Will Hong Kong risk it all to defy Beijing on political reform?

Michael Chugani says with Beijing putting its foot down on political reform, we'll have to decide if we're willing to pay the price of defiance

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 June, 2014, 2:10pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 2:43am

So now we know who is boss. Beijing had to slam down on us with a sledgehammer for that to sink in. We have been living an illusion. Some among us got too carried away with this thing called democracy. They confused our high degree of autonomy with full autonomy, believing they could define democracy any way they want and ram it down Beijing's throat. Well, now they know different. They woke up a sleeping master with their noisy threats of paralysing Central.

At first I thought Zhou Nan , former director of Xinhua's Hong Kong branch, was talking through his rear end when he warned that the People's Liberation Army would squash riots sparked by Occupy Central. Now I am not so sure. Beijing's policy document on Hong Kong issued this week makes no bones about where real power lies. It lies with the central government. Between the lines in the document was a starker message: Beijing will do whatever it takes to stop so-called external forces manipulating the democrats to thwart China's rise.

Does that mean PLA soldiers in Central? Who knows? But the tone of the policy document makes what seemed unimaginable now plausible. China's rise to superpower status has still not given it the self-confidence to shake off its past humiliation of being under foreign domination. The bogeyman of hidden foreign forces still haunts its psyche. Brash threats of Occupy Central stoked that bogeyman.

The trouble is brash threats cut no ice with today's China. It has marked its new place in the world and is fully intent on marching towards it. In its mind, allowing Hongkongers democracy their way could open up a bridgehead for external adversaries to trip that march. To eliminate that risk, it doesn't even mind spooking Hong Kong and the world with its bluntly worded document in seven languages spelling out who is boss.

In a way, we brought this on ourselves by playing chicken with Beijing on democracy, foolishly believing that Occupy Central would make our masters cave in. They upped the stakes instead. The document puts a new spin on the Basic Law by stating that even our judges, who are supposed to be independent, must be a patriotic part of the administration.

What next, now that Beijing has spoken? Do we defy it by still demanding democracy our way? Or do we wave a white flag and settle for what we've already got, plus a bit of icing on our democracy cake?

The consequence of futile defiance is an erosion of our high degree of autonomy. Beijing will rule us with a heavier hand. The consequence of waving the white flag is that we get to keep the freedoms we now enjoy but not much more. Beijing will put some icing on our democracy cake by allowing us universal suffrage to elect pre-screened candidates.

So ask yourself this: is life really that bad now? OK, we only get to elect a candidate pre-screened by Beijing. Is there any guarantee that unscreened candidates will govern any better by breaking the monopoly of our tycoons, fixing the wealth gap and making society fairer? Pick a fight, or surrender. Your choice.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com