If the polls are to be believed, Hong Kong’s “pro-democracy” or “pan-democracy” groups, Occupy Central and the Umbrella Movement, could be labeled as “fake” democrats.
Anson Chan was called an “instant democrat,” because she became one only after she was rejected as a candidate for the Special Administrative Region’s (SAR) Chief Executive. Chan was a champion and chief administrator of the undemocratic British colonial government. But once Hong Kong was returned to China, she suddenly acquired a “democratic conscious,” criticizing the mainland as authoritarian and demanding universal suffrage.
Martin Lee was said to be a model “compradore collaborator,” being rewarded with titles such as Queen’s Counsel, Justice of the Peace and others for his devotion and allegiance to the UK. However, Lee was (and still is) called a “traitor” by most Hong Kong people because he went overseas (to the US, UK and Canada) to lobby governments to pressure China to give Hong Kong “democracy.” Further, none of the pan-democrats demanded universal suffrage or democracy when Hong Kong was a British colony. Indeed, most, if not all, of them were said to be obedient “British” subjects, helping the UK to govern the Chinese in Hong Kong. Ironically, however, the British were downright insulting, calling them “compradore collaborators” who enriched and empowered themselves by working for the UK.
It is difficult to estimate the number of people in Hong Kong supporting the government and accusing the “pro-democracy” activists of being “fakes,” but a clear majority appears to harbor that view. The Alliance for Peace and Democracy, formed in 2014 by a group composed of 40 pro-Beijing groups and individuals, mounted three separate signature-gathering campaigns. It claimed over 1.5 million people signed a petition demanding the government remove the “democracy” protesters. A 2016 Chinese University of Hong Kong poll showed 17% supported independence from China, nearly 60% opposed independence and 23% were “ambivalent.”
Has China stepped back from its commitments under the “one country, two systems” architecture?
Hong Kong pan-democrats complained that China is not living up to its Basic Law (the SAR’s mini-constitution guaranteeing the status quo for 50 years except in the areas of national defense and foreign affairs) obligation to implement “universal suffrage” in choosing the chief executive. On this issue, the reader can decide for himself/herself if China has not lived up to its obligation on the issue. Article 45 of the Basic Law states the conditions for electing the Chief Executive:
- The Chief Executive … shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People’s Government.”
- “The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in light of the actual situation in the HKSAR and in accordance with the principle and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”
A timetable for electoral reform on electing the legislature (2016) and chief executive (2017) by universal suffrage was shelved because of controversial remarks on who should or can be appointed as chief executive. China insisted that the Chief Executive “love Hong Kong and China” and “not oppose the Central government.” The Alliance for True Democracy in Hong Kong demanded unconditional universal suffrage. Neither side was willing to compromise, thus election of the Chief Executive by functional constituencies (representing major segments of Hong Kong: education, legal, manufacturing, etc.) remains.
Why do a small number of Hong Kong people prefer British authoritarianism to the communist Chinese kind?
On human rights – freedom of expression and speech, etc – most people in Hong Kong would agree that they are more free now than they were under British colonial rule, suggesting that the colonial government would not tolerate protests against the British Crown or any disruption of the territory’s economy and civil society. Their view is based on the colonial government crushing an anti-colonial protest in 1966. Moreover, a former British colonial official who stayed and worked for the SAR said that China interferes with the territory less than the UK did. Last but not least, the “pro-democracy” activists themselves proved that freedoms of assembly, expression and movement are alive and well in the SAR.
Confused identity and fresh memory of communist persecution
The troublesome question is: why do a small number of Hong Kong people prefer British authoritarianism to the communist Chinese kind? The true answer may never be known but two theories emerged. One, after 150 years of colonial rule, some in Hong Kong believe that they have more in common with their colonial masters than with the mainland Chinese. A few kids in the Umbrella Movement protests even proclaimed to the Western media that they look more “British” than Chinese. Moreover, the colonial government revised the territory’s education system in the 1980s, making Chinese history courses extremely difficult to pass. The obsession with getting high marks precluded many from taking these courses, diluting their understanding of Chinese history and culture. Two, memories of communist persecution remain fresh in the minds of some of the victims who escaped the mainland. Their horrible experiences of torture and humiliation at the hands of local officials and fellow villagers have made them deeply hostile to communism.
Judging from a survey of comments made in Hong Kong newspaper reports and the views expressed by its expat community in Canada, as well as those of pan-democrats inside and outside the Legislative Council and the Umbrella Movement, “pro-democracy” groups are steadily losing support. They are castigated for being disruptive and trying to destabilize Hong Kong and mainland China. Further, the “pro-democracy” activists have yet to produce a viable alternative economic and political platform. Without popular support, no movement can succeed.
The government should improve its governance and pay more attention to the people. Many in Hong Kong joined in the protests not because they want independence but to voice their concerns about their economic plight. For a start, the government should build more social housing.
Martin Jacques, the author of When China Rules the World, is right: China is Hong Kong’s future. It is an “inalienable” part of China that no organization or individual can change. To that end, both the “pro-democracy” activists and the government have a responsibility to promote, protect and enhance the SAR’s prosperity and stability that the people have worked so hard over the last 150 years to achieve.