Western busybodies put Hong Kong's democrats in a tight spot

Lau Nai-keung say legislators' key task is to cut deal on electoral reform

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 10:54pm

When reporters sought my reaction to British foreign office minister Hugo Swire's recent article on constitutional development in Hong Kong, I said, "Don't issue blank cheques". If the British are at all sincere in "stand[ing] ready to support in any way" our dissidents in their fight for their strange brand of "true universal suffrage", in disregard of the Basic Law, then they should just open the door and let all British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong have the right of abode in the UK.

Some have fought for this right since the early 1990s and, should it be granted, I'm sure you will hear God Save the Queen in many corners of this city, while the Union Jack will appear more conspicuously in future rallies both large and small.

Alas, these are just empty words from a middle-ranking official of a much weakened small island nation and the rebuttal from the Chinese foreign ministry was swift and blunt. In Hong Kong, the official line is that "we don't need your help, you busybody". And the public takes Swire's pledge of support with a pinch of salt; Hong Kong people are not stupid.

This, coupled with the highly inappropriate comments from the new US consul general, Clifford Hart, means that issues relating to constitutional development in Hong Kong are now tainted with nationalism. As some pro-democracy leaders have pointed out, their comments do more harm than good because now the issue has come to be about a Western superpower sticking its nose into Hong Kong's internal affairs. Most people here don't want to upset Beijing and the very small number with separatist sentiments are bound to be marginalised.

The Democratic Party has to be seen to dissociate itself from US and British influence

In the upcoming steps of constitutional development, we will face one of two scenarios. Either the Democratic Party makes another deal with the central government to get the relevant bill passed in the Legislative Council or dissident politicians join together to veto the bill. In either case, unrest is bound to follow; the difference will be a matter of size and the degree of violence. Thanks to joint Anglo-American efforts, fewer people will join the mob, which will make it easier for the police to handle.

The pressure is now on the Democratic Party, as it was in 2010, and most people want it to come to a compromise again with the central government, to achieve a soft landing for universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election.

There is mounting pressure on legislators to support the official proposal, unless it is so far off the mark as to be utterly untenable, which everybody knows is unlikely. Subsequently, there is tremendous stress within the Democratic Party; many of its members insist they are patriotic and that they love China, but not the ruling Communist Party. Siding with the Americans and British without a credible reason will make them traitors in the eyes of many citizens. In a roundabout way, the US and Britain are helping Beijing to clarify and stabilise the situation.

Compromise is always possible; Chinese are pragmatic people. But it is crystal clear now that all the give and take has to be within the framework of the Basic Law. On top of that, to gain some rapport with Beijing, the Democratic Party has to be seen to dissociate itself from American and British influence, along the lines of: "We don't need your support. Stay away from Hong Kong."

Does the Democratic Party have the moral courage to say this to the face of the Americans and British? I am pessimistic; and, if they don't, and a compromise solution is no longer an option, they would veto the government proposal. Then, there will be no universal suffrage in 2017 and thousands will take to the streets to protest. This is, perhaps, our destiny.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development