Amid all the 'us or them' talk, no prizes for guessing the outcome of our political reform debate

Alice Wu says with the electoral reform debate continuing in this 'us versus them' vein, Hong Kong can give up hope of progress

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 3:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 3:40am

There is little doubt that Hong Kong's electoral reform debate has been cast as something of a Manichaean struggle and, having been cast as such, it has morphed into one. The war of good versus evil is an epic one, and it has been going on since at least the first recorded history of human experience.

Human beings are still fighting its many battles - whether it's over religion, class, politics, gender, race or nations. And if we agree with historian David Cannadine, our ancestors set things up by creating mutually exclusive and antagonistic identities that have brought us - their future generations - down this path. It's no wonder, then, that we often see phrases such as "it's now or never between purgatory and paradise" when we read about our current political woes.

Judging by past experience, we know that simplifying an issue of this complexity into a binary opposition is not necessarily the best way to get us from point A to point B. Yet we still do it.

When our electoral "fight" is fraught with undertones of a conflict between "us", the benevolent, and "them", the malevolent, then it's not surprising that we find ourselves in the situation we're in.

Different "groups" have sliced and diced the divide in different ways: Beijing has been portrayed as the "them", reneging on its constitutional promises of granting Hong Kong universal suffrage, its high degree of autonomy, and our basic freedoms and rights. The other "them" - the Occupy Central trio - have been accused of instigating the battle, co-opting foreign powers to interfere in China's internal affairs and, most recently, driving Beijing's firm, harsh stance.

Scaremongering is great to rally support, but not so great when collaboration and compromise are a constitutional necessity for electoral reform. And, in this respect, sounding battle cries - and both Beijing and Occupy Central are guilty of this - is counterproductive. We are so busy fighting over who is 100 per cent right and 100 per cent wrong that we are closing doors to opportunities. All the while, we have been sucked into this Manichaean vacuum that does little except prolong the vicious cycle.

Finger-pointing does little good, before or after the fact. We can blame "them" all we like, from whichever side we stand, but that won't help us move even an inch towards finding a better way to live with one another, and live with our political and constitutional realities.

Yet, what worries me most is how this latest battle has set a precedence in cementing all the old rallying calls, old rhetoric and old mentalities in addressing Hong Kong's political issues and the relationship with its sovereign.

If we continue to derail serious discussion, dialogue and negotiation with an imbalanced focus on the extreme ends of each debate, and worse yet, with an obsession about defining "us" and "them", and an insistence on framing issues with labels of "good and evil", "all or nothing" and "now or never", then we're in for more pangs than progress.

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