Change is needed, on all sides, before Hong Kong can move on from the political deadlock

Ronny Tong calls on Hong Kong to make the first move to build a working relationship with Beijing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 June, 2015, 5:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 June, 2015, 5:39pm

Of all the questions many of us are currently asking, there is one which nobody seems to be prepared to answer: what is going to happen after the political reform package proposed by the Hong Kong government is vetoed? Few people seem to care. But it is a legitimate, some even say a pertinent, question to ask at this point in time.

Granted, the current reform package is wholly unacceptable, and the community is deeply divided on this. What would happen in the future if we had a chance to revisit the issue of universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive? Would we learn from our mistakes next time round?

I do not think it meaningful to engage in a debate as to the pros and cons of the current reform package, as its failure is already a foregone conclusion. But what about after the veto? What then?

The answer is, in my view, very simple: change. We need to change our ways; we need to change our mindset; and we need to also somehow change the mindset of Beijing.

It will not be easy; but if we fail, my guess is that not only would we not achieve genuine democracy any time soon, but also, we may even see the demise of "one country, two systems". In fact, it is precisely because "one country, two systems" is faltering that we are looking at the failure of political reform.

At the heart of the differences between Beijing and many people in Hong Kong, including in particular the pan-democrats, is the wide disparity in the appreciation of the concept of "one country, two systems" and how the Basic Law works. Beijing regards "one country, two systems" as a major compromise in return for the resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong. Many in Hong Kong, including the pan-democrats, see it as a promise for full and complete autonomy.

Beijing considers the right to deny an unsuitable person (in its view) the post of Hong Kong chief executive as the last substantive right in its exercise of sovereign power over Hong Kong, while we think the election method in relation to the chief executive is but a fulfilment of the promise of "two systems".

The trouble is, we never got the chance to seriously tackle this gulf of understanding - or misunderstanding - between Beijing and Hong Kong. In fact, I dare say, without a broad consensus overcoming these differences, any political reform is doomed to fail.

You may ask, how may we bridge this gulf? To start with, we have to engage Beijing, and gain its confidence. I do not for one moment believe Hong Kong people will elect someone who cannot work with Beijing. What are we to gain by doing that? We need a stable and non-contentious environment to develop Hong Kong to its fullest potential. We need the support of a caring mainland China. Why would we elect someone who might have difficulty discharging all of his duties and functions with regard to Beijing under the Basic Law?

Unfortunately, Beijing does not think in these terms. It sees a people who disagree with everything it says or does, on every level. It has minimum contacts with the pan-democrats and does not see the need to keep in touch; or it just simply feels it does not want to deal with people who vilify it every day. This state of affairs has to change.

We, as well as Beijing, have got to learn to tolerate each other's apparent shortcomings and live with each other as necessary partners. As a start, we have to have regular contact with each other. This is not appeasement or kowtowing in any sense. It is a way to improve relations and a start to narrowing the differences between us, before Hong Kong can talk about how to push democracy forward without causing undue alarm in the Beijing administration.

It is also important to accept the Basic Law as it is. This is because Beijing looks upon any deviation from the Basic Law as an indication of unwillingness to subscribe to the concept of "one country, two systems".

In any event, there is no rational reason why one should feel unduly unhappy about the Basic Law. It is a constitutional document which safeguards many of our core values and rights. It is a bargain made at the time of the handover and we owe much of our current way of life to the provisions in this mini-constitution.

I always ask myself the rhetorical question: which provision in the Basic Law is wholly unacceptable? Even Article 45, the provision stipulating the need for a nominating committee in the nomination of candidates for chief executive, is, by itself, not contrary to ordinary standards of democracy. The best proof is that in 2013, I put forward a proposal fully complying with Article 45 and still won the approval of international experts on democracy as being in line with universal standards.

In truth, there is no inherent conflict between developing democracy in Hong Kong and the concept of "one country, two systems".

If anything, it is not the provision itself which disappoints Hong Kong people in the debate on political reform, but the interpretation put on the provision.

The fault, if one can put it as such, is not the Basic Law but how we carry out the provisions without prior minimum consensus. This is a question of a difference of approach and the understanding of the Basic Law.

You may ask, why do we have to change and not Beijing? Well, that may be a reasonable question, but perhaps the answer lies in the fact that a change of our mindset may lead to a similar change of mindset on the part of Beijing. Someone has to make a first move.

It is perhaps because neither side is willing to give way first that we have reached our present impasse and will see the eventual failure of political reform. There has to be change. Or we will face repeated failure. The choice is in our hands.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah is a directly elected legislator and member of the Civic Party