Public Eye

Money can’t buy love – or true democracy in Hong Kong

Michael Chugani says however we view the arrival of a new chief executive, it’s an inescapable reality that Beijing’s shadow over us is here to stay

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 5:09pm

Money can’t buy you love, not true love anyway. But neither can money buy you true democracy. Cash-rich Hong Kong can well afford to lavish HK$640 million on 20th anniversary handover celebrations. But what will this excessive extravagance buy? Certainly not love or loyalty from those who outwardly acknowledge Hong Kong is now part of China but inwardly despise the country’s communist rulers.

Over half of Hong Kong’s voters manifest this contempt by consistently backing politicians who wave the flag of so-called true democracy as a buffer against Beijing’s overreach. What did the so-called 2014 umbrella movement buy? Laughably labelled Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the millions squandered on it bought neither love nor true democracy. What it did buy was a seismic split in our society.

I don’t know how much those who bankrolled Occupy spent. Nor do I know how much the 79-day uprising cost in money terms to businesses, taxi and minibus drivers, the police and the public. What I do know is that former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s 2015 budget had a HK$34 billion relief package partly intended to heal the societal bitterness Occupy caused. That included HK$180 million to the five hardest-hit industries.

I don’t buy for a second that Joe Public alone bankrolled Occupy with spontaneous donations. I saw with my own eyes food and drink being trucked in with military precision. But Occupy is history, and history will record it as a folly that proved paralysing Hong Kong won’t make Beijing bend its knee.

What Hong Kong needs now is not love or loyalty but a clear-eyed view of reality. Yes, HK$640 million on handover anniversary celebrations is over the top. Imagine the applause if organisers proclaimed they would celebrate by spending HK$640 million to make sure post-handover Hong Kong no longer had elderly people scavenging cardboard boxes for a living.

The reality is the opposition’s definition of true democracy is a fool’s dream. I cannot see how Beijing will restrict itself to the purely ceremonial role of appointing whoever voters want as chief executive. As we all saw, Beijing made sure Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will succeed Leung Chun-ying. We can start afresh or cling to the acrimony that ravaged our society during Leung’s five-year rule. Either way, Beijing’s shadow over us is here to stay. It’s an inescapable reality.