Prominent businessman Shih Wing-ching is usually credited with coining the phrase “pocket first’ in reference to accepting the restricted framework on universal suffrage imposed by Beijing. In the event, pan-democrats in the legislature voted down the government’s electoral reform package in 2015.
Shih didn’t know how prescient he was. And pan-dems and their diehard supporters still won’t admit how foolish they had been. But many people had already warned at the time that rejecting the reform package meant the end of the road for democratic development in Hong Kong for a long time to come.
This view turned out to be completely correct, but was wilfully ignored even by some very smart and informed pan-dems.
“No outsider can know for sure what the latest constitutional change in China will mean,” wrote James Fallows of The Atlantic news magazine, one of the most fair-minded Western observers on China today. “Probably no one inside China can be sure, either.”
But we do know what it will mean for Hong Kong: the hard line taken by Beijing on Hong Kong will continue, and possibly even toughen. The city’s limited democratic system cannot be reformed any time soon. But at least we can aim to maintain the status quo and not give Beijing reasons to interfere.
But now they can, since localist radicals have effectively been banned from running in Legco elections. If protecting Hong Kong’s interests means teaming up with pro-establishment parties to isolate and contain radical localist groups, they may have to bite the bullet.
Pan-dems should have the courage to declare that whatever you call it, self-determination or independence is a dead-end agenda; worse, it’s wholly self-destructive for Hong Kong to pursue. After all, it is our constitutional duty under the Basic Law to maintain China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and to realise universal suffrage in Hong Kong. This way, we may yet earn back Beijing’s goodwill, and lay the groundwork for future political reform.