Opening Windows

The verdict is in and it doesn’t make for pleasant reading: everyone is guilty. In the light of recent events, Beijing has spent several months studying Hong Kong’s political experiences over the last two decades from the perspectives of competence and loyalty to the country. The conclusion is devastating: the patriots are not competent and the competent are insufficiently patriotic. Is that assessment too harsh? A little unfair for a few of the players, perhaps, but overall it is not an unreasonable conclusion.

How many times, over the last 20 or so years, have we ordinary Hongkongers – people who love the city with all our hearts and are perfectly comfortable with, indeed welcome, China’s resumption of the exercise of sovereignty – how many times have we gasped aloud at the opportunities missed. Olive branches scorned, chances to demonstrate our support for the country and at the same time to lock in safeguards for Hong Kong’s distinct and precious way of life, all gone to waste.

Why did negotiations on national security legislation break down in 2003? The Article 23 concern group made a lot of progress in securing amendments to the government’s first inadequate draft, there were some difficult areas remaining to be settled, but why did the talks stop, making the huge protest march inevitable? Why was there no follow-up to the one pragmatic compromise on political reform in 2010? Why did the other progressive parties launch savage attacks on the Democratic Party, accusing its members of “selling out” just because they had sat down with the Liaison Office to hammer out a deal? That deterred everyone from future talks, but surely compromise is the very essence of politics.

Why did the pan democrats adhere so fiercely to the “civic nomination” route for chief executive, and why did the administration not sweeten the “choice of three pre-approved candidates” package by offering some concessions elsewhere such as scrapping corporate voting for both Legco and CE? Why did the chief executive not consult properly on her extradition legislation and why was she so slow to withdraw the Bill when it was obvious to all it was dead in the water? Why were traditional opposition leaders so reluctant to condemn acts of outright violence?

There is certainly much blame to share around. But it’s no use crying over spilt milk. We are where we are, the Central People’s Government has lost patience and thrown much of the political structure into the garbage. Whichever way you look at it, this is a major setback for the democratisation of Hong Kong. Some have tried to make the argument that it is necessary to take one step back now in order to move forward in future “along the right path”. Frankly I find that train of thought to be something of a stretch, and like most Hongkongers I will judge its veracity by what happens next.

The exact shape of the reforms we are going to get has not yet emerged, but some of the key aspects are known: the legislature is to be expanded, perhaps to 90 members, but the number of directly elected seats will be reduced; incredibly, functional constituencies – that anachronistic holdover more suited to the 19th century -- will be retained; there will be a large new slug of members to be selected by the Election Committee. That body’s representativeness was already questionable, an assessment that is unlikely to be enhanced by the removal of district councillors who were at least elected by ordinary people.

An augmented role for Hong Kong members of the National People’s Congress and representatives on the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee is expected which is bound to draw more attention to them and the activities of their members from the SAR. I suspect most Hongkongers have paid little attention to these two bodies up to now, but that surely has to change.

Fortunately there is an informative Wikipedia entry which explains our part in the NPC. Hong Kong has 36 members chosen by an electoral college of 1989 persons, comprising members of the previous electoral college, plus CPPCC members, plus Election Committee members, and the chief executive. The entry names them and details the percentage of support each candidate attracted in the selection process. Bearing in mind the role of the NPC members in shaping the legislature and the Election Committee, there would seem to be quite a degree of overlap. The information is fine as far as it goes, but the list would be strengthened if it included email addresses and contact telephone numbers.

I was not able to source as much information about our part in the CPPCC. There is a story in the local edition of China Daily, from January 2018, saying there are 200 Hong Kong delegates, and providing the names and photos of some of them. I think we now need much more, starting with a bilingual list of all 200 and a clear explanation of procedures for appointment.

Perhaps the Hong Kong members of both bodies could consider issuing regular bilingual reports on their activities for the information of local people. Transparency is the key to earning trust.

We are at a crossroads in our political development. Some will simply quit, either by emigration or by giving up all participation and concentrating on other aspects of their lives. Fair enough, those are choices they are free to make. But for those staying on, with continued interest in remaining involved in civic affairs, then we need the information to play our part.

Our freedoms are something we should all cherish and do our best to protect. We should not allow them to weaken or lapse for want of interest or effort.