Pan-dems are patriots too in Beijing’s book

The recent comments of liaison office chief Wang Zhimin show Beijing has accepted the legitimacy and indeed necessity of the traditional opposition

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 4:16am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 4:19am

Organisers of the annual June 4 marches were once branded subversive by Beijing, now they are patriots. What strange bedfellows cross-border politics makes!

More than 1,000 marchers took part in Sunday’s rally ahead of the 29th anniversary of the Chinese military’s bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

They were led by pan-democrats such as Albert Ho Chun-yan, chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, and Leung Yiu-chung, the unionist lawmaker.

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They also carried giant banners calling for an end to “one-party political monopoly”, a slogan which some Hong Kong advisers to Beijing and mainland officials have considered grounds enough to disqualify its advocates from running in local elections.

Those friends of Beijing may have jumped the gun. The demand for an end to one-party rule is a corollary of the traditional pan-democrats’ quest for democracy on the mainland; or multi-party electoral competition as opposed to one-party rule.

It is to be distinguished from calling an end to the Communist Party, as advocated by such groups as the Falun Gong.

If that is sufficient grounds for disqualification, then the whole opposition would go under. Surely Beijing is smart enough to know it needs mainstream pan-democratic opposition to maintain the political legitimacy and international standing of the current system of government in Hong Kong.

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That’s why the speech by Beijing’s liaison office chief Wang Zhimin to legislators a month ago is important.

First, he praised Ho, as well as other mainstream pan-democrats such as James To Kun-sun, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung and Joseph Lee Kok-long, for their patriotism. This was considered a surprising move by some.

The usual take is that Beijing is trying to drive a wedge between pan-democrats and radical localists or separatists. But there is a simple reason. If you are a patriot, it means you accept China’s sovereignty, regardless of your stance on communist rule.

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This brings us to the second point that Wang made: his argument that the notion of “one-party dictatorship” is misstated by the opposition.

Let’s not get bogged down by his references to the Chinese constitution and proletarian dictatorship.

What is important is that Wang tried to explain away the “one-party rule” issue rather than citing its opposition as grounds for electoral dismissal or disqualification in Hong Kong. Over time, Beijing has accepted the legitimacy and indeed necessity of the traditional pan-democratic opposition.