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Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s political parties prove they can come together to act on worthy causes

Alice Wu is encouraged by the rare agreements between often-warring legislators on two issues recently. Such cooperation should be nurtured, and Beijing must do its part not to aggravate sentiments

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 April, 2017, 11:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 April, 2017, 7:31pm

Political reconciliation is daunting, and it’s doubly hard to begin that process in Hong Kong against the backdrop of a string of recent arrests.

Last Wednesday, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, two independence advocates who lost their seats in the Legislative Council after mangling their oath-taking, were arrested and charged for trying to force their way last November into a Legco meeting. On Thursday, nine pro-democracy activists were arrested and charged for their role in a rowdy protest last November against Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law.

Trials and punishments are part of the reconciliation process, to be sure. The rule of law must be respected, and we will have to bear the consequences.

Although the idea of a blanket amnesty for everyone connected with the Occupy movement did not take hold, it was perhaps a measure of where we’re heading. It was encouraging to see rival political parties jointly calling for the fence outside the government headquarters to be demolished to reopen “Civic Square” to the public. This is a clear sign that the city’s political parties are ready to move forward. Should our incoming chief executive agree to do so, the friendly gesture would go a long way in mending social rifts.

Hey CY, tear down that fence

Concrete steps are needed if reconciliation is to happen. This demands changes in behaviour.

For a start, our dysfunctional legislature must be made functional again. Fortunately, we seem to be witnessing a moderation of insulting behaviour, and there seems to be more willingness to cooperate. It is no coincidence that the agreement between rival parties on Civic Square followed another meeting of minds in March, in a joint petition to scrap the controversial Territory-wide System Assessment for Hong Kong schools.

We need maturity to navigate the city’s complex political arrangements

Changes in mindsets are critical. Binary thinking that misrepresents the complex realities of Hong Kong politics has contributed directly to constant discord that impedes society’s progress. Opportunities to work together on the less contentious issues will help to erode the “us vs them” beliefs, giving way to the possibility of a shift to a mature political scene. We need maturity to navigate the city’s complex political arrangements.

Speaking of complexities, Beijing has a huge role to play in any reconciliation.

First, it should try to stop its proxies from making injudicious comments on Hong Kong issues that do nothing to further mutual understanding. Two weeks ago at a conference in Beijing, Wang Zhenmin, the legal chief of the central government’s liaison office here, said Hong Kong’s electoral reform should be kept on hold for five to 10 years because the city needed to focus on resolving its livelihood issues. As could be expected, the pan-democrats were outraged.

Hong Kong protesters march for ‘genuine universal suffrage’ one month after Carrie Lam elected leader

While no one would disagree that livelihood issues are important, Wang’s statement only fuelled discontent. The remarks did not “pour cold water” on Hong Kong’s aspirations; rather, they fanned the flames of resentment. It is counter-intuitive and counterproductive. We need to calm negative emotions and attitudes, not aggravate them, for the future of the city’s relations with Beijing. Wang’s comment is also illogical because Hong Kong’s social problems feed off and contribute to the arrested development of its electoral reform.

Beijing has every incentive to encourage reconciliation, because it is the ultimate test of the “one country, two systems” principle. This has implications that reach far beyond Hong Kong.

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