Lau Nai-keung was a man of conviction
- Lau, who died this week, was usually described as “pro-Beijing” or “pro-China”
- Far from an opportunist, he believed in democratic reform in Hong Kong but did not think it could be achieved without Beijing’s backing
Love him or hate him, Lau Nai-keung was a man of conviction. One of the first Hong Kong people to join the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in the 1980s, the top advisory body to the central government, Lau, who died this week after a long battle with cancer aged 71, was usually described as “pro-Beijing” or “pro-China”.
Opposition critics have used such labels to taint opponents as opportunists. But Lau truly believed in the political stances he took, the commitments he made and the views he expressed, through countless newspaper columns, written in English and Chinese. You could argue with him, consider his views silly or wise, but never doubt that he believed in every word he said or wrote.
If for nothing else but simply as a fellow columnist, I found his mastery of both languages wholly admirable and an example to Hong Kong people. He showed why as Hongkongers, we should all be able to write competently in both languages, and speak well in English, Cantonese and Mandarin.
It’s a sad commentary on the current state of Hong Kong that some university students, through misguided anti-China sentiments, have made it a political issue to reject having to learn Mandarin. It’s doubly ironic when many such “localist” activists speak better Mandarin than English.
Lau had been a member of the Basic Law Committee since 2007, and his term was renewed for another five years this summer. Given his outspokenness against both the pan-democrats and the more recent localist radicals, it’s easy to forget that he was one of the founders of the Meeting Point, which merged with the United Democrats to become the Democratic Party before the handover. He was a patriot first, a democrat second; and a Chinese as well as a Hongkonger.
He believed in democratic reform in Hong Kong but did not think it could be achieved without Beijing’s backing. That was why he broke with the Meeting Point, which supported the last governor Chris Patten’s unilateral but limited electoral reform against British agreements already reached with Beijing.
As it is, far more seats in the legislature today are directly elected than anything achieved under Patten; and the Election Committee that picks the chief executive, while not fully democratic, is much more representative than the way Britain chose its colonial governors.
So far, Lau has been proved right against his former democratic colleagues.