Continuing unrest could see Article 23 shelved again
Leo Goodstadt, the head of the Central Policy Unit before the handover, has talked about the colonial administration facing the 'constant menace that Hong Kong would become ungovernable' in the final period of its rule due to its weakened authority.
Clearly, during the last leg of its term, the former administration of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen faced a similar situation, for similar reasons. And new Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has seen his government restructuring proposal undermined in the Legislative Council and has come under attack over his illegal structures. Fifteen years after the establishment of the special administrative region, the signs are ominous.
If Hong Kong were an independent republic like Singapore, the idea that it may be ungovernable could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But as part of China, there is no chance of it happening; the central government will see to that. This is exactly why our pro-democracy dissidents are so frustrated; there seems no way to subvert the system.
So instead, they try to sabotage and weaken the SAR establishment, waiting for the day when China has so much internal strife that the dangers of a break-up mean it could do little to stop possible sedition in Hong Kong. That is why the democrats have turned their attention to Beijing and have been staging protests at the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong. Some people have for years been propagating the notion that China will break up, especially after June 4, 1989. Yet they have been disappointed many times. Still, they believe China's collapse may be imminent, especially given the pressure of America's grand re-entry into Asia.
In this context, it is easy to understand why the enactment of national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law is a touchy subject for them. Without such legal restraints, our dissidents have been enjoying a free-for-all since the handover. They are adamant Leung should not even think about this legislation during his term, before universal suffrage elections for the chief executive in 2017. With a chief executive weakened through constant attacks, and the central government demonised, there is, they believe, a chance to peacefully subvert the system through popular election.
The catch is the entry requirement for chief executive candidates in the 2017 election - which is ultimately in Beijing's hands. But the dissidents feel that, if conditions are right and enough people in the street demand a low entry barrier, the central government may not wish to risk more social upheaval by vetoing popular demand.
This, they believe, would leave the door open for a democrat to take up the post of chief executive. And then, who knows? Even the full autonomy dissidents have long dreamed about could be possible.
With the scenario laid out, it is easy to predict what will happen in the next five years: the pan-democracy camp will continue its effort to weaken the government and demonise Beijing. Violent clashes with police may well ensue. The local and international media will stand firmly on the side of the protesters, and the popularity of the Leung administration will spiral downwards. The mood in Hong Kong clearly will not be conducive to introducing national security legislation, and our constitutional duty to enact it will have to be put on hold again.
If pressure can be maintained for two years, that takes us to 2015 - election year for the district councils, with the Legco election to follow in 2016. At such a time, no officials will dare utter the phrase 'Article 23'. The stage will be set.
It is truly a plan worthy of the noted theoretician of non-violent action, Gene Sharp.
Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development