• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 8:29am
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 September, 2013, 3:16am

For 2017, Beijing does have a choice

Michael Chugani says Beijing must place its trust in Hong Kong electing a suitable leader, rather than in a belief that order will prevail


Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. Aside from being a South China Morning Post columnist he also hosts ATV’s Newsline show, a radio show and writes for two Chinese-language publications. He has published a number of books on politics which contain English and Chinese versions.

Action speaks louder than words, as the saying goes. And a picture is worth a thousand words. Legislator Frederick Fung Kin-kee probably had both in mind when he presented the central government's liaison office director, Zhang Xiaoming, with a collection of sieves at a Legislative Council lunch. It was to make the point that pan-democrats wouldn't tolerate any sifting of chief executive candidates Beijing didn't like.

That was nearly two months ago. The tone of the public debate has shifted markedly since then. There is less repetition of the mantra from the loyalists of the need to screen out undesirable candidates, which, of course, means pan-democrats. Even some big guns from the pro-establishment camp now concede that the exclusion of pan-democrat candidates would make a mockery of Hong Kong's first chief executive election by universal suffrage.

I wouldn't call that a U-turn, more a slow awakening to the fact that the 2017 election has to been seen as credible not just by Hong Kong people but the world. A sifting of candidates would rob it of any credibility. Hong Kong - which gradually disappeared from the global political radar screen after the handover - would instantly reappear as a big flashing dot. That dot would flash even more furiously if the central government used its Basic Law power to veto a chief executive elected by the people.

Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, a Beijing loyalist, warned in a recent TV interview with me that riots would break out if the central government refused to approve a chief executive elected by the people. Legislator James Tien Pei-chun, considered a maverick from the pro-establishment camp, told me Beijing's veto power was, in reality, unusable because its use would plunge Hong Kong into an unprecedented political crisis. Executive councillors Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, both from the loyalist camp, have made it clear in recent weeks that we should forget about screening.

So where does that leave the central government? With two realities it may find unpalatable but must swallow: Beijing must not rig the election process to ensure an outcome it desires and pan-democrats must be allowed to become candidates. Failure to do these two things would unleash the full fury of Occupy Central.

There is no real appetite among moderate democrats to press ahead with mass civil disobedience. They know it's like dropping a bomb that could cause far more destruction than intended.

The way out for the central government lies in one word: trust. In pressing for what they call true democracy, pan-democrats say Beijing must trust that Hong Kong people are smart enough not to elect a leader who would confront the central government.

Beijing, understandably, will find it hard to do this. Trust is a two-way street. The spiteful mistrust the pan-democrats have for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the Communist Party hasn't exactly reassured Beijing. But the central government has only two cards to play: trust Hong Kong people or risk political havoc. Trusting Hong Kong people to do the right thing will be much less of a gamble.

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


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This article is now closed to comments

Dai Muff
"If the hateful rhetoric from SCMP readers doesn't scare you the least in this pages ..." It does, but quite a lot of it comes from you.
Nah most have nothing to fear... We are just going to lynch you and pierce lam
There is a saying 'If you cant beat them join them'. The Central Government can groom a candidate that is acceptable to most Hong Kong people instead of demanding that the chosen one be acceptable to them. Frankly, if there is an able candidate with loose ties to the Central Government I wouldn't mind voting for him/her based on his/her abilities. As long as its our choice that's ok.
What HongKongers need is a change after the handover of the city under which they haven’t so far had a chance to choose a mandated leader. Beijing should understand that the Hongkongers are getting impatient, ranging from Mr. Tung to now Mr. C.Y. Leung, with no sign of significant breakthrough in the their governance. I think Beijing doesn’t have to worry the universal suffrage in Hong Kong as the city is heavily relying on the mainland, such as tourism, retailing, transportation, CEPA, etc. What if Hong Kong loses the reliance on China? I couldn’t imagine. I get a bad impression of the mainlanders too, but I concede we are getting a lot out of them. some of the Hongkongers, though, are having a sense of hostility towards the mainlanders, buying up milk powder, boosting the prices of housing, the majority will unlikely select a leader who has confrontation with the central government. So, Beijing shouldn’t be too narrow-minded on the matter of universal suffrage.
Seems nobody checked the picture. Leung looks like a saint, even with his gesture. LOL
First thing I noticed. Very angelic and Bowtie is probably fuming that he didn't get this kind of media treatment...being a pious Cat-lick, and all...
Yeah, that crown fitted on his head perfectly LOL.
Mr. Chugani, you are writing this column with an ingenue's naivete and the illogicality of a Form 2 student essay. If trust is all there is, why do we need governments, police, prisons, contracts and Heaven forbid, Civic Party lawyers?
If the hateful rhetoric from SCMP readers doesn't scare you the least in this pages, I must conclude you have just arrived from Mars or otherwise possess superhuman courage.
Seriously, I still feel very safe now walking the streets in Hong Kong, Shanghai and other Chinese cities during the morning wee hours. Yet my sense of self preservation tells me to refrain from political debates in popular venues with the HK populist mob. But you ain't see nothing yet. And don't say Ms. Alpais Lam, the much lionized heroine in our media, hasn't warned you about one fateful day in 2017.
According to her, if one-man-one-vote election were to be held, then "you" - meaning anyone not on her side - will positively and absolutely lose,普選你地輸梗.
If this comes to past, then what? Given the intransigence and implied threats of people like her, I take it to mean that we would be all purged in a reign of terror. And if they fail to win, we are going to witness all h-ell break loose scene like what one sees in Egypt.
As we get closer to 2017, any opposition to the mob will be as dangerous as traipsing during the middle of night in downtown Detroit and Washington DC. Just in case HK Democratic Cultists are unaware, these are unsafe cities in democratic America.


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