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  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 1:41am
Universal Suffrage
CommentInsight & Opinion

A blow for Hong Kong, a lost opportunity for China's democratic progress

Stephen Young says Beijing's refusal to countenance a move towards meaningful democracy for Hong Kong will set back national progress

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 11:17am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 September, 2014, 9:55am

Beijing's decision to limit candidates for the chief executive election to those clearly acceptable to the Communist Party is disappointing, but not surprising. China is simply not willing to send a signal, even to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, that popular sovereignty has any role in its area of control. This decision is shortsighted in a number of aspects.

First, it runs contrary to the clear aspirations of the people of Hong Kong, judging by the recent broad participation in a local poll on the subject, as well as the strong turnout in pro-democracy marches and rallies. Second, it sends a disturbing signal to the people of Taiwan that Beijing remains hostile to any form of real democratic processes. This will only ensure continuing strong popular opposition there to closer substantive ties with the mainland, particularly in the political sphere. Finally, it sends a disappointing - though not really unexpected - signal to nascent democratic advocates in China proper that their own aspirations have no place in President Xi Jinping's game plan as long as he is in power.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee decision will no doubt further deepen the divide between popular political forces in Hong Kong and the government there, which is already beleaguered over officials' unwillingness to take on Beijing in defence of the SAR's autonomy. It will lead to reinvigorated protests and make some sort of public showdown between the Occupy Central movement and the Hong Kong authorities almost inevitable. Should this trigger PLA intervention in Hong Kong, things could get ugly in a hurry.

Seventeen years after Hong Kong returned to the mainland, in a carefully negotiated international agreement between China and Britain, the entire premise of Hong Kong's special status is being placed under a cloud. Beijing and London formally lodged their 1984 Joint Declaration in the United Nations, precisely because Deng Xiaoping wanted the international community's approbation. This was meant to be a clear signal that post-Mao China was returning to the international community, and that sceptics of Deng's intentions towards Hong Kong had nothing to fear.

The bottom line is that Xi and his team are sufficiently frightened by the spectre of pro-democratic sentiments in China proper that they cannot countenance movement in that direction, even under Hong Kong's supposedly special conditions. Xi seems to believe China can avoid the transition to more popular democratic mores that have accompanied similar economic success in most of its Asian neighbours.

His decision to thwart the aspirations of Hong Kong's people is only likely to make that territory more difficult to govern, further heighten suspicions in Taiwan that Beijing cannot be trusted and signal to citizens of the People's Republic that their aspirations toward a real voice in governance will continue to be ignored.

It would be much more sensible if China embraced the progressive examples of ethnically, linguistically and culturally Chinese Hong Kong and Taiwan as places to be studied by people on the mainland, as they confront the question of their own future political development there. Alas, that is not the way the Politburo is interpreting things.

Ambassador Stephen M. Young (retired), served as US consul general to Hong Kong from 2010-13, and director of the American Institute in Taiwan from 2006-09. These views do not reflect those of the US government


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US democracy doesn't work for most Americans - therefore Hong Kongers shouldn't have a genuine choice in their leaders. Brilliant argument.
No one claims that life within a democracy is perfect or that voters always make the best choices. It's just that things go much worse over time in dictatorships.
A real election renews the legitimacy of a government in the eyes of its people. Do they get sick of seeing a party in office after a while -- usually 6-10 years? Yes. But they have the power to vote the bums out. In China, renewal happens only with a) the aging out of a political generation or b) a successful insurrection.
Indeed, things have been known to get right corrupt almost everywhere when one party hangs on to power too long, human nature being what it is. That's why the Secretary Xi doesn't want real democracy. Not even total control of the press & media apparatus, paid river crabs on the internet chat rooms and a party network in every large school or economic enterprise can stifle the smell given off by the corrupt apparatchiks of a quasi-religious, authoritarian party in office since 1949.
Real elections allow for real change within a political generation.
Let's recognize Secretary Xi's policies for what they are -- the pervasive frustrating of all unwelcome feedback, foreign and domestic, by a CCP whose governing officials feel powerful and rich, but scared of the future. Can they really reverse the trend towards ever more corruption? Can their SOEs really deploy effective cross-functional product development teams in a top-down culture?
I'd bet "no" on both.
That the CCP are a bunch of tone-deaf, moronic, fear-mongering numb-skulls goes without saying. The fact that, in an open society like HK, such a toxic brew can still attract some supposedly willing followers underscores the glacial nature with which natural selection operates. Darwinism works, but sadly not quickly enough sometimes.
This was never going to be a fair contest, since Hkers are chattel to the CCP will. What surprises me slightly is the extent to which the CCP wears its insecurity on its sleeve. Even within territory it owns, the CCP has no confidence in the kool-aid that it sells, insofar as being unwilling to expose its ideology to a free-market test.
But if Taiwan ever remotely needed yet another reason to say "no thanks" to the CCP snake-oil, this latest gong show in HK should more than suffice. They have a luxury HKers can't avail themselves to, and I trust they won't squander it.
1) Hong Kong never had any true democracy. Not during the colonial times, and certainly not during the old Imperial times. The recent reform has a allowed people to vote for the first time in history. This is something that is not offered anywhere else in China.
2) Hong Kong is part of China. Please get over it. Much of its supplies, resources, comes from China. If Hong Kong is ever threatened by a third party, it is the PLA that will defend it. When Hong Kongers are endangered overseas, the Chinese consulate will step in.
There is no way that the Chinese government will allow Hong Kong people to elect their own CE. Those who argue that the Chinese government should trust the Hong Kong people to vote sensibly overestimate the integrity of politicians. Politicians will say and do anything to get themselves elected. Look at the first three democratically elected presidents in Taiwan. The first one got kicked out by his own party, the second one is in prison, while the third is currently operating under low approval rates (9% on some accounts).
I don't like my daily life disrupted by Chinese tourists as well, but please don't mix the two problems together. The economic problems in Hong Kong was not caused by China. It is caused by the global slowdown and a structural change in Hong Kong's economy. Every anti-CCP comments we read on the internet and in the local newspapers are proof that we are indeed living in a two-system country.
I doubt that Xi is frightened by anything at all. He is cracking down on all things anti-CCP (funnily enough, Chinese capitalism isn't), and that's the future for China.
.. but 'brahardja' that the primary interest of Beijing was 'stability' .. clearly they making things more unstable.
Please get to the fact that governance is 'by the people' .. no matter what political 'system' is in place! .. as an example: if enough of the masses want change .. they WILL revolt . . . there are PLENTY of historical stats to show this.
seems you want to suppress even this fact? Facts are just that, facts. It never seems to matter how much our stupid human opinions come in. :-(
Daniel Lee
Ambassador Stephen M. Young (retired) is certainly living in la la land. The US kind of democracy didn't work for most Americans otherwise there wouldn't be any Tea Party s c r e w i n g all the rest and vice versa.


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