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Hopes and fears: Zhang Dejiang visits Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s pan-democrats need to decide if they want reform, or a revolution

John Chan says lawmakers who support democratic development should either be willing to work for change within the system – or lead a revolution outside it

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2016, 4:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2016, 4:25pm

During National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang’s (張德江) visit to Hong Kong, all legislators were invited to a welcome dinner. Pan-democratic lawmakers boycotted the event, claiming it did not offer sufficient opportunity for in-depth dialogue. This excuse is laughable.

Such an occasion is not intended for dialogue. Pan-democrats were invited because of their constitutional status, not for what they have to say.

If they want to start a revolution, they cannot be politicians

During the colonial era, lawmakers invited to a formal dinner for a visiting British prime minster wouldn’t use such a childish excuse; they would refuse to attend to signal disapproval of the administration. Thus, pan-democrats should have admitted they were boycotting the event.

That aside, four pan-democrats did attend a cocktail reception held beforehand. One, Alan Leong Kah-kit, came out in high spirits, saying he had lodged a complaint with Zhang against Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and requested that Leung be replaced.

By openly asking the No 3 in the Chinese government to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs, Leong did something not even pro-Beijing politicians would try. One pro-democrat commentator said: “To suggest to Zhang Dejiang to dismiss and replace the chief executive amounts to accepting that the central government has final say in the election of the chief executive. If this is the case, does this not mean ‘one country, two systems’ exists only in name?”

Localism is becoming a force to be reckoned with in Hong Kong politic

This is the heart of the pan-democrats’ predicament. They are anti-communist (no big deal) and refuse to accept the reality that the communist government has a dominant role in local politics (again, no big deal) – yet they are reluctant to give up their privileged position in the political order they so despise. With separatists now advocating cutting ties, pan-democrats’ cowardice has been exposed.

Pan-democrats said their meeting with Zhang served to establish their constitutional status. This is naive. As it is, all lawmakers have a recognised constitutional status. Why did it take a meeting with a top Beijing official to confirm this? They seem reluctant to accept there are limits on what they can achieve under “one country, two systems”.

They have yet to decide whether to be revolutionaries, like independence-seekers who denounce the existing order; or reformists, working within the existing structure. They should remember: if they want to start a revolution, they cannot be politicians. In any representative government, there can only be three outcomes: win, compromise or accept defeat with grace.

It is a pity they forgot these rules last year, over the electoral reform package, and got dragged into following the lead of radical students. Since then, a small faction has embarked on the dangerous path to self-determination. Pan-democrats have yet to find a clear direction.

John Chan is a practising solicitor and a founding member of the Democratic Party