Part of the reason Hong Kong’s politics are in such a mess is that the issues are in play at multiple levels. So when the various parties discourse, they do so on different planes which makes it more likely they will simply talk past each other.
Take the latest decision by American president Donald Trump instructing the military pension fund there not to buy investment products which include Chinese companies. Clearly this is part of the geopolitical power struggle between the two countries which is likely to dominate world politics for the remainder of the century. This move is just the latest chapter in the tussle, following on from Trump’s imposition of tariffs, bans on sale of advanced technology products, closer scrutiny of proposed Chinese investments into the United States, the effort to keep Huawei out of the world telecommunications infrastructure etc.
The rhetoric will only get worse in the run-up to the presidential election in November as Trump and Democratic party nominee Joe Biden vie with each other to secure the mantle of “toughest on China”. There is even talk of trying to remove sovereign immunity so American states and individuals can sue China for compensation over perceived responsibility for spread of the coronavirus. Hong Kong is not a player in this game, we are simply a pawn to be used by America wherever and however possible as a stick with which to beat the enemy. We are, after all, from a macro perspective irrevocably part of China.
Yet here in Hong Kong the focus of politics is almost purely on the local, micro level. Thus we have Dennis Kwok Wing Hang, as chairman pro tem of the legislative council house committee, with the support of his pan democratic colleagues, successfully obstructing government business for seven months. Partly the aim has been to prevent enactment of the national anthem legislation, but also to promote the pan dem agenda. The pro government DAB has now wrested back control, but the bitterness lingers.
Meanwhile, with the COVID 19 pandemic largely subdued for the moment, the demonstrators are back on the streets and in the shopping malls pushing for their demands to be met. Apart from a few crackpots who think our city could under any scenario become independent, the focus is overwhelmingly local. Both the pan dems and the demonstrators look upon the USA as a friend in their struggle, apparently oblivious of the bigger picture. While Beijing with its predominantly international outlook sees Hong Kong as vulnerable to outside interference and those opposition elements as a potentially dangerous fifth column.
With the perspectives and perceptions so different, it is vital that the SAR government step up to the plate, and provide both strategic thinking and leadership. Alas there is no evidence of either.
The approach to legco matters seems to be to simply pray the results in September will not be a disaster for pro government candidates. While for the demonstrators the “policy” seems to be to let the police keep arresting people until the youngsters run out of puff.
The fact is there are legitimate local concerns that the government here is simply not addressing. The most obvious one is the need for an independent statutory commission of inquiry into the whole extradition saga. How did the government get the politics so wrong. How did a respected police force become the subject of widespread public contempt. Why did a famously peaceful community suddenly start throwing petrol bombs? These and other questions are crying out for proper answers. No wonder the idea of an independent commission has 80 per cent public support according to opinion surveys. The government has not advanced a single cogent reason why one should not be established, though there have been some dark hints to the effect that the police wouldn’t like it.
In the absence of a government proposal, let me try my hand. Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao Li is set to retire next January. Why don’t we ask him to stay on to head such an enquiry while his successor takes up the judicial portfolio. An announcement now to this effect would surely take a lot of heat out of the situation, and allow tempers to cool. The work would likely take at least two years, so it would be 2023 before anyone had to face the music. And if someone of Ma’s impeccable track record is not acceptable to any party, then maybe it is time for the authorities to stand firm.
Then there is the question of meaningful political reform which has been a political football here for as long as I can remember. It is no use constantly repeating the mantra about “the British did nothing for 150 years, the Joint Declaration is silent, only the Basic Law mentions the concept of universal suffrage” and so on. The fact is there is a natural aspiration and expectation that by now we would have a chief executive elected by all the people of Hong Kong, and scrutinized by a representative legislature. We have neither. Once again the government seems bereft of ideas so here is my two penn’orth. Since no one in the administration has the stature or inclination, why don’t we ask a respected outsider to come up with a road map to take Hong Kong forward. The name of Jasper Tsang Yok Sing springs to mind. A co-founder of the DAB, a former Legco president, a good understanding of local sentiment. He could surely be trusted to come up with something practical and appropriate for local circumstances.
The main point is this: the fact that there is a geopolitical struggle likely to run for decades should not be allowed to prevent us from addressing important local issues in a timely manner. If anybody needs me, I’ll be polishing my manifesto for 2022.