My Take

Chinese white paper on Hong Kong was a measured response

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 June, 2014, 3:42am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 June, 2014, 9:09am

With the predictable hysterical reaction of the pan-democrats and their media friends, you would have thought that Beijing had levelled a missile at the heart of Hong Kong. If the pan-dems threaten to occupy Central, you might find publishing a white paper in response a pretty civilised act by comparison.

Those who are new to Beijing's gamesmanship may find it shocking, but others with long memories must have a sense of déjà vu by recalling what happened in 2004. There is, in any case, very little in the paper Beijing has not said ad nauseam already.

Back then, the Tung Chee-hwa administration was paralysed and Beijing deeply alarmed after half a million people marched against proposed national security legislation under Article 23 on July 1, 2003. But the democrats were in a buoyant mood, salivating over the prospect of full democratic elections in 2007 and 2008 for the chief executive and the legislature.

In response, in less than a year, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress moved to dash the democrats' hopes with a Basic Law interpretation on the electoral system. It ruled out those dates for full democracy and set up the cumbersome steps everyone now has to follow to reform the system. To date, it remains the only NPC Standing Committee interpretation that was launched unilaterally rather than at the request of the Hong Kong government or the local courts. It successfully deferred full democracy by at least a decade.

What are the parallels today? Then as now, Beijing fears it is losing the plot in public opinion over electoral reforms. Then as now, a mass rally exposed widespread discontent. The June 4 rally last week topped the 180,000 record achieved in 2012, though the police figure was half that. And not only that, the June 20-22 mock referendum beckons while the coming July 1 rally threatens to deliver another massive turnout.

But through all these, Beijing merely released a paper, rather than an interpretation with the full force of law. It repeats the same old mantras: no two systems without one country, no powers for Hong Kong except those granted by the central authorities, any chief executive candidate must be patriotic...

That's a relatively measured response compared to 2004.