Early in the morning of 11 October, before the opening session of Legco was due to begin, the citizens of Hong Kong could enjoy the prospect of two young people taking their seats in the chamber as representatives of a new generation of politicians. While there were concerns expressed in pro-establishment circles about the nature and extent of their localism, there was no serious opposition to the two of them taking seats that had been conclusively won in a democratic election.
And then the newly elected duo, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, screwed up, spectacularly, embarrassingly, pathetically. Their oath taking was a joke and everything collapsed into chaos.
There is no point here in revisiting the sequence of events, the Beijing interpretation of the Basic Law, the Government’s application for a judicial review, the other judicial reviews pending, the demonstrations against the interpretation, and the demonstrations against any notion of Hong Kong’s independence from China, and the storming of Legco.
As of this writing, Leung and Yau are appealing against their disqualification from Legco, and the announcements of by-elections to replace them are on hold until their status has been clarified. Also pending is the fate of sundry pan-democrats who may or may not be disqualified on the grounds that their oath taking in the past had not been up today’s freshly minted standards.
There are no winners in these circumstances.
Beijing would no doubt prefer to focus its attention on the consequences of the Trump triumph in the US presidential elections and how best to deal with them. In the eyes of many people in Hong Kong, Legco will have further confirmed its title of the rubbish council, as it is colloquially known. Those who voted for Leung and Yau are likely to find themselves voting again at by-elections for fresh candidates. Many people have been repelled by the behavior of Leung and Yau; others are bemused; and many will be deeply concerned about Beijing’s increasingly conspicuous interventions in Hong Kong’s domestic affairs.
And on top of that, the campaigns of prospective candidates for Chief Executive in the 2017 elections are already looking acrimonious and negative.
Political relations between Hong Kong and Beijing are locked into a negative pattern: pan-democrats and their supporters push back against Beijing – as in the rejection of Article 45 legislation to allow a circumscribed public vote in the 2017 election – and Beijing pushes back in turn through interventions. And now Leung and Yau have jointly precipitated the latest crisis. It is a process that allows no compromise or accommodation. It is guaranteed to end badly. Relations need a reset.
The core questions are: how may the process be interrupted or even reversed? Or is the damage to Hong Kong/Beijing relations irreparable? Somebody, some people, need to cry enough and attempt to create a more constructive pattern of behavior. Who those people should be and how they should go about it is considered below.
First, Beijing is not going to take such an initiative. It will only respond to somebody else’s initiative, one hopes.
Beijing will not make the first move because it will look like weakness, especially after ex-Presidential candidate and now US Senator, Marco Rubio, announced he would introduce a bill in the Senate to protect Hong Kong’s one country two systems status and the HKSAR’s fledgling democracy; and this around the time he was photographed shaking hands with Joshua Wong.
The first move has to come from Legco, namely the pan-democrats and the localists, who have been the core of the opposition to the Hong Kong Government and Beijing. Who among them that leader will be only they can decide. No obvious candidate springs to mind. These are the considerations that should drive them:
- In any discussion or dispute with Beijing they are the weak participants. The implicit assumption that appeared to underlie their campaign for ‘universal suffrage’ above and beyond what was allowed in the Basic Law, was that they could campaign, demonstrate and bully their way to success. Inevitably, they lost what was obviously a one-time, take or leave it deal. This unwelcome insight should influence their future strategy.
- They need to embrace the Basic Law. All of it, not just the bits they like. The Government’s announcement that Article 23 security legislation will be revisited will be an early test. While arguing eloquently (without the support of banners or umbrellas, shouting, or projectiles be they soft, like bananas, or hard, like glass) about the provisions of the bill they should at some point be prepared to vote for it. This may sound like heresy but it is provided for in the Basic Law and any remote chance that democratic development may be revisited will disappear forever if the bill is rejected. More pragmatically, through further interpretations of the Basic Law or even, far worse, more bookseller style incidents, Beijing will somehow get its way if denied Article 23.
- They need a strategy. This means clear policies they can promote or discuss creatively with government. It entails an approach to their work in Legco that is based on principle but exercised through informed discussion and debate. They must distinguish between issues that are critical and others where compromise comes more easily. More talk, less shouting. More persuasion, less anger. Such a strategy is vital. Purely personally, I would be deeply concerned about any democratic development that placed more power and responsibility with Legco as presently constituted.
Somebody, somewhere in the tiny world of Hong Kong politics must cry ‘enough’. The seemingly endless escalation of Hong Kong protest, Beijing intervention can only have one outcome, serious if not terminal damage to Hong Kong’s values and freedoms. Tactics tried so far by Hong Kong’s politicians – protests on the streets, grotesque and inept tantrums and antics in Legco – have achieved very little. They appear to be afflicted with what psychologists refer to as RSDP, or repetitive self-defeating behavior patterns. It is time they broke free for our sake and the future of Hong Kong.