The sullen majority in Hong Kong politics

Alice Wu says 2013 was a year of passive-aggressive politics, and both the Hong Kong government and its opponents were to blame

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 4:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 4:49am

Before the bubbly impairs our better judgment and the singing of Auld Lang Syne triggers the waves of euphoria, today seems to be the perfect day to take stock of 2013.

The year is striking for how passive-aggressive behaviour has permeated our society and made headlines.

The show of deliberate rudeness and bad attitude are the telltale signs. Over this past year, the chief executive and his government have endured being mooned at and egged, among other indignities. But officials haven't only been on the receiving end; their handling of the Edward Snowden extradition, for example, is a good example of passive-aggressive behaviour.

But, by far, the most advanced proponent of such hostility is the Occupy Central movement, which arguably is designed to fail. Yes, the government dragged its feet on getting the wheels of political reform going (procrastination is also a common trait), but the movement sets a new standard by adopting a defeatist attitude towards universal suffrage so internalised that all its actions appeared geared towards the fulfilment of a tragic prophecy.

There is a clear line between measured optimism with a dose of pragmatism and outright defeatism - banking on something to fail before it even began. No wonder organisers do their best to sustain the momentum of failure by sticking to contrariness, veiled hostility and being unco-operative.

The student group Scholarism has also taken on that unfortunate trait. While making an audience with the chief executive one of its demands, the group nevertheless rejected an invitation to talk things out with the chief executive. It would much rather stick to playing its role as the victim.

Many would argue there is a place for passive-aggressive behaviour in politics; rather than being confrontational, like threatening to throw a petrol bomb, using obstructionist tools such as a filibuster seems to be a more civilised and sensible way to achieve a political goal.

But, then again, how effective is such behaviour? For years we've seen how Wong Yuk-man and other like-minded lawmakers get ejected from the chambers for their vitriolic language and rude acts, which actually frees them from their duty of engaging in conversation and deliberation.

It's the perfect way of being able to say whatever they want, then blame it on others when they aren't allowed to engage in what lawmakers are expected to do: engage in the more mentally demanding task of "debating". This is classic passive-aggressive behaviour.

But if we're to move forward and make any sort of progress in 2014, we would need all to engage in work that is demanding - politically, mentally and emotionally. At one point, we'll need to trade in that sense of fatalistic pessimism, however justified its origin and however warranted the resentment, for the opportunity for change for the better.

There comes a point when we realise there is more than one force to which our massive political inertia can be attributed.

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