Hong Kong needs a political exorcism

Alice Wu says political reform can't proceed if we don't address the 'inner demons' that bedevil ties between Beijing and democrats

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 October, 2013, 2:08pm

What is all this fuss over "inner demons"? Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, president of the Legislative Council, recently called Beijing out on what he believes to be its "inner demons" over allowing pan-democrats a place in the election of the chief executive. Once Beijing faces its "demons", Tsang said, vast horizons would open up for Hong Kong's political reforms.

Tsang's comment is spot on, though it has triggered criticism from Hong Kong's pro-Beijing newspapers. The fuss over Tsang's choice of words - "inner demons" - is truly bewildering.

Apparently, calling it "inner demons" has hurt some people's feelings. But what is wrong with calling it like it is? Given that our political reform debate has been stuck for months now over the nomination process, Tsang's comments could not have come at a better time.

Most of us know the impracticality of not having some requirements for candidates' eligibility. So, at its heart, the deadlock is not about the technicalities; its about the extent to which such rules will exclude politicians of a certain kind from candidacy.

Tsang's critics condemned his choice of words, saying it "demonised" Beijing. But Tsang said what needed to be said: he pointed out the crippling effect of such thinking. If "inner demons" - the mistrust between Beijing and pan-democrats - dictate the debate, we'll never get anywhere.

The insecurity bred by mistrust - on both sides, many would argue - is more human than demonic, to be sure. But Tsang was highlighting a problem, and the overreaction to his observation speaks accurately about how emotionally and ideologically crippling these "inner demons" remain.

Tsang spoke last year of the need for a "reconciliation"; this is consistent with the theme. Facing those demons is a first step in any sort of political reconciliation.

Addressing the need for party politics - which Tsang has also repeatedly talked about - should come next. The current system holds the office of the chief executive hostage. With little mandate and no political support in the legislature, the chief executive has little influence. At the end of the day, Hong Kong's progress will be held back as long as the office of the chief executive continues to be stripped of the power to lead.

The Beijing-sanctioned election of the chief executive by universal suffrage will come round by 2017. There is very little time left to figure out exactly how it will work.

Allowing political squabbles to continue to impede progress will spell doom not only for this city but for Deng Xiaoping's "one country, two systems". When we argue over and get stuck on language - like the usage of "inner demons" - not even our political differences, we make a mockery of Deng's principle.

It's time to get unstuck and address these "inner demons" that are debilitating the important questions and issues concerning the future not only of Hong Kong, but also of the "one country, two systems" formula.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA