Compromise missing from Hong Kong politics

Alice Wu says rather than being seen as a dirty word in politics, 'compromise' is what is missing from the current political environment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 5:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 5:21am

No one ever said forging consensus would be easy, but there are moments and situations for which it is the only option. Allowing this city's political development to stand still is not an option - at least that was the consensus reached last week during a panel discussion organised by the Post on the future of "one country, two systems".

No one seemed to disagree with these facts: the promise of democratic elections is enshrined in the Basic Law and there is no turning back. There are clearly nuts and bolts in our current political system that need rethinking, repairing and replacing.

At the heart of our political impasse is distrust. And that shows up most in the language we employ. But we must make amends. The language we use has drawn lines of division, created tunnel vision and driven us further apart.

It simply squeezes people into political labels like "pro-Beijing" or "pro-democracy". Anson Chan Fang On-sang is not anti-China; the "Conscience of Hong Kong" has said that it is unrealistic and impossible to cut Beijing out of our political reform conversations. She took heat for it, and was accused of being a "compromiser". But isn't compromise the point and art of politics?

Jasper Tsang Yok-sing is not anti-democracy. For trying to insert "reconciliation" into the political lexicon last year, he was slammed for being pro-democracy. When he talked about "inner demons" just a few weeks back, the onslaught of knee-jerk response was something short of incredible.

If we speak in a language that turns virtues into vices, and insists on framing politics in absolute, binary terms, there is no way out of the confrontational and antagonistic politics our words create. It's a vicious cycle where we are robbed of deliberation, dialogue, insight, and the hope for change.

It is that antagonistic name-calling language that creates the claustrophobic political culture that gives rise to the use of political ultimatums and threats. In the midst of all the fighting across the political spectrum and within political factions, what has been lost is the message for reconciliation. Lost in the language of irreconcilable differences is the message for political possibilities.

If what we want is democratic co-operation and collaboration, we must begin by moving away from the language of discord. And we need to praise moderates for being moderate. We need to redefine this city's politics so it is not politics at the extremes, but politics of the middle, where we can find common ground.

In the middle, there is room for co-operation and compromise. In the middle, differences can co-exist, political realities are understood, and it is where we need to firmly place our democratic foundations.

Was last week's panel a rare moment of unanimity? Perhaps, but it was more a rare moment of political clarity. There were more agreements than disagreements, and it did give hope to the possibility that if we could talk out our differences, and recalibrate our focus back to our commonality, getting past 2017 no longer seems impossible.

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