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Chief Executive Carrie Lam arrives for a question and answer session at the Legislative Council in Admiralty on October 17, a day after she had to deliver her annual policy address via video link, as proceedings in the chamber had become too chaotic. Photo: Nora Tam

LettersHong Kong’s future lies in the political arena, not in street protests

  • Hong Kong has paid a heavy price for the protests. Meanwhile, political polarisation means it has not fully utilised the power of the Legislative Council
  • The quest for political reform must not sacrifice Hong Kong’s advantage as a bridge to the mainland
Hong Kong is a “world city” that is both part of and separate from China. But ideological differences have caused a political stalemate and hampered the government’s ability to address social issues, with the latest contest between pro-establishment and pro-democracy camps centred on Hong Kong’s autonomy under “ one country, two systems”.
Entering into 2020, political battles in the Legislative Council remain intense. With increased anti-China rhetoric and appeals for foreign intervention, the possibility for rational and dignified debate is remote.

With the anti-government protests often turning violent, we must assess the consequences. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned the pan-democrats are, ignoring the city’s geopolitical reality and its interdependent relationship with China may create further political crises and push the city past the point of no return.

To break the impasse, we must first recognise the harm seven months of political violence have caused. Hong Kong is experiencing its first recession in a decade. The damage to public facilities, including MTR stations and the Legislative Council building, will cost billions to repair. The poor are getting poorer, unemployment is on the rise and a growing number of people are showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Today, our society is divided into different “colours”, with people afraid to speak freely. Society at large is paying the price. Western media celebrated a political awakening, but now, with the protests fading from the latest news cycle, Hongkongers are left to pick up the pieces.

To make informed decisions about the political future of our city, we must let history serve as a guide. The British parliament has shaped the political systems of many of the empire’s ex-colonies, including Hong Kong.

Legco has been home to groundbreaking change and spirited debate. Today, Hong Kong has a “hybrid” democratic system, part constituent and part representative, with the number of geographical constituency legislators increasing progressively, from 20 in 1998 to 35 at present.

However, in a highly politicised environment, the benefits of these reforms remain to be seen. In 2015, the pan-democrats vetoed an electoral reform package that moved towards universal suffrage for the chief executive and Legco elections.

Any political system must first focus on the interests of its own people. For example, Britain is a representative democracy that ensures all segments of society are represented. This is ever more practical in today’s era of fragmented online news, allowing for comprehensive deliberation and avoiding the impulsive decision-making that characterises populism.

Is populism the way out and forward for Hong Kong?

In Hong Kong, a careful review of the political reform agenda is needed, to provide “as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder”, as US founding father Alexander Hamilton put it.

Despite the ideological divide between Hong Kong and the mainland, Hong Kong has long functioned as a bridge to mainland China for the world. We must see this as an opportunity. Any political reform should not undermine the city’s strategic advantage and interests.

To break the impasse, we should look to realistic solutions, with intellectual courage and imagination in the political arena.

Jing Lee, Hong Kong