not until 1952. African Americans had been allowed to vote since the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War that ended slavery, by both houses on June 8 and the June 13, 1866. The Amendment was designed to grant citizenship to and protect the civil liberties of recently freed slaves. It did this by prohibiting states from denying or abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, depriving any person of his life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or denying to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Most Southern states refused to ratify the 14th Amendment. The result was the 1867 Reconstruction Act that divided the South into five military districts controlled by martial law, proclaimed universal manhood suffrage and required the new state constitutions to be drawn up and the Amendment was finally rectified in 1868 by the legislatures of 28 of the 37 States. It was a case of justified suspension of popular liberty to enforce moral liberty. The hold-out states rectified the Amendment only decades later: Maryland on April 4, 1959 (after having rejected it on March 23, 1867); California on May 6, 1959 and Kentucky on March 18, 1976 (after having rejected it on January 8, 1867). Since 1866, however, every Southern state had found ways such as poll tax and literacy requirements to keep African Americans away from the voting booths. In the Southern states up until 1964, fewer than 40% of African American adults were registered to vote. In Mississippi, which stood dead last, the figure dropped to 6.4%. After the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) exposed Mississippi racism to national attention in the early 1960s and with Northern liberals up in arms over news headlines of Southern institutional racism, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law pledged the federal government to enforce equal access to the ballot in the South 189 years after the nation’s founding. Thus the gratuitous pronouncements by US government spokesmen of support for quick and early universal suffrage in Hong Kong were at best hypocritical, not to mention unwarranted interference in another nation’s internal affairs.

One hundred and thirty-nine years after the founding of a democratic nation known as the United States with a Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10 of the Constitution), a bill for women suffrage was finally brought before the House of Representatives on January 12, 1915, but was defeated by 174 for and 204 against. Again a bill was brought three years later before the House on January 10, 1918. On the evening before, President Wilson made a strong and widely published appeal to the House to pass the bill. It was passed with one more vote than was needed to make the necessary two-thirds majority. The fight was then carried into the Senate. Again, President Wilson made an appeal, and on September 30, 1918 the question was put to the vote, but two votes were lacking to make the two-thirds majority. On February 10, 1919, it was again voted upon and lost by only one vote. By then there was considerable anxiety among politicians of both parties to have the amendment passed and made effective before the general elections of 1920, so the President called a special session of Congress, and a bill introducing the amendment was brought before the House again. On May 21, 1919, it was passed by 42 votes more than necessary. On June 4, 1919, it was brought before the Senate, and after a long discussion it was passed with 56 ayes and 25 nays. It only remained then that the necessary number of States should ratify the action of Congress. Within a few days, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, the legislatures of which being then in session, passed the ratifications. Other States then followed, with Tennessee being the last of the needed 36 States to ratify in the summer of 1920. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution became an accomplished fact and the Presidential election of November 1920 became the first occasion on which women in all of America were allowed to exercise their right of suffrage. Unlike the extremist intransigence of the Hong Kong pan-democrats, no opposition vote against women suffrage justified its opposition by arguing that the bill did not go far enough to grant all other equal rights for women instead of mere voting rights. In politics, insistence on ultimate objectives is not an operative rationale to vote against incremental progress.  The pan-democrats in Hong Kong did not just blocked the government’s sensible proposal, their spoiler anti-government minority opposition votes defeated majority support for progress on incremental political reform for Hong Kong.

The insistence of the Hong Kong pan-democrats to achieve universal suffrage from 154 years of colonial rule in one convenient step is an extremist position of confrontational intransigence. Chief Executive Tsang’s November 30 pre-vote television appeal text reads: “Our proposed constitutional development package is a democratic package.  It can enable Hong Kong to take a big step forward along the road to universal suffrage.  It significantly enhances the democratic element of the method for selecting the Chief Executive (CE) by doubling the size of the Election Committee from 800 to 1600.  All the 400 District Council members directly elected by more than three million registered voters will be included in the Election Committee.  For the 2008 LegCo, the number of seats will increase by 10. Five will be returned through direct elections in the geographical constituencies.  The other five will be elected from among the District Councillors, and will likewise have an electorate base of three million voters ….  there are different views in Hong Kong about the pace of achieving universal suffrage.  While some consider that the current pace of constitutional development as proposed in the package is not quick enough and would want to have universal suffrage for the CE and LegCo elections as soon as possible, others are concerned that by moving too fast we may undermine the merits of the current system which would impact negatively on balanced participation.  Our proposed package might not be all things to all people, but I believe that, after a long period of public consultation, it has given due regard to the aspirations of different sectors of the community.  The proposed package has not come easily.  So tonight, I personally appeal to you all: do not let the hard work and efforts of the past two years be wasted.  I really cannot see any other option that can better suit Hong Kong’s current circumstances, and be acceptable to all interested parties.  We are now facing a real danger of our democratic development coming to a halt.  Some people insist that the Government should propose a timetable for universal suffrage right now; otherwise, they will not support our reform package.  Their stance puzzles me.  Why should there be a conflict between supporting the Government proposals — which advance democracy in Hong Kong — and wanting a roadmap and timetable for universal suffrage?  How can the demands for a roadmap and timetable be served by rejecting the Government proposals?  What good will this do to democratic development in Hong Kong?  Will this approach benefit the people of Hong Kong?  Indeed, is this the wish of Hong Kong people?  Various opinion polls indicate that most Hong Kong people support our proposals.  More importantly, a majority of Hong Kong people feel that the electoral arrangements for 2007 and 2008 should be handled separately from the issue of a timetable for universal suffrage.  This underlines the pragmatism of Hong Kong people, who believe that constitutional development should not be hamstrung by the debate over a timetable for universal suffrage.  They think we should pass the constitutional development package first so that we can move towards universal suffrage from 2007 and 2008. ….  However, if the package were unfortunately voted down by LegCo, then constitutional development for 2007 and 2008 would come to a halt.  If this happens, how can we realistically expect to reach a consensus on proposals for the CE and LegCo elections in 2012 and secure the necessary support from two-thirds of the legislators?  Would rejecting our reform package bring us closer to our goal, or make it more distant?  There is no practical difference between us.  The only difference is whether or not a timetable for universal suffrage should be linked to the proposals for the 2007 and 2008 elections.  Fellow citizens, promoting democratic development is the common wish of the SAR Government and the Hong Kong people.  It is also the established policy of the Central Government.  Let us work together to push forward our constitutional development with a pragmatic attitude. Let’s not miss this opportunity before us.  If we choose to mark time rather than stride ahead we will be further away from our goal of universal suffrage, not closer to it.”

Unlike President Wilson, Chief Executive Tsang’s appeal for reason and unity fell on deaf ears among those whose grandstanding for democracy in Hong Kong revealed itself as merely a camouflage for anti-China confrontation.

The question is not whether Hong Kong should move from colonialism toward democracy. The question is what kind of democracy and at what pace democratic reform should be implemented.  On November 15, 1992, then Deputy Prime Minister Zhu Rongji remarked during a London visit that the proposals by Chris Patten, British Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, to introduce unprecedented “democracy” in the colony violated the 1984 Joint Declaration on the return of Hong Kong to China and had caused many Chinese people to wonder whether the agreement should "go with the wind." The rhetorical remark was widely misinterpreted in the British colony in its twilight to signal that China might react to British violation of her commitment of “50 years without change” by abandoning the "one country, two systems" model set out in the document. The Hong Kong stock market plunged and talk that China was considering taking the colony back before 1997 quickly spread into near panic. The overseas edition of the November 20 People's Daily quoted Madame Liu Yiu-chu, delegate from Hong Kong to the National People’s Congress and member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, as reproaching foreign news organizations for distorting the meaning of the Deputy Prime Minister’s rhetorical remark.  Unlike Britain, China would not alter its policy commitment to the principle of OCTS, even in reaction to British violations. (Liu Yiu-chu was this writer’s late sister and a well-known Hong Kong political figure whose vocal criticism had not always spared misguided Chinese policies. She died in March 1997.)

Hong Kong legislator James Tien, politically ambitious scion of a local commercial tycoon family and chairman of the Liberal Party that represents foreign and local business interests, recently was reported to have said publicly that too much democracy in Hong Kong leads to a "free lunch syndrome" in which the have-nots use elected institutions to claw back wealth from the haves. Even with such despicably undemocratic attitude, Tien nevertheless is considered an ally of convenience by the pan-democrats, for the liberals and the pan-democrats are unnatural bedfellows in their common aim to weaken the hand of government for their separate purposes. The Liberal Party leaders know that a harassed government under siege from political pressure would be forced to ease regulatory control of the market to gain support from business.

Tien as chairman of the pro-business Liberal Party committed political treachery by abruptly withdrawing his party’s earlier promise of legislative support from the government’s proposal to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law “to enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies.”  The Liberal Party opposed the new security law on the ground that it might inhibit foreign investment. The security proposal issue was seized upon by anti-China forces to galvanize diverse public discontent over economic problems to spark a massive street demonstration on July 1, 2003, the sixth anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty.  The New York Times in a front-page report on the demonstration acknowledged: “Parts of the pending security legislation are less draconian than British colonial regulations still on the books for offenses like sedition.” Yet overwhelming misreporting in the Western media gave the impression that “people power” scored a “victory” in forcing the Hong Kong government to postpone a vote in Legco on the proposed security law. Even the Washington Post had to acknowledge that the Chief Executive’s hand had not been forced by “people power”, but by the unanticipated resignation of a key member of Exco, James Tien, chairman of the Liberal Party, leaving the unprepared government with insufficient two-thirds votes in Legco to enact the law as scheduled.  Tien’s behavior was a classic example of last-minute political treachery, a cardinal sin in politics even for democracies. If he had done what he did under a British colonial governor, he would have lost his party chairman post before he had a chance to resign and would have been branded a political and social pariah within 24 hours by the all-powerful British governor/dictator. All business firms in Hong Kong knew that opposition to British colonial government policy would put their commercial prospect in immediate and serious jeopardy.  After Tung’s health-related resignation, Tien tried to marshal support for himself to run against Donald Tsang for Chief Executive. Despite a lot of hot air about altruistic preservation of electoral integrity, the trial balloon failed embarrassingly to lift off.

Local polls on popular concerns repeatedly show “democracy” and “civil liberty” trailing by wide margins key livelihood issues such as rising unemployment, small-business bankruptcies, home-mortgage default, declining home values that produce negative equity, education reform, rising crime, and deteriorating public health. The street demonstration of July 1, 2003 had been organized by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) opposed to the government’s decision to enact new security laws under Article 23. The make-up of CHRF was indiscriminately diverse, ranging from a feminist group that calls itself Queer Sisters; an NGO called Zi Teng that promotes the interests and rights of female and male "sex workers"; and the then 590-member elitist polity that called itself the Democratic Party, to other foreign-directed groups such as the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic diocese; Amnesty International Hong Kong Section; and Human Rights in China Hong Kong Office.

The July 1, 2003 street demonstration of half a million was mislabeled by the Western media as a political mass action. Yet politics is the art of the possible; and political actions must have realizable objectives within constitutional limits. As long as democracy in Hong Kong is used as a synonym for anti-communist and anti-China institutions, there will be no democracy, since no government can be expected to welcome its own demise from mob rule manipulated by hostile foreign forces. The same rationale that the US employed to criminalize the Communist Party of the USA can be employed by China to criminalize the Democratic Party in Hong Kong. If the people in Hong Kong truly desire democracy, they must demonstrate that their democracy is a patriotic democracy, not a bogus Western democracy with which to perpetuate neo-colonialism. The so-called democracy advocates won a meaningless battle to please their foreign handlers, but they are losing the war of making Hong Kong more free and democratic. They have given democracy a bad name in Hong Kong as a bogus slogan of anti-China foreign intrigue. As a result, there will be less democracy in Hong Kong, and a harsher final version of the security law will be justified by these seditious events, particularly if future demonstrations should turn violent, as threatened by some misguided and overzealous organizers. In the other corner, the government now will soon realize that for democracy to work, it must succumb to an age-old necessary evil of political patronage to build a dominant government party along the path of the PAP of Singapore or the LDP of Japan or even the US democratic process of money translating into political power in ward politics. A politically neutral and benign government preserving social order and taking care of business is being dismantled in the process by those blindly demanding bogus democracy with naive street demonstrators shouting slogans and waving candles for the international media.

The word “democracy” cannot be found in the text of either the Sino-British Declaration or the Basic Law, the two official documents defining the political setting of Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty for 50 years starting July1, 1997. Before that date, the British ruthlessly imposed imperialistic ruled over Hong Kong unapologetically as a colony without any democracy or human rights for 154 years.  Agitation for democracy and national liberation was a political crime throughout that era until the signing on December 19, 1984 of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.  From 1984 on, despite the Joint Declaration’s open pronouncement to keep Hong Kong unchanged for 50 years, the departing British deviously promoted bogus democracy in Hong Kong as a new label for neo-imperialism.  Overnight, colonialism is transformed by British propaganda as a blessed regime based on freedom of speech, rule of law and free markets, in sharp contrast to historical facts.  The departing British had 15 years to set Hong Kong up as a political time bomb for China, by disguising colonialism, the most evil of political institutions, into a haven of bogus democracy and sham freedom, and by presenting a colonial command bubble economy as a faked model of free-market fundamentalism. Hong Kong as a British colony was born of an unequal treaty of national shame, governed with blatant racial discrimination, inequality before the law for the colonial subjects, and strict trade protectionism in favor of Britain. Under British rule, the economy of Hong Kong hardly flourished beyond illicit opium trade, overshadowed by a booming Shanghai under the Republic of China after the 1911 Revolution, until Shanghai’s boom was interrupted by Japanese invasion in 1937.  From 1937 to 1941, Hong Kong profited from British geopolitical machination to protect British interests in Asia by exploiting an expansionist Japan to neutralize a communist USSR in a continuation of British strategy in the Great Game against Tsarist Russia.  After World War II, Hong Kong prospered from US Cold War embargo of China and from provision of logistic support for US forces in the Korea and Vietnam wars. The opening of China in 1973 gave Hong Kong the basis for its current prosperity.  Democracy did not have much to do with Hong Kong’s economic success in the past, nor will it in the future.

Self-proclaimed latter-day democrats in Hong Kong can now comfort themselves by claiming they are serving freedom and anti-communism rather than imperialism and colonialism. They now pose as heroes of democracy to cover up their shameful past as running-dogs of colonialism.  Extremism in the quest for instant democracy is causing political gradualism to be stillborn in Hong Kong.  The confrontation between the pan-democratic forces and the government is shaping up not as a struggle to enhance democracy, but as a power struggle that readily sacrifices democratic progress to prevent it from ever rising from the ashes of colonialism.

Regarding the legislative defeat of HKSAR government’s proposal based on consultation with the public on methods for selecting the chief executive in 2007 and forming the Legislative Council in 2008, President Hu Jintao said that “the HKSAR government’s package for constitutional development was in conformity with the Basic Law and relevant explanations and resolutions of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), that it had won wide support from the public, and was a plan that further promotes democracy.”  Hong Kong CE Donald Tsang also said publicly there would be no chance for a second reform package proposal before the 2007-2008 elections, since the vetoed proposal, which had been accepted by the Central Government in Beijing, and blocked by the minority pan-democracy camp in the Legislative Council, fell short of the necessary two-thirds vote of 40 out of 60. The reform package was voted down because out of 60 votes in Legco, 24 pan-democrats insisted on a timetable for universal suffrage, which the NPC, exercising its due authority in accordance with the Basic Law, had previously already ruled out.

The Basic Law stipulates that there would be a period of "50 years without change" after China resumed sovereignty in 1997. It is hard to argue that the introduction of democracy in Hong Kong would not represent a significant change in the governance of Hong Kong. Either 50 years without change, or it is open season for change on all levels, including the abandonment of the colonial legal system or market system. And it is dangerously naive on the part of some in Hong Kong to think that the "one country, two systems" policy can be manipulated into an opening to topple the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

Narcissistic Hong Kong would do well to note that public opinion in the rest of China on the unwarranted superiority complex in a Westernized Hong Kong is far from positive. The wealth in Hong Kong came from what the British could not haul off to Britain of what they had robbed from China through the colony’s compradore role during the age of Western imperialism and even now by other foreign interests under neo-imperialism, which explains why the wealth in Hong Kong is concentrated in real estate. Now that Hong Kong is trapped by its dysfunctional economic structure and its fixation on the mythical merits of neo-liberal market fundamentalism, it demands help and special privileges from China while it continues to proclaim its residual colonial system superior. Biting the hand that feeds one would only lead one to starvation.  What the Hong Kong government needs to do is to step up an intense public education campaign to promote a better sense of national pride in a population that had been subjected to a century and a half of colonial mental conditioning, not just in schools for the young, but broad-based adult education for the general public. Without a pervasive sense of national pride among the people, democracy cannot serve the national purpose. Even government-funded radio and television in Hong Kong routinely ridicule Chinese leaders under the guise of freedom of speech in a hostile and disrespectful manner totally unacceptable to Chinese cultural decorum toward high office. Such open hostility to the US leadership is seldom seen in programs run by the Voice of America. If Hong Kong would only spend on educating the public on the importance of national pride a fraction of what it spends overseas to polish its image as a free market economy, Hong Kong will profit enormously from much needed social harmony and stability. The US spends more in Hong Kong to promote American values than the Hong Kong government does locally to promote pride in national dignity.

Some will no doubt erroneously interpret the legislative defeat of the government’s package of gradual political reforms as an inspiring victory for Hong Kong’s pan-democracy forces. But it represents only a defeat for democracy. The reform package would have doubled the size of the appointed committee that selects Hong Kong's chief executive and enlarged its legislature to broaden representational government. Minority democrats were able to block the reform package only because it required a two-thirds majority for approval and they hold more than a third of the seats in the legislature. The fact that the majority supported the government’s proposal was academic in the face of minority rule.

Local columnist Michael DeGolyer wrote in the Standard disputing pro-democracy legislators’ claim that they saw no gains from passing the government’s reform package and no losses if they voted it down. The Hong Kong Transition Project survey in November 2004 showed that 42% would blame pro-democracy parties a great deal or some, while the DAB, pro-business groups and the Liberal Party had 66% giving them very little blame to none. In terms of dissatisfaction, only three parties scored worse in November than before the 2004 Legco election: the Democratic Party, the Frontier, and Article 45 Concern Group, all which oppose the reforms because they see no gain or loss for them. According to DeGolyer, that is not what the numbers say.  Still, the pan-democrats exhibited little concern for gains or losses for Hong Kong beside their own narrow political fate.

Deluded by a Pyrrhic victory, the pan-democrats are now planning to further pressure China to violate the Basic Law to allow full suffrage by 2012. They plan to make street demonstrations a recurring scene for Hong Kong. They plan to continue to resort to extremist tactics, the political equivalent of suicide-bombing terrorism, substituting the rule of constitutional law with rule by street demonstration to make unconstitutional demands for destabilizing political change. The pan-democrats are exercising dictatorship of a disloyal minority, with spoiler tactic, to implement winner-loses-all vetoes in the legislature, not to achieve what is good for the community but to demonstrate the obstructionist power of their partisanship.  The separate political aims of the pan-democracy forces are trapped into discipline political solidarity by the extremist dictate of a Vatican-controlled fanatic religious cleric delirious with grandiose political delusions. Its sheer hypocrisy for the Catholic Church to demand democracy as it is by far the most undemocratic institution in history.  A disloyal opposition politician controlled by hostile foreign interests, in the person of barrister Martin Lee, an elitist Queen’s Counsel who has transformed himself overnight into the vicar of democracy in post-colonial Hong Kong, who regularly makes duty report to his masters overseas, personifies the bogus democracy neo-imperialism has in mind for Hong Kong. Lee will assume the position of party whip for the pan-democracy forces on account of his command of foreign support. Anson Chan, the former top civil servant who cunningly camouflaged British imperialist oppression as humane benevolence, now poses shamelessly as “the Conscience of Hong Kong” while ever so obediently docile when she equally shamelessly and dutifully served British colonialism as the darling of the last British governor, went through a sudden political metamorphosis to join the latest street demonstration to demand for universal suffrage by 2012. These are the leaders of the so-called pan-democrats, a motley crew that resemble the unprincipled sales force of decrepit political used cars. The Conscience of Hong Kong indeed.

From 1982 onward, the propaganda machine of neo-imperialism has been running full-throttle in painting colonial Hong Kong as a fantasy model of capitalistic democracy and rule of law. An instant "democracy" movement has been fraudulently nurtured in Hong Kong with open US support and guidance. The so-called Democratic Party was led by the nose by one Ellen Bork, deputy director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a US neo-conservative group with an ultra-hawkish hostile posture toward communist China. In 2002, the US National Democracy Institute (NDI), chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, self-appointed enlarger of democracy around the world, established a field office in Hong Kong to “provide technical assistance to Hong Kong political parties, political groups, and civil society organizations seeking to increase their ability to increase citizen participation in the HKSAR's political life.”  By its own description, NDI efforts have “both reflected the moral values and served the strategic interests of the United States”; not the interests of Hong Kong or China or any other country in which it operates. Christine Chung is NDI's resident country director for China.  Based in Hong Kong, Ms. Chung has designed and implemented the Institute’s rule of law and governance reform initiatives in China including legislative and administrative hearings, political party reform, transparency in governance, and citizen participation in urban community development and environmental governance “to serve US strategic interests.” In Hong Kong, she has worked with political party leaders, civic representatives and other democratic activists to encourage citizen participation in political life, all “to serve US strategic interests.”  People’s Daily ran an editorial entitled: “Democracy is Not Coca-Cola,” criticizing what it called US attempts to impose democracy by the gun. “Democracy is a slow process based on the actual conditions of various countries, it is not like coca-cola that [concentrates] can be transported from the United States to various Middle East countries and turned into products by adding water to it."  Neither can it be done in Hong Kong.

As Chief Executive Donald Tsang delivered to central government leaders his first duty report and on the legislative setback to his electoral reform proposals, he continues to receive the full support of the Central Government in Beijing. Chief Executive Tsang was granted an hour-long meeting by President Hu Jintao and another by Premier Wen Jiabao the next day at Zhongnanhai, the central leaders’ headquarters in Beijing. Tsang publicly admitted he underestimated the confrontational intransigence of the pan-democrats, implying that the problem of how to deal with the obstinate opposition democrats in the future will be reconsidered.  Appeasement of the disloyal opposition cannot work because the targets of appeasement know that their political leverage is tied to their continued opposition.  China’s record of behavior in Hong Kong has consistently reinforced the belief that opponents are accorded more respect and consideration by the Central Government than supporters.  It is no secret that the patriotic left has been largely marginalized in Hong Kong since the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984.  Until this strategy is changed, China will unwitting always invite unnecessary opposition to its policies in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong politics can benefit from the existence of a democratic party, but its members need to be real democrats with national pride rather than lackeys for hostile foreign interests.  Appeasing the current crop of so-called pan-democrats will serve no useful purpose besides generating more political cynicism.

Article 159 states clearly: The power of amendment of this [Basic] Law shall be vested in the National People's Congress. The power to propose bills for amendments to this Law shall be vested in the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the State Council and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Amendment bills from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be submitted to the National People's Congress by the delegation of the Region to the National People's Congress after obtaining the consent of two-thirds of the deputies of the Region to the National People's Congress, two-thirds of all the members of the Legislative Council of the Region, and the Chief Executive of the Region. Before a bill for amendment to this Law is put on the agenda of the National People's Congress, the Committee for the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall study it and submit its views. No amendment to this Law shall contravene the established basic policies of the People's Republic of China regarding Hong Kong.”

Annex I : Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Section 7 states: “If there is a need to amend the method for selecting the Chief Executives for the terms subsequent to the year 2007, such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for approval.” The operative words are: “If there is a need…”  The recent categorical rejection of the government’s electoral reform proposal by the pan-democrats in the Legislative Council indicates that there is no need to amend the method for selecting the CE until a demonstrated change in the “actual conditions” surfaces.

Similarly, Annex III.  Method for the formation of the Legislative Council and its voting procedures subsequent to the year 2007 states: “With regard to the method for forming the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and its procedures for voting on bills and motions after 2007, if there is a need to amend the provisions of this Annex, such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for the record.”  The intransigence of the pan-democrats shows that there is now no need to amend the provisions of Annex III because no constructive progress can be expected from further futile effort on the part of the government.

The government’s reform package would have broadened the base of electors for the next chief executive in 2007 and the Legislative Council in 2008. The package failed to win the required two-thirds of the council’s 60 votes because of the obstructionist tactic of the pan-democrats as a voting block. Pro-democracy legislators opposed the reforms because they did not go far enough fro their taste, and demanded a timetable for universal suffrage, a demand that was clearly unconstitutional. Subsequently, Chief Executive Tsang said his government would not offer a revised reform package, and would focus on economic issues rather than constitutional development for the remainder of his term.  As the New Year arrives, local media in reviewing the past year are reporting that many in Hong Kong are wishing for continuing economic recovery and a decrease in political street demonstrations. In his New Year message, President Hu Jintao pledged that the central government will firmly safeguard the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macao.  “We will adhere to the policies of ‘one country, two systems’, ‘Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong’, ‘Macao people governing Macao’ and a high degree of autonomy,” he said, adding that the central authorities will support the governments and chief executives of Hong Kong and Macao to administer by law and expand the exchanges and cooperation between the mainland and the two special administrative regions.

Thus the whole democracy controversy of 2005 in Hong Kong was just a tempest in an empty tea cup.

Written on January 2, 2006
This article was refused publication by Asia Times on Line