Hope for silver lining on cloud over reform
Both sides jostle for position as winding road to universal suffrage heads towards endpoint
Everything is hard at the beginning, according to the Chinese proverb, and so it is for the first steps in Hong Kong's difficult road towards universal suffrage in 2017 - if it can be achieved.
Last week, as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying submitted his report to Beijing to kick off the constitutional reform, he found himself being squeezed by both sides of politics: as expected, the pan-democrats attacked him for not favouring public nomination; and some from the pro-establishment camp were upset he did not give a definite "no" to the controversial idea.
There were various guesses as to why the government seemed not to be taking a position on this. But it could be that Leung was doing as much as he could do at this stage. After all, only the National People's Congress can officially rule out any proposal that it sees as breaching the Basic Law. On the other hand, it could also be a tactic by the government to put no more fuel on the already raging political fire created by Occupy Central.
Next month, the NPC Standing Committee holds its bimonthly meeting. It is widely believed that it will officially reject models that allow future candidates for chief executive to be nominated by voters or by political parties as Beijing believes they would inevitably undermine the nominating committee.
But just when many saw the chance of a deal getting slimmer, there were some interesting developments last week.
First, Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the pan-democratic Labour Party, said he still saw room for genuine universal suffrage since public nomination had not been explicitly ruled out in Leung's report. Then the organisers of Occupy Central, as well as pan-democratic lawmakers, said they wanted to meet Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to further negotiate before the August NPC meeting "kills" public nomination. Sources say Lam has in principle agreed to meet them sometime this week.
But the pan-democrats also wanted to talk directly to Beijing officials. Occupy Central co-organiser Benny Tai Yiu-ting believes this could help, and has suggested they consider putting Occupy Central on hold until next year rather than launching it late next month or in early September after the NPC meeting, as planned.
Beijing has doubts about what can be achieved, since an earlier invitation from Zhang Xiaoming , the director of the central government's liaison office, to meet pan-democratic lawmakers was rejected after Beijing released its white paper claiming full jurisdiction over Hong Kong.
Then came the idea by some academics and pan-democrats urging Beijing not to make the decision until its October meeting, saying it would allow more time for both sides to cool down and talk. But this idea is not favoured by Beijing, which believes that dragging out the issue for two more months will make no difference.
Xu Ze, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, last week told Hong Kong finance professionals that the "situation in Hong Kong is complicated but not that bad". This was seen as a show of confidence from Beijing that it would get the situation under control despite Occupy Central.
So given Beijing's firm stance, what progress can be made when Lam meets the pan-democrats? Let's hope there will be a silver lining to this dark cloud around political reform.