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  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 1:03pm
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 September, 2012, 2:39am

Vote to maintain Hong Kong's identity

Philip Bowring says, civic duty aside, Hongkongers should turn up at the ballot box today to make this clear: above all, they reject the plan to speed up integration with the mainland


Philip Bowring has been based in Asia for 39 years writing on regional financial and political issues. He has been a columnist for the South China Morning Post since the mid-1990s and for the International Herald Tribune from 1992 to 2011. He also contributes regularly to the Wall Street Journal, www.asiasentinel.com, a website of which he is a founder, and elsewhere. Prior to 1992 he was with the weekly Far Eastern Economic Review, latterly as editor.

It is election day. If you are eligible and have not already voted, please do so as soon as possible. For sure, the limited nature of Hong Kong's democracy limits the value of just one vote. Nonetheless, it is hard to complain either about the government or the limited franchise if you do not use what you have.

You may not know who to vote for. It is amazing how many long-time resident foreigners have little grasp of who is who in local politics. Understandably, they may also be baffled by the mechanics of the new so-called super seat election of district councillors in which all can vote if they do not qualify to vote in one of the functional constituencies. So here is my voting guide, followed by the reasons for it.

In the geographical constituencies, do not vote for any of the candidates of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong or the Federation of Trade Unions. Both are the mainstream Communist Party United Front operations and will ultimately always put the party's interest, and that of Beijing, before their proclaimed commitment to democracy, Hong Kong and the welfare of the middle- and lower-income groups. On all but minor issues, they can be relied on to support whatever the executive-led government wants.

Do not vote, either, for the Liberal Party, which will be grossly overrepresented in the Legislative Council, thanks to the small-circle business groups of the functional constituencies.

So which of the mainstream, liberal democratic parties - the Democratic Party or Civic Party - should one vote for? Or should one go for the apparently radical People Power, or one of the parties built around a single individual? On the choice between Democratic and Civic parties, much should depend on the quality of the candidate or on tactical voting in the hope of maximising non-communist representation.

People Power may attract democrats of radical inclination - though many may find its tactics unappealing and some question its backing and motives.

That leaves what are effectively one-person parties of the likes of Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee's New People's Party's and Cyd Ho Sau-lan's Labour Party. As individuals, such people have merit, with reputations for being active and independent-minded. However, their existence has added to the problem of fragmentation of the non-communist camp.

Next is the question of voting for the district council seats. First, ignore the People Power call to boycott this ballot: vote for one of the Democratic Party candidates, Albert Ho Chun-yan or James To Kun-sun, or for Frederick Fung Kin-kee, the hard-working one-man band of the Association for Democracy and Peoples' Livelihood who previously represented Kowloon West.

In the end, the pro-government camp will keep control of the legislature but it matters a lot who and how many other voices are heard. It also matters that Leung Chun-ying be given an early lesson in public dissatisfaction with his record to date.

It may seem unfair to take swipes when he has been in office just two months. He deserved to win the chief executive selection, if only because his opponent was so incompetent. But there are already a number of disturbing aspects to his performance.

Most shocking, if only because the decision was entirely his, has been the appointment as development secretary of a man whose household has been supplementing its already high income at the expense of low-wage earners in subdivided flats. One would have thought that revelations of bureaucratic greed that surfaced in the last days of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's administration would have made Leung sensitive to this issue. But, as with the Communist Party, different rules apply. Not backing down in the face of popular outrage is more important than the principles of good government.

Now we have the national education issue, which goes to the heart of what gives Hong Kong its own identity, a special part of China in the same way as, for example, the Basque region is a special part of Spain. For sure, national education pre-dates Leung. But Leung has allowed it to become a big issue. People can see it is not just a means of teaching more Chinese history but of teaching history doctored to suit a party which was once cruel and is now simply corrupt.

In turn, that focuses attention on how far Leung is committed to Beijing's goal of speeding up the integration of Hong Kong into the mainland through physical links, easing of flows of people, and participation in national flag waving over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, etc, rather than focusing on its Asian and international business role and the separate institutions that support that.

Emphasising Hong Kong's identity is not anti-national. It simply acknowledges that it has special characteristics derived from history and Cantonese traditions that it wants to preserve. It is hard to see how Hong Kong can retain its own legal and other systems once the border with Shenzhen dissolves. Hong Kong's special position is based on relations with the outside world, not on its most immediate neighbour. Integrated, Hong Kong will be a second- or even third-tier city in China, the Trieste or Tangier of the nation. Go vote against that.

Philip Bowring is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator. His wife is a Civic Party candidate in Kowloon West


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This article is now closed to comments

My issue is not that people cannot express their opinions. They can and should in this free society. My issue is that such biased and uninformed article, written by someone with an obvious self interest, is allowed to be printed in one of the few quality daily newspapers in Hong Kong. Surely there must be some quality control.
The article uses the word Communist four times in his article. He is accusing a large section of the electoral candidates as members of the Communist party. Please Mr. Bowring, show us the facts here - otherwise this is just scaremongering.
He is telling people to note vote for the liberal party, because they are over-represented - what if the Liberal party ideals are attractive to me? Where is the analysis on what the Liberal party stands for?
I did not vote for any of the so-called communist parities, nor for the Liberal party in my geographical constituent vote today. So I have no so-called left leaning bias. I just wish that the press can use more rational and sensible analysis to inform the public of the choices that they are about to make.
And yes, we are getting a taste of a free society - being allowed to vote, however imperfect the system is. I do hope that we can move to universal suffrage for the next election, but at least I am enjoying a right that was not available to Hong Kong people during most of the 150 years of British rule.
It's not a regular news article, it's a column. They're supposed to be opinionated and biased. That's how they work!
"Emphasising Hong Kong's identity is not anti-national. It simply acknowledges that it has special characteristics derived from history and Cantonese traditions that it wants to preserve."
Special Characteristics means it embraces more the western British traditions and values than its own in their over the decades by their colonial lords indoctrined eye "retarded" culture and traditions. Just for your information, Hong Kong was a British colony, its not anymore even some would like it back. And democracy? When in the history of Hong Kong did the HK people have enjoyed democratic rule? When did the Hong Kongers have had universal suffrage or elections under British rule?
Hong Kong People should vote and should take the elections seriously. Hong Kong people should learn about politics and what political consequences their vote would have on their life and society. But to maintain HK Identity? What Identity?
Those who criticise Philip for expressing his opinions on the election (in an opinion column on election day) may note that elsewhere in this paper are (gosh!) other views:
Jason Ng tells us to reject the moderate democratic parties in favour of LSD and People Power.
Look a little further and find all sorts of opinions. Then make your own mind up how to vote. This is our taste of how a free society operates. Enjoy it while you can.
I'm surprised that the SCMP allows such biased comments to be published. Comments like calling some of the parties "mainstream Communist Party United Front operations" are not necessary - some politicians may be closer aligned to China, but do you have proof that they are Communist Party operatives? I am not a supporter of these parties, but I can't help but feel a sense of McCarthyism in these comments.
Hong Kong is inextricably linked with China, and the people share the same blood. HK institutions and freedom have to be protected, no compromises on that. But one cannot ignore the reality that we are part of China, and that is also HK's competitive advantage. How many HK-listed companies are China based? How many employment/business opportunities do they provide? The water that we drink comes mostly from Guangdong. How many HK men marries mainland women?
The links are inextricable. Thinking of China is an evil communist regime will bring us back to the cold war. The Chinese government has pulled millions of people above the poverty line in the past 25 years. No doubt the corruption, the suppression of freedom of speech, and the current legal system are undesirable. HK should lead by example with our freedom and rule of law. But slinging mud at the motherland is not the way forward.
Ah, but the final line in the article gave it all away. The writer is the husband of a Civic Party candidate. All rationale arguments can be thrown out of the window.
So you disagree - fine. You've argued your case well. Why try to suggest that opinions that differ from your own shouldn't be published? A quality newspaper publishes a range of opinion pieces across the political spectrum.
Behind Philip Bowring's lecture on whom to vote for, I can see a very well-defined "Us-Us-Us" mentality. His largest objection to national integration (he may deny it) for HK is that integration will make HK into 2nd- or 3rd-tier. Admirable scare tactic! Who cares about what happens to the rest of China, as long as we (HK) remain top-tier and "special"? Who can argue with someone who apparently puts 7.3 million HKers first and foremost in his consciousness? Well, 70 years ago Hitler also wanted to elevate the German race, 70 million people, on top of the world and did everything he could to ensure that happened. That was why Adolf became wildly popular with the Germans. I remain respectful of him, because to me he at least was selfish for at least 70 million people. But still, selfishness is selfishness.
Reading Bowring, you cannot miss the fact that Hong Kong's core value is about hating Beijing, hating the communists, and by ramification, hate the current HK government. Hate! Hate! Hate! If one only look at the bad things, who? (I repeat) Who, can be good? Democracy likely will only get HK, as a maximum, to where the US currently is, a government widely perceived as the pawn of the 1% on Wall Street. I give about 200 years before this new world-wide religion (democracy) implodesin every society. But maybe I am wrong. After all, the imperial system lasted 2000 years.
What a stupid and pointless response.
If anything, China needs to preserve Hong Kong the way it is, so that at some time in the future, if China is ever able to become a true pluralistic and democratic society governed by the rule of law, they have something they can reference and professionals who can help them along the way. Their current model is doomed and further integration is only going to take Hong Kong down with them.
Congratulations on fulfilling Godwin's Law with your pointless and ill-informed Nazi analogy.




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