Hong Kong’s radical young politicians need to grow up and learn some respect
Mike Rowse says the antics of pro-democracy protesters at the Golden Bauhinia statue were ill-mannered and politically counterproductive, as being at odds with Beijing serves neither the people nor the chances of success for new leader Carrie Lam
Well, here is a sentiment I could never foresee myself experiencing, let alone putting down on paper, but here goes: I completely agree with pro-Beijing lawmaker Elizabeth Quat Pui-fan.
A group of protesters led by Joshua Wong Chi-fung of Demosisto went to the Golden Bauhinia statue in Wan Chai last week and draped a black cloth over it. Quat, a member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, described his action as “childish and disrespectful”. Indeed it was.
The group said the purpose was to protest against the central government’s grip on civil society. They also called on people to turn out for the annual protest march on July 1 and give voice to their desire for democracy. But there can be a difference between the claimed motives of people, and the way their actions are perceived by others.
In this case, the express purpose of the statue is to commemorate Hong Kong’s reunification with the motherland. Moreover, as the protesters well knew, President Xi Jinping (習近平)was scheduled to attend a ceremony at that very spot on reunification day.
The protest was, therefore, likely to be interpreted by Beijing both as an objection to Hong Kong being restored to China, and as a deliberate, calculated insult to our president. This action was therefore politically counterproductive, as well as being ill-mannered.
Many of the same people were pictured recently in Taiwan, cavorting with pro-independence forces on the island. Is it difficult to understand Beijing’s tendency to group the two forces – pro-independence and pro-democracy – together? As former governor Chris Patten – who I don’t always agree with – recently said, by associating themselves with “localists” and others of a similar ilk, those arguing for universal suffrage and more democracy fatally undermine their cause.
The Sino-British agreement of 1984 was one of the outstanding diplomatic triumphs of the last century. Without a shot being fired, a major problem left over from history was resolved smoothly. An island seized by force during China’s long period of weakness, as part of a war over the right to sell opium, was returned to its rightful owner. China’s resumption of the exercise of sovereignty was therefore historically inevitable and morally just. It is also irreversible. And it is worth celebrating, even if a case can be made that a budget of over HK$600 million was a bit over the top.
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Those dreaming of a different future for Hong Kong – restored to Britain as some flag wavers wish, or as an independent state as some idealists urge – show every sign of having smoked illicit substances. These options are simply not on the table. We are part of China now and forever, and what we should focus on is making the best of the situation, in particular defending “one country, two systems” with all our energy. Denying “one country” is hardly a good way to start.
I would like to come back to the point about courtesy. Xi is the president of China. We may not like the one-party political system he heads, we may not like some aspects of the central government’s policy towards Hong Kong. But it is an honour for us that our head of state is here to celebrate the return of Hong Kong, and to swear in the new SAR government. It is elementary good manners to show him some respect for the position he holds. That does not mean we all subscribe to communist policies and theories, or we agree with everything the central government does. It just means we respect the office, which we should.
Bear in mind also the position of our new chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. July 1 was her first day of office. She needs our goodwill and support if she is to be successful over the next five years, but we also need hers. Shouldn’t that include letting her get off to a good start? After all, many of the things we want will require her to persuade Beijing to go along with her plans. How much more, or less, persuasive will she be if the president’s visit goes smoothly, or is marred by demonstrations getting out of hand?
These are some of the adult questions our young political leaders need to be asking themselves. So far, unfortunately, they seem more concerned with getting themselves on the main television news and the front pages of newspapers. It is time they grew up.
Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises. [email protected]