Taunted and exiled: Hong Kong's moderates languish in the political wilderness

Alice Wu says Beijing's single-minded focus on fighting its 'enemies' has ended up alienating the middle ground as well. With moderates giving up,our governance problems will only get worse

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 October, 2015, 9:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 October, 2015, 9:30am

When the middle - the voice of the moderates - is ignored and dismissed enough times, disengagement becomes an attractive option. We saw that clearly with Albert Chen Hung-yee, University of Hong Kong law professor, constitutional law expert and member of the National People's Congress Basic Law Committee.

He was one of the few who tried to resuscitate the constitutional reform debate with his "none of the above" option. He quit the moment he realised there were not enough people genuinely interested in breaking the impasse. Without a deadlock, there would have been no ammunition to feed the "war" that had become Occupy Central versus the central government.

Beijing was so preoccupied with fighting Occupy that it left all moderates out in the cold

We saw this in moderates on the other side as well. Ronny Tong Ka-wah disengaged, too. He saw, early on, that Beijing's harsh stance was a result of the pan-democrats' continuous threats. He stuck to his call for compromise, even when it meant getting flak from his own camp as well as Beijing. He gave up his work as an elected legislator out of exasperation.

Beijing was so preoccupied with fighting Occupy that it left all moderates out in the cold. Tong may not have given up on his moderate approach, but his decision to take it somewhere else, where it may have a chance of effecting change, is a sign that things are bad. The political climate has become so toxic and suffocating that there is no room for moderates.

READ MORE: Ronny Tong's resignation the latest sign that the feuding pan-democrats are coming adrift

So it should come as no surprise to hear Dr Brian Fong Chi-hang - a once-moderate academic who had worked with other moderates to push for dialogue with Beijing - say that when it comes to dealing with the central government, "[this] is not a moment for conversation but resistance". Here is not someone who has disengaged, but a moderate gone rogue.

He has adopted a different language - that of war: "know your enemy", "beef up your defence" and "resistance". And he may well be right. Why keep trying to talk if Beijing is not going to listen?

If we were frustrated before, we now find ourselves in an even more agonising place. Those still in the business of politics are stuck in dysfunctional working relationships. Those in the middle have thrown in the towel. Those at the extremes are still at each other's throats. And Beijing has no qualms about being perceived as asserting its bossiness.

It could all have been different. Yes, the Occupy protests would have gone ahead but the rest could have been avoided if the moderates were given a chance to be moderate.

READ MORE: Hong Kong needs a moderate stance for political reform talks with Beijing

READ MORE: Return to 'moderate mainstream' path to achieve democracy, US consul urges Hong Kong

It was not necessary to alienate them, but that was exactly what Beijing did. And there is still little sign of Beijing understanding what naturally transpired. It has disappointed the moderates, because it was so focused on throwing punches that it shut down all ability to listen. It clearly recognised its foes but it was blind and deaf to goodwill. And, having taken the city's moderates for granted, it has lost the confidence of a lot of people who saw political development in Hong Kong was about more than proving one side "right" or the other side "wrong."

If meaningful debate has become almost impossible, the chances of meaningful dialogue between Hong Kong and Beijing are even slimmer. Left out in the cold long enough, it was only a matter of time before those who had hope also turned cold. Sadly, the now hardened former moderates will join the ranks of those who have long been bitter and antagonistic.

Hong Kong's governance problem will continue to worsen because those who had been willing to work tirelessly and thanklessly for a solution have finally been forced into dejection and disengagement.

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