image

Hopes and fears: Zhang Dejiang visits Hong Kong

Overzealous security measures for Zhang Dejiang are barriers to ‘seeing, listening and speaking’

Surya Deva says if unjustified, the extensive security measures aimed at protecting the NPC chairman in Hong Kong will only further alienate government critics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 11:13am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 11:13am

Zhang Dejiang (張德江), chairman of the National People’s Congress, said he is in Hong Kong to “see, listen and speak”. In addition to addressing a forum on “One Belt, One Road”, Zhang said he would listen to “all sectors of society” on “what recommendations and requirements they have” regarding the implementation of “one country, two systems”.

Zhang offers olive branch, but stands solidly versus notion of Hong Kong independence

Given the unprecedented security by Hong Kong police for Zhang’s visit and his itinerary, it doesn’t seem he will get to see, listen or speak to a representative section of society. One may think that the security arrangements are counterproductive to the very purpose of Zhang’s visit.

A more plausible explanation might be that Zhang’s “seeing, listening and speaking” was meant to be seen through the “one country” lens. Except for a meeting with a select few pan-democrat lawmakers, anyone espousing the cause of “two systems” would have be screened out.

Zhang’s remark reminded me of the three wise monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. The Hong Kong government has gone to great lengths to ensure Zhang sees or hears no “evil” talk of universal suffrage, the missing booksellers’ saga or human rights generally. Of course, there’s no question of interacting with people arguing for “self-determination”.

Smiles on one side, protests on the other as Zhang Dejiang arrives for Hong Kong visit

While noble goals such as human rights feature in the constitutional documents of both mainland China and Hong Kong, the actual practice is quite different in the two jurisdictions. In the case of a visit by a Chinese leader to Hong Kong, the actual practice of human rights here should guide what should or should not be kept out of his sight.

Hongkongers also deserve an explanation from the government about the nature of the terrorist threats which triggered the deployment of some 8,000 officers for Zhang’s security. Terrorism poses a threat globally. But frivolous threats should not be used as an excuse to curtail human rights. Nor should taxpayers’ money be wasted on unwarranted security arrangements.

Excessive security measures often bring violent or radical reactions from aggrieved people. The post-Umbrella Movement strengthening of radicalism and localism is a case in point. In fact, something must be fundamentally wrong with the current state of affairs when top Chinese leaders cannot visit Hong Kong without so much security.

Rather than being dismissive of Hongkongers who feel alienated or disillusioned by “one country, two systems”, both mainland Chinese and Hong Kong political leaders must have an open dialogue with such people and, in turn, build trust. History shows that force alone cannot control social discontent for long.

Surya Deva is an associate professor at City University’s School of Law