Golden Bauhina

Well here is a sentiment I could never foresee myself thinking let alone putting down on paper, but here goes: I completely agree with Elizabeth Quat Pui Fan.

A group of protesters led by Joshua Wong Chi Fung of Demosisto went to the Golden Bauhinia statue in Wanchai last week and draped a black cloth over it. The member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong described his action as "childish and disrespectful". Indeed it was.

The group said that their purpose was to protest against the central government’s grip against civil society. They also called on local people to turn out for the annual protest March on 1 July and voice out their desire for democracy. But there can be a difference between the claimed motives of people, and the way their actions are perceived by others. In this case, the express purpose of the statue is to commemorate the reunification of Hong Kong with the motherland. Moreover, as the protesters well knew, president Xi Jinping was scheduled to attend a ceremony on that very spot on Reunification Day.

The protest was therefore likely to be interpreted by Beijing both as an objection to Hong Kong being restored to China and as a deliberate calculated insult to our president. This action was therefore politically counter-productive as well as being ill-mannered.

Bear in mind also that many of the same people were pictured recently in Taiwan cavorting with pro-independence forces on the island. Is it difficult to understand Beijing’s tendency to group the two forces – pro-independence and pro-democracy – together? As former governor Chris Patten – another person I don’t always agree with – said recently, by associating themselves with "localists" and others of similar ilk, those arguing for universal suffrage and more democracy fatally undermine their own cause.

Let us put some facts on the table. The Sino-British agreement of 1984 was one of the outstanding diplomatic triumphs of the last century. Without a shot being fired a major problem left over from history was resolved smoothly. An island seized by force during China’s long period of weakness, as part of a war over the right to sell opium (how strange those words look in the 21st century), was returned to its rightful owner. China’s resumption of the exercise of sovereignty was therefore historically inevitable and morally just. It is also irreversible. And it is worth celebrating, even if a case can be made that a budget of over $600 million was a bit over the top.

Those who dream of a different future for Hong Kong – restored to Britain as some flag wavers would have it, or as an independent state as some idealists urge – show every sign of themselves having smoked illicit substances. These options are simply not on the table. We are a part of China now and forever, and what we should be focused on is making the best of the situation, in particular defending One Country, Two Systems with all our energy. Denying "One Country" is hardly a good way to start.

I would like to come back to the point about courtesy. Mr Xi is the president of China. We may not like the one-party political system which he heads, we may not like some aspects of the central government’s policy towards Hong Kong, and so on. But it is an honour for us that the head of state of our country is coming here to celebrate the return of Hong Kong, and to swear in the new SAR government. It is elementary good manners to show him some respect for the position he holds. That does not mean we all subscribe to communist policies and theories, it does not mean that we agree with everything the central government does. It just means we respect the office, which we should.

We should also bear in mind the position of our new chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet Ngor. July I is her first day of office. She needs our good will and support if she is to be successful over the next five years, but we also need hers if we are to make the best of her term. Shouldn’t that include letting her get off to a good start? After all, many of the things that we want will require her to persuade Beijing to go along with her plans. How much more, or less, persuasive will she be if the president’s visit runs smoothly or is marred by demonstrations getting out of hand.

These are some of the adult questions our young political leaders need to be asking themselves. So far, unfortunately, they seem more concerned with getting themselves on the main television news and the front pages of our newspapers. It is time they grew up.