PLA barracks protest won't further Hong Kong's quest for democracy

Bernard Chan says intruders' views are not representative of Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 11:09am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2016, 8:46am

The handful of protesters who entered the PLA barracks at Tamar waving a colonial flag during the Christmas holidays had several points. They opposed construction of a PLA landing berth on the harbourfront and they generally demanded that Hong Kong people should come first. Maybe they thought they were being funny, or perhaps they saw themselves as brave. The fact is this publicity stunt was extremely foolish.

Let's leave aside the fact that gatecrashing a military facility guarded by armed personnel is stupid and risky anywhere in the world. Their action was inappropriate and counterproductive whichever way you look at it.

Did they think that by intruding on a PLA facility they could halt the berth? Or ease the influx of mainland shoppers into Hong Kong? Or reduce the problems local parents face in getting things like milk powder or kindergarten places? That would be absurd. The pier (which will only rarely be closed off) was effectively agreed years back. And the pressure from mainland visitors and schoolchildren has nothing to do with the army; it is ultimately a problem for the Hong Kong government to fix.

I assume the protesters are in favour of more representative government in Hong Kong. Do they or their sympathisers think that the highly sensitive nature of their action will increase Beijing's confidence about giving Hong Kong universal suffrage?

Shouting ‘down with the one-party system’ is not a negotiating tactic

Trespassing on defence-related property is, in principle, a threat to national security. Waving a colonial flag is a sign of hostility to the sovereign power. How is this supposed to encourage the central government to give local voters the right to elect their own leaders?

Some Beijing officials are already seriously concerned about opening up the political system in Hong Kong. This disruption at the barracks will only confirm their fears that opposition forces cannot be trusted. Don't forget that there are also Hong Kong people who oppose political reform. They will see this disturbance as proof that they are right. Those of us who want a broader-based structure will now find it harder to make our case.

I do not want to exaggerate. I hope that most central government officials will see these activists as extreme and unrepresentative of Hong Kong people - it was good to see mainstream opposition politicians denounce this incident. But, at the same time, it is essential not to underestimate the damage activities like this could do.

The consultation process on political reform is going to be difficult. It is clear that the changes on the table for 2016 and 2017 do not go far enough to completely satisfy everyone. It is likely that there are enough moderates and realists to get a reform package through the Legislative Council. But childish stunts like we saw at the barracks will increase suspicions among mainland officials about the risks of reform.

A failure to pass a reform package would mean the next chief executive would be elected under the current system and would lack a popular mandate. I would rather not think about what would happen next. This concerns our ability to get things done in areas like housing, pollution - and indeed pressures from cross-border shoppers and students.

People who genuinely want more representative and more responsive government should be doing all they can to assure Beijing officials that Hong Kong voters can be trusted, that we are a reasonable and mature community.

Treating the central government as the enemy will not work. Shouting "down with the one-party system" is not a negotiating tactic. The activists who broke into PLA property to wave colonial flags are their own worst enemies - and all of Hong Kong's too.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council