July 1 march

Hong Kong is not Taiwan, but its commitment to democracy is no less significant

Gary Wong says it rankles when democracies such as Taiwan say the city lacks a free soul, but the best comeback would be to unite and succeed in the quest for universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 11:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 7:33pm

In 2014, Ko Wen-je broke the ideological rivalry between the blue and green coalitions in Taiwan to become the first Taipei mayor with no party affiliation.

I studied his campaign model in the hope of seeking an alternative path out of the split in Hong Kong between the pro-establishment, pan-democratic and self-determination camps, and recently attended Ko’s seminar in Taipei. His ideas on politics and management were insightful, but his comment about Hong Kong sparked a reaction from those of us fighting for democracy here.

He said: “Hong Kong is not only small, but it also does not have democratic elections. What is there to envy in Hong Kong? It doesn’t even have a soul that is free.”

Hong Kong is an international city that draws many visitors every year. Its attractions need no introduction. But is it true that it does not have a free soul?

It is ironic that Hong Kong, despite being a developed city, still does not have universal suffrage in choosing its leader. By contrast, the evolution of democracy in Taiwan has been much faster. Electoral politics, electoral public relations and political parties are all better developed. We have a lot to learn from the Taiwanese.

A lack of democratic elections does not mean at all that Hong Kong people have no free will

Yet, a lack of democratic elections does not mean at all that Hong Kong people have no free will. Under “one country, two systems”, we enjoy political freedom, freedom of speech, as well as the right to assemble and demonstrate. At the very least, no one would be put in jail because of anti-communist sentiments.

We may not have succeeded in attaining full democracy yet, but many have fought or are fighting for it. During colonial times, our forerunners had already begun negotiations; every year, thousands of Hongkongers march on the streets to make their voice heard, not to mention the Umbrella movement in 2014, undertaken by the very people who were thought to have no free soul. We should not dismiss such efforts.

At the seminar, Ko also made some negative comments about a number of Asian countries, such as criticising Singapore as “a wild canary inside a bird cage”. It is true that some Asian nations are not as democratic as Taiwan, but their development and achievement in economics, technology and culture are significant.

A government ought to pursue good governance no matter how it is formed. Democracy is a mere vehicle in creating the governing institution. Thus, whether or not democracy exists, quality governance for the good of the citizenry should be the sole consideration of politicians.

However, there is no denying that criticism such as that from Ko doesn’t appear out of thin air. And we Hongkongers must unite and dedicate ourselves to work for the democratisation of the city.

Gary Wong Chi-him is governor of the Path of Democracy