Hong Kong Economic Journal
2nd February, 2015
US’ Strategy on Hong Kong May Bring Negative Impact
By Lam Hang Chi
Translated by T
Mark Twain said “Loyalty to the country always; loyalty to the government, when it deserves it”. Perhaps this quote from the last century brings more resonance now than ever.
Since the beginning of the first round of Public Consultation on Hong Kong’s political reform last year, “patriotic and Hong Kong-loving” as a criterion of chief executive candidates has been heavily stressed. On the face of it this criterion seems harmless. However, given that “patriotic and Hong Kong-loving” cannot be defined and is subject to the interpretation of the Chinese officials, a plethora of contradicting definitions arise, which are highlighting the ideological differences between the Hong Kong and China. Hong Kong and China were historically separated, hence Hongkongers’ understanding of China, the Central Government, and the SAR government is complicated.
Tradition has it that, like all other democratic societies, retired government officials in Hong Kong refrained from commenting on their successors. Yet the Hong Kong SAR government has recently set a bizarre trend: where one who does not hold an official position speaks in support of the Chief Executive (Hong Kong’s ‘president’).
On 16 January, two days after the 2015 Policy Address was delivered, Tung Chee-hwa, who fell three years short of his ten-year term as Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR, called a press conference on the Policy Address. Tung gave his approval to CY Leung, and praised his latest Policy Address, saying that it is in line with the people’s views, has a clear vision and is pragmatic (this completely contradicts the general public’s opinion). He then assumed a “boss of the city” position and called upon pan-democrats to support the 2017 Chief Executive election proposal. According to Tung, who is the vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a rubber-stamp body of the Communist Party, he learned from the pan-Dems that the root of their “anti-communism” stance stemmed from the Tiananmen Square Massacre, A view he described as ‘outdated’. China, he said, has changed drastically over the years and the pan-Dems should be more open-minded and change their “anti-communist” stance – he said that it is more appropriate for them to abandon their “anti-communist” views, as they have never had an actual anti-communist strategy. He added that an “anti-communist” mentality brings ‘deadly consequences’ to the individual espousing them, and to Hong Kong, and that one should be prudent when mentioning it.
After the press conference, Tung, who is almost eighty years old, was busy with the third conference of his brainchild, the “Our Hong Kong Foundation”. The organisation’s logo resembles the Chinese character “Good”. So in terms of the character or implication, the “good” is in fact good, though it reminds us of something 20 years ago: the “Better Hong Kong Foundation” was established around 20 years ago. Almost all prominent figures in Hong Kong were recruited as trustees (the character “會” was later dropped from the full Chinese name 香港明天會更好基金; the name changed to reflect the idea that “Hong Kong will be better in the future” should be replaced by “Hong Kong is better in the future”). Has that group ever contributed to how Hong Kong could be “better”? The general public does not seem to have any clue. Would the “good” element of this Our Hong Kong Foundation have layers of interests with the “Better Hong Kong Foundation, like the “love” groups that appeared since last year (e.g. the notorious Voice of Loving Hong Kong and Caring Hong Kong Power)? Or is it an opportunistic move to rally main figures from all camps for new “financial sponsors”? This is the subject of endless speculation. Though under the “no sponsorship no talk” backdrop, those choose to contribute should only consider how deep they will go down the hole, as pragmatism and integrity are all but outdated in these times.
Peking’s “double whammy” last summer – the “White Paper” and “31 August framework” – has already incapacitated “Two Systems” and knocked out “high-level of autonomy” with close to no effort. Whether to support China’s directive in overriding Hong Kong or to safeguard Hong Kong’s basic rights became the two opposing positions, and when they collided the resulting political reality divided the City into two conflicting camps. The hostility between these two camps in mass movements has already destroyed the spirit of the Basic Law.
Since the end of the Umbrella Revolution, many have felt a sense of general decline. Li Yuanchao, Vice President of China and the Central Coordination Group of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, claimed in the general meeting of the All-China Federation of United Chinese on 21st January that, the “struggle” against Occupy Central (although very few in Hong Kong would use this term to describe this political movement) has just begun, and we should “expect a climax” soon… many of us are bewildered as to what “soon” or “climax” mean in this context, few have associated it with the “foreign intervention” implication.
The Wall Street Journal featured an article on 31st January in its column page titled “A useful Hong Kong Rebuke: China’s betrayal of its promise becomes a US political issue”. The article pointed out that the Obama administration deliberately distanced itself from China’s limitation on Hong Kong’s democracy, and by describing it as the business of Hong Kong and China, it implies that Hong Kong people still have a say. Politicians almost always yield to economic and financial interests, but a cross-party Congressional committee has been lobbying for the “Hong Kong human rights and democracy act” which is expected to be passed. The committee pressurises the US government (The Department of State) to submit a report annually on Hong Kong’s implementation of democracy and to monitor and support the city’s democratisation process.
The new bill also aims to amend the United States–Hong Kong Policy Act 1992. Under this act, the US treats Hong Kong differently to China, where the former is treated with higher degree of openness and tolerance. With the new bill, the Department of State will be required by the Congress to report on Hong Kong’s situation annually, and has the right to revoke Hong Kong’s privileges, such as a relatively flexible export restrictions or visa-free inbound entrance – treatments that the US has yet to offer to China – if Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is no longer practiced. This Wall Street Journal article even stated that Hong Kong issue could be a debate topic in the 2016 Presidential Election!
Some see the US Congress’ move as a way to pressure China to get back on track and observe its responsibilities under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law (i.e. fewer blatant attempts at threatening Hong Kong’s democratisation, and reducing or eliminating its high degree of autonomy). However, given that China totally disregarded the large scale struggle for “genuine universal suffrage” last year, in which many Hongkongers (including many schoolchildren) took part, and further supported the SAR government in tackling its “dissidents” (i.e. protesters), it is almost certain that China will stop “genuine universal suffrage” from happening in Hong Kong. China’s determination in forcing its version of “universal suffrage” (i.e. the 31/August framework) can be explained easily: what Hongkongers view as their well-deserved political rights are viewed by China as a hostile challenge to the regime, and as foreign intervention – and any opposition to The Central Government is a cardinal sin. With our students’ advocacy labelled “pro-independence”, China’s officials on Hong Kong affairs consequently joined force with the SAR government and act as they please, and Hong Kong’s voice, though not that of every citizen, is discarded entirely.
Since China rises as the international Nouveau Riche, it is not short of understanding the power of money, and has been implementing their new “national essence” – money solves all problems – like an expert on the international stage. In the past, Hong Kong acted as China’s lifeline in terms of diplomacy and trade (including smuggling of sensitive resources from the 1950s to the 1970s). But now China no longer needs Hong Kong’s favour on any of these. No matter the US Congress’ intentions, this bill will only do harm to Hong Kong while posing no threat to China. If the US’ preferential treatment halts, the basis of Hong Kong as an international city could be lost forever. But in the eyes of the Chinese government, this may mean even less than Li Ka-shing pulling investments out of China. All Peking cares about is Hong Kong’s total submission to its control: Hong Kong’s dire situation and living environment is of no importance to them.
The out-there recruiting and forum-holding organisation claiming to unite Hong Kong is the Our Hong Kong Foundation headed by Tung Chee-hwa himself. We could expect the US Congress’ move to be on this foundation’s agenda. Perhaps it will wait until receiving the CCP’s orders. Is this bill a matter of Chinese diplomatic affairs or is it a burning issue that can impact the interests of Hong Kong? The definition depends on the real motive of this foundation. Since it claims to strive for “unity”, it is illogical to only include those of similar views and interests, rather, people of all backgrounds should be included, where people could work out a solution and path that is reasonable, realistic, and accepted by most parties. Yet during the Foundation’s third meeting, the foundation’s Vice Executive Director, Lee Ho-yin, stressed that “the key for recruitment is having a same vision” when asked whether pan-Democrats would be invited to join the foundation. It seems that the Our Hong Kong Foundation has no intention to make Hong Kong “Ours”, but rather a tool for gathering support for Peking’s directives, thus forcing our citizens to abandon all “unrealistic fantasies”. In this framework, this is merely uniting one group while marginalising the other, and is going to create an even more polarised Hong Kong.