The Colour Purple

For those of us fed up with or simply weary from 11 weeks of demonstrations, negative publicity and lost business, there is both good news and bad news. The good news is that the calendar has now given us a firm deadline: we are just five weeks away from celebrating the 70th birthday of the People’s Republic of China. The bad news is that we need to address the underlying issues quickly and much more effectively than we have done up to now so as not to spoil the party.

As a first step, we need to understand that the protesters are not a monolithic group, but rather a main body with a number of separate strands added on or blended in. The vast majority of protesters have, from the beginning, been the ordinary men and women of Hong Kong outraged that a significant and potentially dangerous piece of legislation was going to be rammed through an unrepresentative legislature after cursory public consultation and without even the fig leaf scrutiny of a Bills Committee. In the front of their minds, therefore, has been the need to stop a particular act by the government and to change our political structure to reduce the chances of such things happening again.

Various other pressure groups have sought to attach themselves to these legitimate grievances and take advantage of the momentum generated. Prominent among these have been the tiny minority who pursue the quixotic objective of independence or its half-brother self-determination. Such an objective is practically impossible and not in Hong Kong’s best interests. Those who advocate it are deceiving Hong Kong people, but they have successfully hijacked the legitimate movement to some extent. Evidence of this is support for the “human chain” idea reminiscent of the Baltic states move to declare themselves free of Russian control in 1989. Hong Kong’s best future is to secure one country two systems up to and even beyond the promised 2047 date. We have the way of life we want. The right course is to strive to make it last as long as possible. Permanently has a nice ring to it.

Next up is another small group which seems to see salvation in securing support from foreign governments. Quite what they expect these governments to do is unclear. There is no prospect whatsoever of them taking proactive steps at the expense of their own peoples’ interests. So what is the use of running off to Washington and Westminster and meeting senior officials in a high profile manner? And how do they think such actions are perceived in Beijing when the country is embroiled in a trade war that has now spilled over into a wider struggle? Is it really worthwhile to be seen consorting with the country’s competitors in order to secure a handful of supportive noises and some photo opportunities?

Finally there are the hard core troublemakers just looking for a fight with someone. What could be better than infiltrating a legitimate protest march and lobbing a few bricks at some policemen?

The main challenge for our government in the next few weeks is to satisfy the reasonable demands of the mainstream and separate them from the fringe groups. Without the camouflage of ordinary families to hide behind, the latter will either fade away or quickly be dealt with by the police. So what are the reasonable demands, and how can they be met?

Someone in a position of authority over the extradition legislation has got to rinse their mouth and utter the word “Withdraw”. The refusal to do so even after so many weeks is simply bizarre and generates undue suspicion where none need exist.

Secondly, the administration needs to acknowledge that the whole episode has demonstrated the case for political reform to move ahead urgently. The minister for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs can be directed to draw up, within this calendar year, a package covering both the system for nominating and electing the chief executive, and substantive reform of the Legislative Council. The package would then be discussed with the community and the Central People’s Government in the first half of next year. The announcement does not have to be too specific about outcomes of the process, other than to promise that the next chief executive will be elected by universal suffrage and the changes to Legco will make it more representative by reforming the Functional Constituencies.

The next issue is the proposed establishment of an independent Commission of Enquiry headed by a High Court Judge. Whenever the idea is floated, the chief executive points to the investigation being conducted by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC). Its chairman, Anthony Neoh, gave an important interview to this newspaper last week in which he explicitly suggested the prospect of a COI should not be ruled out. It could be considered once the situation in the community had calmed down. This is an extremely helpful suggestion by the chairman as it gives the administration the political cover to step back from the absolute position adopted at the beginning. “Never” can slide into “Yes, at an appropriate time”.

As regards resignation of key officials, this topic can perhaps be revisited when the outcome of the various reviews is known. Similarly, the suggestion of amnesties or pardons can be swept up in the idea of a reconciliation exercise.

The key point is this: it would be a shame for the whole nation if celebration of an important milestone in our history were overshadowed by widespread protest demonstrations in Hong Kong. Our government must give sufficient ground to the legitimate requests of the mainstream protesters to ensure this doesn’t happen.