Is an era of political reconciliation finally dawning in Hong Kong?

Alice Wu says the even-handed Occupy convictions and united visit to Dongjiang suggest the time of extreme antagonism in Hong Kong is winding down, and the future looks bright for a ‘great reconciliation’, as envisaged by Jasper Tsang as far back as 2012

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 12:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 7:33pm

“Hong Kong needs political reconciliation” – it’s an understatement that cannot be overstated, and it’s also a sentiment that has existed in our political sphere for years.

Recent political events have breathed new life into what is known as “the great reconciliation”, the idea floated by former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing in February 2012, amid what was an ugly chief executive election.

Perhaps inconceivable at the time, even before Occupy Central was conceived, Tsang’s “great reconciliation” is now undergoing a sort of revival.

How can we resolve the conflicts in Hong Kong and ensure ‘one country, two systems’ thrives?

During the years Tsang preached about it, it didn’t quite catch on. The political rut got worse, in fact. But perhaps there is truth in the statement that things will get worse before they get better.

If things looked bad in 2012, they certainly got worse. And perhaps they are now bad enough for the thought of “reconciliation” to finally take root, ready for us to begin to try to conceptualise it.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai tried to do this – with his call last week for the chief executive-elect to declare a legal amnesty for all involved in the 2014 Occupy protests.

At the heart of reconciliation is the thankless job of building engagement

But he had to retract it in less than a day, apologise, and condemn it as not having been through careful consideration or thorough discussion.

Wu learned the first lesson in the hard work of reconciliation. Unless backed up by action, and a lot of it, it is simply a hollow word. It is a challenging process as much as it is a goal. It is the restoration of working – or at least workable – relationships, and it takes a lot more than just throwing an idea out there.

Wu painfully learned that it would take more than one person, and it would need a lot of urging, nudging and facilitating. It was not so much that his remarks were contentious, it was his forgetting that at the heart of reconciliation is the thankless job of building engagement. Wu’s lesson is one to be learned by us all.

Seeking solutions for a democratic future

Not enough time has yet passed for political factions to stop vying for and usurping the “victim” domain. But enough time has passed for the handing down of some court convictions.

Ken Tsang Kin-chiu, who has just completed his prison sentence, and the seven policemen – now behind bars, serving out theirs – convicted of assaulting him illustrate that injury and offence were committed by and inflicted on both sides. It is this recognition of the past that makes reconciliation imperative – and the time may now be ripe to take those steps.

Dongjiang visit a sign that Beijing and pan-democrats can talk

The conditions are beginning to look favourable. The pendulum has started to swing back from the extreme end of antagonistic politics. The visit to Dongjiang by Hong Kong lawmakers from across the aisle marks a small but significant point on that trajectory.

“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung was able to wear his fashion accessories and, to his credit, practised moderation, resulting in a rare moment of a delicate truce. Wong Yuk-man’s Good Friday announcement of his exit from the political stage perhaps marks the end of the era of antagonistic and aggravating politics.

Those from the pan-democratic camp can be patriots, and the traditional patriots can be just as pro-democracy as their opponents

Jasper Tsang asked, back in 2012, that we, including Beijing, abandon political categorisations. Political labelling constrains us from political possibilities – that those from the pan-democratic camp can be patriots, and the traditional patriots can be just as pro-democracy as their opponents.

And last September, Tsang renewed that call by asking that we “stop regarding one another as enemies”. When we constrict our minds and fail to challenge existing labels, we lock ourselves in political fatalism.

Reconciliation cannot happen until we learn to see others and ourselves differently. For future generations, we must refrain from adopting the easier notion of denying the possibilities of reconciliation.

“Us versus them” need not be a default political setting for us. As we’re beginning to conceptualise the process of reconciliation, let’s move forward carefully and resiliently.

Getting enough players willing to engage in that process will transform the future, for the better.

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