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  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 12:17pm
Universal Suffrage
CommentInsight & Opinion

Judging by our youth, Hong Kong is ready for democracy

Mike Rowse says a debate on Occupy Central shows why change is needed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 2:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 2:46am

The Foreign Correspondents' Club organised an interesting debate last week on the subject of Occupy Central. I wish the chief executive and chief secretary could have attended - they might have learned something.

Three rather jaded former or serving journalists were pitted against three members of the schools debating team, which represents Hong Kong in international events. To spice things up, the "oldies" were arguing in support of Occupy Central as a way to secure universal suffrage, while the young radicals were making the case against.

Several important points emerged from the debate.

The first was evidence of an overwhelming desire by all sides for universal suffrage to be introduced for the next chief executive election without further ado. It is a right possessed by all Hong Kong people and it has been denied them for too long. No one attempted to argue that voters were not ready, or needed more time to mature.

Secondly, no one really wants to sit down physically in the street when the time comes (if it comes). What about practical matters like food and ablutions? Being carried away by sweaty police officers will not be pleasant for anyone whatever the time of year, and there is always the danger of being "accidentally" dropped.

Nonetheless, it was generally recognised that the growing frustration over prolonged denial of democratic rights was bound to show itself in some form of protest action. The discussion was only about whether Occupy Central was the right or best way.

There was general agreement on all sides that the organisers of the movement had played their hand clumsily. The emphasis should have been on all the other tactics they could try first rather than on the "nuclear bomb" of shutting down one of the world's top business districts. Putting that in the shop window right from the outset had made it too easy for others to attack.

Yet despite these errors and missteps, to an extent Occupy Central has already succeeded because it has forced a serious and prolonged debate on political reform. The "antis" have been obliged to organise their own referendum to rebut the "pros" just weeks after criticising use of the device and claiming it was not a legitimate political tool and the outcome would carry no weight. This latter argument faded away roughly around the same time as the number of votes against exceeded those in support.

Senior political leaders on the mainland have had to be wheeled out to beat down various reform options. The subject has dominated the headlines for weeks on end with no respite in sight. It sometimes seems our chief secretary can talk about nothing else. In fairness, it must seem like that to her, too.

The most powerful impression left after the debate was about the calibre of our young people. These assured, impeccably groomed teenagers put forward their arguments in measured tones within a coherent structure. They had co-ordinated closely in order to cover all the ground and they had clearly rehearsed answers to the main arguments they expected to be deployed by their opponents so that they could counter them.

The surprise is not that the students won the debate (by a single vote after my own two children voted with their peers and tipped the balance against us) but that anyone seriously believes they are not ready to lead our society in their turn. Hong Kong has a very bright future, if only we remove the obstructions to "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong".

It would be unforgiveable for the administration to make a mess of political reform.

Mike Rowse is managing director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk


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This article is now closed to comments

Educators like Benny Tai and Mike Rowse have given Hong Kong students a wrong perception on our past and their future. Hong Kong is not a country and will never be one. Stop encouraging students fighting China.
"Overwhelming desire by all sides for universal suffrage?? What all sides?? Which sides? Who were invited to the event? You call this all sides?
Hong Kong has always been part of China, the British took Hong Kong in an unethical way and we were under the British rule from 1841 to 1997. Hong Kong had the worst corruptions back in the 60s and 70s and many British had made a fortune from Hong Kong back then. Hongkongers were generally poor but extremely hard working with strong family values. This built the strong pillars on our success today.
If our young ones cared to learn the truth, they would agree that Hongkongers have actually enjoyed higher degree of freedom since the handover of sovereignty back to China in 1997. They will see that democracy has advanced instead of deteriorated as claimed by certain politicians and educators.
Real life experience is very different from a debate. You get a winner on debate, in OC, everyone is a looser. The general public, the society, the students, the police, basically everyone.
Some students are fooled to believe that taking drastic actions can overthrow the Basc Law. They are only jeopardizing their own future. They will not achieve anything, not even our support.

The issue is not universal suffrage, not even public nomination, or the possible election of a pan-democrat. The issue is the possible election of pan-democrat that is openly anti-Beijing or potentially pro-independence. That is what Beijing, and the general public opinion on the Mainland, will not allow.
The whole idea of removing the Britons from Hong Kong, one reader memorably pointed out, is to end colonial rule. "What is the point of having another set of colonial masters ruling us from afar?" he angrily questions. Well, Hong Kong became a British colony because of a lease agreement, and the lease has expired, and sovereignty and governance very naturally returns to Qing's successor state, the PRC. Was Qing a colonial master to Hong Kong, prior to 1842? All of a sudden, the terms of the concept has become Hongkongers' seemingly inviolable right to self-rule! Well, since when Hong Kong has acquired the right to self-govern?
Granting this much autonomy to Hong Kong is grace enough! Why couldn't Beijing simply appoint a High Commissioner to rule Hong Kong? Shame on Beijing for showing this much restraint and respect for HKers and settling for less than either the Brits or the Qing emperors would allow!
I can't agree any of these rubbish arguments put forward by icsl. What is the connection between Hong Kong have true democracy and Hong Kong not being a country? The Basic Law is clear that Hong Kong is an integral part of China, and Hong Kong doesn't have her own military for civil defense against foreign invasion. Just the second point would eliminate completely the possibility of declaring independence, so this should be a no brainer for letting Hong Kong have real democracy. And how dare the PRC could suddenly represents the Qing Dynasty, which no longer existed and gave Hong Kong away to Victorian Britain? Then could PRC also be responsible for this failing of the Qing government? I am afraid people like icsl are the kind who are so daft to believe PRC genuinely cares about the long-term prosperity of Hong Kong and would give Hong Kong democracy without hard bargaining. Otherwise, he is a coward who can betray whoever in return for his own survival. He is very likely the kind who would sacrifice his love ones if needed during conflicts in return for his own survival as he has no backbone and moral principles.
Dai Muff
And as Beijing has ultimate veto right, that is a non issue, as you know only too well.
Are you thinking that the chosen articulate smart young people who can debate in English chosen for this debate are representative of the entire young people population in HK? Come on. What do you think of the young people's behaviour in this video? I would hate for them to be the ruling class in HK in the future.


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