"I have simply grasped the one thread which links up all the rest."
Hu Shih, the father of Chinese democratic liberalism, began his classic, The Development of the Logical Method in Ancient China, with this quote from Confucius.
In dealing with complex issues, the sage advises, look for that underlying issue to illuminate and move things forward. The escalating war of words between the pan-democrats and mainland officials has generated more heat than light. The poisoned rhetoric from both sides has not changed the political realities; it has merely confused the key issues.
Now, a few individuals on both sides have started to make more sensible noises.
Law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting who came up with the Occupy Central protest plan said over the weekend that we should focus on the composition of the nominating committee that will select candidates for the 2017 chief executive race. That's exactly right. The committee's composition is where the real battleground for universal suffrage will be.
Tai is not the first to point this out. It was, in fact, Alan Hoo, SC, head of the Basic Law Institute, who first called on the pan-democrats to focus on that after various mainland officials said any CE candidates must love Hong Kong and the motherland and never challenge the central government. But Hoo is friendly to Beijing. Hopefully, Tai will be more persuasive with his pan-democratic colleagues.
All the charges and counter-charges about patriotism and the screening of candidates just confuse the issue. They boil down to one question: who will sit on the nominating committee?
Beijing will want it to resemble the current 1,200-member election committee, which is selected by less than 250,000 voters and mostly drawn from sectors that replicate the rotten boroughs of the functional constituencies.
Pan-dems like Tai will want the new committee membership to be returned by a popular vote.
The future committee will have to be much more representative electorally than the election committee. But it's just a non-starter to demand giving everyone a vote on its membership.
Let's just hope cooler heads will prevail on both sides and start putting viable proposals on the negotiating table.