A recent editorial by the International New York Times suggested that Britain should speak out against threats to press freedoms and open elections in Hong Kong. The same newspaper also published a lament from Martin Lee Chu-ming, saying Hong Kong's autonomy was under threat. Both articles quoted Deng Xiaoping's blueprint for "one country, two systems", with Lee saying that without universal suffrage, Deng's legacy would be but a litany of broken promises.
Deng was an astute politician who travelled to France when he was just 16 "to learn knowledge and truth from the West, in order to save China". One thing he would have learnt is that, in Western politics, promises are a matter of expediency rather than commitment.
Universal suffrage in Hong Kong is an illusion; to believe in it is a delusion. Democracy is currently failing in many countries of the world. Indeed, too often it is a mantle of deception that cloaks the true power of corporations, lobbyists and the super-rich. Democracy failed in Athens, its birthplace, after 250 years when the rich became super-rich and a law unto themselves. Hong Kong already has one of the highest Gini coefficients, an index of social inequality, in the developed world.
Hong Kong is like a precocious teenager who has had all the benefits of privilege and now demands the status but not the responsibilities of an adult. The next decade is going to be tough for Hong Kong, yet it can still become a shining example to the rest of China as proposed by Lee and Anson Chan Fang On-sang. But not as a democracy. Rather, a place where the core values are real and tangible, and reflect a society that is fair and just, and engaged in creating a meaningful legacy for future generations.
Lee enumerated the core values of Hong Kong as "freedom, the rule of law, a system for fighting corruption and an independent judiciary". But freedom without responsibility is a mere indulgence, and the inappropriate denial of freedom can be a neglect of responsibility.
Criticism of Beijing for wanting to exercise some influence over the media dissemination of seditious opinion should be viewed in the context of the UK Terrorism Act 2000 that effectively treats journalists as terrorists. Of note, Hong Kong has neither Article 23 national security legislation nor the "patriotic education" discussed in 2012, evidence that democracy is not essential to influence positive social change. Political will can suffice.
Lee can lament the faltering steps towards democracy. I lament the lack of vision in Hong Kong.
I am currently working in Qatar, whose government espouses a "National Vision 2030", aspiring "to undergo the transformation into an advanced country capable of sustaining its own development and providing a high standard of living for its entire population for generations to come".
What is Hong Kong's "Vision 2030"; just another "southern Chinese city" or a shining light which embodies core values that are both real and relevant? A place where wealth can be shared to achieve a high standard of living for all its inhabitants?
That is the example the mainland wants. That is what Hongkongers need, not universal suffrage.
Andrew Burd is a retired professor of plastic surgery at the Chinese University of Hong Kong