Beijing wants security and loyalty from Hong Kong. The pan-democrats want democracy. Both sides insist their demand must be met first before they will concede to the other side. Both can legitimately appeal to the Basic Law as trying to fulfil our constitutional duties.
In a nutshell, this is what the latest round of warnings and escalation of rhetoric is all about.
As a Hongkonger and Chinese citizen, I think both sides are right; and that's why I am not optimistic about the city's political future.
First, Politburo Standing Committee member Yu Zhengsheng warned against Hong Kong becoming a base for subversion and expressed displeasure at protesters waving the British colonial flag. He said only those who are patriotic could be allowed to rule Hong Kong.
Then fellow committee member Zhang Dejiang, who will supervise Hong Kong and Macau affairs and head the nation's top legislature, said Hong Kong must safeguard national security. In essence, that means enacting laws in Hong Kong under Article 23 of the Basic Law against all the Ss, that is, "secession, sedition, subversion ... the theft of state secrets" and also treason.
All this came as pan-democrats strategise, and agonise over, how to "occupy Central" to press the Hong Kong government and Beijing to put forward a political reform blueprint to achieve full democracy. Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan is considering resigning from his "superseat" in his district council functional constituency to trigger what his allies claim would be another de facto referendum. Oh no, not again!
The Basic Law certainly provides for the gradual transition to democracy under Articles 45 and 68, with Annex I and II specifying how the methods for selecting the chief executive and lawmakers can be amended to bring about universal suffrage. Add to them the 2007 interpretation of the National People's Congress' Standing Committee, and you have what arguably amounts to a constitutional duty towards full democracy. So if someone says we have a duty to enact A23, you can quote A45 and 68 back to him.
But that's our constitutional dilemma. There will need to be a grand bargain and compromises. But it takes two to tango. Right now, the two are coming to blows.