Will a democratic China harm Hong Kong?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 9:36am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 1:01pm

Once democratised, China could hurt Hong Kong even more. This is what Dr Horace Chin Wan-kan, a core member of the "nativist" movement in Hong Kong, told Hongkongers in an article published on June 4.

This is not the first time Dr Chin has warned of the dangers of a more democratic China. In his latest publication, he has once again substituted imagination for reason.

"What we Hongkongers need is not a democratic China, but to build Hong Kong into an autonomous city-state first, merging the British culture with a restored Chinese culture," wrote Dr Chin. Next, Hongkongers should push for a "Chinese Confederation" consisting of separate and parallel states in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, he suggested.

However, under Hong Kong's current political situation, this proposal not only sounds hallucinatory, but also comes dangerously close to breaking the Basic Law by advocating sedition.

How could a democratic China harm Hong Kong? Well, according to Dr Chin, democracy requires customs of morality, cultural dignity, civil society, rule of law and professional conduct, none of which China possesses today. When democracy replaces one-party rule in China, populism will reign in the legislature, dissolving the "one country, two systems" commitment and Hong Kong's valuable resources would become fair game to a voracious China.

All politics is local, as the famous US political saying goes. Dr Chin's cause, an emphasis on Hong Kong's unique identity, obviously has much relevance to Hong Kong - now under the shadow of an authoritarian China. He also makes sense when advocating that Hongkongers should care about themselves first before worrying about the world. However, what really defies reason, and smacks of hypocrisy, is when a champion for democracy like Dr Chin tells us that a vast number of people living under authoritarian rule should remain that way, or all hell will break loose.

So democracy is good - except when it doesn't apply to everybody? Some groups it appears just don't deserve it. The Chinese are too uncivilised for democracy, or there would be chaos. Does this all sound familiar? It is exactly what the Communist Party has been brainwashing the Chinese people with for decades. The party peddles this theory to people to subject them to its authority; and to foreigners, in the hope they will leave China alone. A renowned expert on democracy, Dr Chin knows all too well the havoc authoritarianism has had on society; but he fails to see that it harms the world order as well, especially neighbouring countries.

All the troubles and anxiety China has brought Hong Kong have their roots in the party's failure in governance. Why do pregnant women endure travel, hostility and uncertainty to have babies in Hong Kong? Why do young parents haul cans of milk powder across the border? Why are Chinese tourists so rude and inconsiderate? These are all consequences of the party's corrupt, ruthless and closed-minded rule. Dr Chin might notice that it is not just Hong Kong's maternity beds or pharmacy shelves that are being invaded by the Chinese; the same is happening across the developed world. If given no opportunity to change, things will only get worse in China, and these worrying trends would only spread further. Whether a city state, or part of a confederation, Hong Kong could not withstand such a corrupting spill over.

Dr Chin has also described many other terrible things he feared a democratic China could do to Hong Kong. These range from abolishing the "One Country, Two Systems" policy, tapping into Hong Kong's fiscal reserves, taxing Hong Kong, or even forcing Hong Kong women to marry mainland men!

I can only say he has an overactive imagination in which he transplanted his fears about authoritarianism into a democratic setting - forced unity, forced migration, and forced marriages. Do these sound more like the doings of an authoritarian state or a democratic one? In a multi-party democracy, could we even imagine any political party trying to buy votes in Hong Kong, or buy media outlets in Taiwan with public funds as we have seen and condemned the party for doing?

The professor calls himself a political pragmatist, by which he means as long as Hong Kong leaves mainland politics alone, the party will relax enough to let Hongkongers continue with their own experiment in city-state autonomy. How deluded and naive could one be to form such beliefs? Authoritarianism is all about control, and the party would never give up control over Hong Kong politics as Dr Chin imagines. Only a democracy could value diversity and free will enough to encourage experiments like these within its jurisdiction.

On the relationship between regional autonomy and a democratic central government, the celebrated French historian Alexis de Tocqueville writes: "I believe that provincial institutions are useful to all nations, but nowhere do they appear to me to be more indispensable than amongst a democratic people." I would suggest Dr Chin seek some enlightenment by reading de Tocqueville's famous text, Democracy in America.