Leading figures from both the Beijing-loyalist and pan-democratic political camps joined the latest of the Post's Redefining Hong Kong seminar series at the JW Marriott hotel. Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, former chief secretary and lawmaker Anson Chan Fang On-sang, businessman David Tang and Post columnist Alice Wu joined moderator and former Executive Council convenor Ronald Arculli to discuss 'Passage to 2017 - The Next Milestone of One Country, Two Systems'. Their debate covered everything from universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election to the future role of political parties in Hong Kong's governance.
Former executive council convenor Ronald Arculli pressed panel participants to define what's needed to push political reform in Hong Kong.
Leading the panel discussion, the moderator asked how the various factions along the political spectrum might reconcile their differences and craft an electoral package that's acceptable to all.
"It is a defining moment for Hong Kong," said Arculli, a former lawmaker. He reaffirmed that all panellists - including Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang - must reach a consensus on the need for the city to move forward in preparing for the chief executive election in 2017.
Trust and confidence will be important to reach that goal, Arculli said. But he asked: "How do we build trust?
"Is it possible to get all groups to give one single response?" asked Arculli, alluding to the polarised views on Hong Kong's democratisation held by pro-establishment and pan-democratic legislators and politicians.
While he posed difficult questions concerning Hong Kong's constitutional system - including some fully answered by the panellists - Arculli noted that other policies required equal focus.
"We the community should not be totally consumed by the [political reform] issue. The economy and employment are also very important," he said.
Business leaders should be prepared to put up candidates in direct elections to protect their interests, former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang said yesterday.
Chan, who more recently became convenor of think tank Hong Kong 2020, also said the government should implement the "ultimate" version of universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election to avoid civil disobedience by the Occupy Central group, rather than treating 2017 as a first step to democracy.
"We have been waiting … for 28 years since the [first] direct election to the district councils," she said, "yet we are still waiting [for universal suffrage]."
Chan, who also served as a pan-democratic lawmaker, said political turmoil had seen people who did not think of themselves as activists join protests.
"Universal suffrage is not an end but an essential prerequisite to protect our freedom. That is the essence of 'one country, two systems'", she said.
She said the growth of political parties was an international trend, and urged business groups to form parties rather than relying on the Legislative Council's functional constituencies. The functional seats represent individual professional and industrial sectors, and pan-democrats say they should be abolished as they give big business too much power in the political process.
"We have to make the business sector understand: if they want to safeguard their interests, they have to play under the same rules by forming political parties and grooming their own leaders," she said.
She also called for more discussion of reform for the 2016 Legco election.
The failure of Hong Kong's three post-handover chief executives to see themselves as the city's real boss has led to poor leadership, businessman and commentator David Tang said yesterday.
"The central problem is we have people coming in as the chief executive who are telling us they are not in charge," Tang said of Leung Chun-ying and his predecessors Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Tung Chee-hwa.
The three all felt the shadow of Beijing, said Tang, who founded the Shanghai Tang stores and the China Club.
"The chief executive thinks he is not governing Hong Kong, but Beijing is working over his shoulder," Tang said. "The chief executive has to second-guess what Beijing thinks - and he got it wrong most of the time."
The chief executives had failed to reliably set the right policy direction for Hong Kong, Tang lamented.
"We cannot rely on them for leadership - that is why we have endless consultation," said Tang, who has been honoured for his work with a British knighthood and a French chevalier of arts.
Noting Hongkongers' growing frustration and resentment, Tang said officials should concentrate on real issues that could make people happier. He suggested education as one area.
"We should make Hong Kong the best learning centre for Chinese culture. If you cross the border and come to Hong Kong you have freedom," Tang said. "We should set up the academy of science, the academy of culture and so on … if we can be the Oxford for China tomorrow, Hong Kong will be a better place."
Jasper Tsang Yok-sing
Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing is seen as one of the leading moderates in the pro-establishment camp.
A founding member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Tsang has said that the universal suffrage controversy can be resolved if Beijing removes the "demons in the heart" and doesn't bar any candidate from running in the chief executive election.
Though allies have mocked his liberal remarks, Tsang yesterday reiterated that the 2017 chief executive race was not "just another milestone" for Hong Kong but the event on which its success hinges.
"Standing still [on electoral reform] is not an option,'' he said. "Not only will there be a general disappointment and resentment, but more importantly, the past 16 years of experience … have exposed very serious flaws in governance," he said. "There is no turning back. We have to move towards democracy."
He believed the Basic Law's framework has enough room for Hong Kong people to demand an open and fair election system - and that includes the nomination process for the chief executive.
Tsang, a former executive councillor and veteran lawmaker, said there was a need to fix current problems with governance, including the composition and operation of the Executive Council and legislative-executive relations.
"Some very serious flaws in our own system have been exposed in governance no matter who is chosen to be the chief executive … Flaws will not go away even with universal suffrage," he said. "If we get stuck on 2017, there is no hope at all to improve on governance."
Hong Kong's political talks need the language of reconciliation so that people with different beliefs can work out their differences, said South China Morning Post columnist Alice Wu.
"This is the way we should talk in our political discussion. We have lost the language of political reconciliation," Wu said.
Society has become increasingly polarised, with both the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps are becoming more strident. The recent meet-the-people sessions hosted by chief executive Leung Chun-ying descended into confrontation and sometimes even physical clashes among participants.
"We need to find common ground," said Wu of the political debate focusing on the election of the chief executive by Hong Kong people in 2017. "We have to praise the moderates for being moderate … People who see things differently can actually sit together and talk."