How ‘one country, two systems’ is tearing Beijing and Hong Kong further apart
Michael Chugani says cross-party fraternity in Hong Kong politics, as sought by Carrie Lam, is a fantasy, as it would be political suicide for the opposition to cosy up to the establishment in such a polarised society
Remember the fanciful talk just four months ago? We can finally have a grand reconciliation after five dark years of the loathed Leung Chun-ying as chief executive. No more hate talk, political knives and gridlock. Opposition and establishment forces would together heal our split society. That was top of then incoming Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s wish list.
I knew at the time only those living in never-never land would believe in such fantasy. Reconciliation will never happen because Lam’s wish would be a death wish for the opposition. That’s why even her charm offensive didn’t win her a political honeymoon.
Don’t be lulled into thinking last week’s overtures by some opposition legislators signalled an end to acrimony with the establishment.
To understand why it’s political suicide for the opposition to cosy up to the establishment, we must first accurately define its members. We have inaccurately labelled them as pan-democrats or pro-democracy. They are the opposition and will remain so in perpetuity under our executive-led government.
When the constitution doesn’t allow you a crack at governing, the only path to votes in a highly polarised society is to oppose.
Our first post-handover chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, found that out the hard way.
A businessman turned political leader who foolishly believed Hongkongers would patriotically unite upon freedom from the chains of colonial rule, he was driven from office when half a million took to the streets.
Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who replaced Tung, tried reconciliation too, by successfully persuading Beijing to take a first step towards democratising Hong Kong, with five so-called super seats in the Legislative Council elected through one person, one vote.
Not only did the opposition reject that as political trickery, they also demonised the Democratic Party as traitorous for sealing the deal with Beijing.
When Leung replaced Tsang, he reached out too – by offering dialogue with opposition political parties. Not only were his offers spurned, thousands marched to call for him to be ousted on the day he was sworn in.
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Leung quickly realised our political system offers no room for meaningful reconciliation. So he governed by playing hardball. That’s why the opposition hates him to this day.
Opposition legislators know how to live the good life with multimillion-dollar pay and perks; all they need are 50,000 or 60,000 core votes to get elected. They know they won’t get it by embracing the national anthem, patriotic education, democracy as defined by Beijing, and joint immigration control at the West Kowloon express rail terminus, or by halting filibustering in Legco.
A loose political grouping of factions, ranging from extreme to moderate, Hong Kong’s opposition can occupy streets, riot, hurl missiles at officials, and advocate independence, yet garner up to 60 per cent of the popular vote.
To understand why, we must accept that the fault line of our polarised society lies not in Hong Kong but in the “one country, two systems” formula.
The opposition has successfully planted the impression that the formula is now failing to protect our core values, and that it alone can defend our way of life. The people are so overcome by the fear of Beijing tightening its grip that the opposition was even able to gain political mileage from opposing the live broadcast in classrooms of mainland official Li Fei’s speech on the Basic Law, and mainland immigration officials staying overnight at the express rail terminus.
Our chief executive is supposed to serve two masters. Beijing says it is master number one. Our opposition says Beijing is master number two under “one country, two systems”. A communist regime as sovereign of a free society – paramount leader Deng Xiaoping believed it could work. After 20 years of reunification, the formula is fraying.
The two sides are just too different. It is a Hong Kong tragedy. Maybe in time, enough people will wake up and see the reality that we must seduce rather than spurn Beijing. An embattled Carrie Lam said last week the sun will soon come out after the rain. No, it won’t.
Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host