Hong Kong must decide why it wants democracy

Michael Chugani says it's futile to confront China's communist state and learning to co-exist with it will yield trust and benefits

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 May, 2015, 1:10pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 May, 2015, 1:10pm

Let's talk about communism. We need to decide whether we want to make it a bogeyman in our politics or co-exist with it. Hong Kong's past generations were comprised largely of people who fled Chinese communism. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, illegal immigrants who swam across Shenzhen Bay were called freedom swimmers. We are one of the most anti-communist societies in the world.

Communism was very much a feared bogeyman in Hong Kong after the June 4 Tiananmen bloodbath. Loathing for it ebbed somewhat in the post-colonial era as the city adjusted to the reality of a communist motherland. But the democracy camp has now made the fear of communism the unacknowledged underbelly of our politics as half of a deeply divided Hong Kong agitates for so-called genuine democracy.

Many in the democracy camp, most notably Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit, mouth communism as if it were a dirty word. Leong says it with such scorn that it's hard to decide if he loathes communism more than he wants democracy. In Hong Kong's unique case, it becomes a slippery slope to treat a yearning for democracy and a loathing for communism as interchangeable.

Would half of our split society be agitating for Western-style democracy if our post-colonial sovereign was not a one-party communist state? During British rule, we obediently accepted governors imposed on us, telling ourselves they were, at least, answerable to a democratic state. It didn't matter that Britain often placed its own interests above those of Hong Kong, such as forcing us to shelter waves of Vietnamese refugees, charging us for the British garrison stationed here, and giving privileged treatment to British hongs.

But now we derisively refuse a system that allows the people to elect their own chief executive with the argument that Beijing will pre-screen candidates and whoever wins will be answerable to a communist state. It doesn't matter that the record shows this communist state, unlike our former rulers, has often placed our interests above its own. Throwing us economic lifelines whenever we needed them, heeding our plea to stem the tide of visitors despite objections by mainland travellers, and allowing more democracy than Britain ever did spring to mind.

Democracy camp old guards such as Martin Lee Chu-ming, Albert Ho Chun-yan and Lee Cheuk-yan make no effort to hide their contempt for China's Communist Party. They see so-called genuine democracy as, firstly, a shield against our communist rulers, and eventually as a way to democratise China. The democracy camp's new guard of students and young people who fronted the Occupy protest sees democracy more as a way to revive hope for their disillusioned generation. Only a small fringe group wants independence. Most just want the upward mobility their parents and grandparents enjoyed.

It is, of course, futile to confront China's communist state. The more we treat it as a bogeyman the less democracy it will allow us. The more we try to co-exist with it, the more it will trust us. In our fight for democracy, we must decide if we want it for its own sake or as a shield against communist China.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. [email protected]