Message from the Chairman
From the Next Five Years to a more Level-headed Argument for Democracy
The unveiling of Mr. C.H. Tung’s Principal Officials under his new Accountability System and Vice-Premier Qian Qichen statements in the South China Morning Post set the tone for Hong Kong in next five years (SCMP, 26 June 2002).
Mr. Tung should be given some credit for inviting people who have been critical of government policies to become "ministers" in charge of the environment and of education. From 1 July 2002, a team with its power stemming from the Central Government through Mr. Tung will be put in charge of Hong Kong SAR, People’s Republic of China.
But unequivocal statements made by the Vice-Premier in charge of Hong Kong & Macau Affairs on what political reform Hong Kong should avoid dashes hope that we will move closer to a fully and directly elected legislature soon.
Vice-Premier Qian clearly believes that Hong Kong would be better off focusing on the economy and making One-country-two-systems work under Tung’s new team than on destabilising things such as democratic reform. Qian’s comments provoked an angry response from Martin Lee, Chairman of the Democratic Party who pointed out that Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law already promised that the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council will ultimately be elected by universal suffrage.
The next five years
It is worth noting Qian did say that "… democratic development in Hong Kong will have to start from the actual conditions of Hong Kong and proceed step by step." So some changes will be made in the next five years. And clues on the political reform Mr. Tung might have in store for Hong Kong could be found in a speech given by Dr. Edgar Cheng, former head of the Central Policy Unit at the HKDF (see article "Hong Kong – the Next Five Years: Issues and Challenges").
"Hong Kong could not have half of the population who interested in nothing but making money and the other half opposing the government. There must be a middle ground that is willing and capable of contributing to the longer term development of the society", Dr. Cheng said.
Hinting that future ministers might even be recruited and inducted through the Advisory Committees, Dr. Cheng highlighted the importance of future appointment to advisory committees. "The new Principal Officials will be asked to review the functions and make-up of the Advisory Committees under their charge. Changes to these committees will come at different times as individuals will have different priorities. But future chairpersons of these advisory committees should show willingness to serve in Government."
Advisory Committees will become an important vehicle for change in the next five years in Mr. Tung’s political reform agenda. Somehow, they will transform from organs where government officials seek "public endorsements" of their administrative decisions (and sometimes their faults) to the key vehicles through which non-government views are incorporated into the policymaking process.
The HKDF takes the view that Mr. Tung’s Accountability System which promises "half a loaf" – accountability of a kind – while falling short of the "full loaf" of accountability to the people, is a step forward in Hong Kong’s political development. Transforming all the Advisory Committees into vehicles where government policies faces true public scrutiny will not be an easy task. But we did not disagree with what Dr. Cheng said about education, smaller government, efficient markets and that we need to come up with a population policy. We pointed out to Dr. Cheng that Hong Kong is probably more ready than any territory in China to have more democracy. He agreed but frankly remarked to us that some circles he mixed in want a slower pace of democracy.
A splintered pro-democracy camp
The HKDF has always known the barriers to democratic development in Hong Kong. Some members of the business community oppose democracy vehemently. While there is a growing liberal element amongst the younger generation of leaders in Beijing, some people in Hong Kong wants to ensure that they are more "politically correct" than Beijing. To show loyalty and possibly to win favours, this group often second guess the intentions of the Beijing leadership and take two or three steps further backwards than the Beijing leadership on political reforms. They are happy to hide their lack of vision for Hong Kong and for China behind the "Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability" umbrella and would position all reforms initiatives in lights which are detrimental to Hong Kong’s development and to China’s national development.
Many in pro-democracy camp see "democracy" as a safeguards against authoritarian rule and as a way to keep separate China out of Hong Kong. Seeing the decreasing power they have in influencing Hong Kong government policies and that there is no hope to form a government, many fight for democracy out of despair. Some could not distinguish their aspirations for more democracy in Hong Kong from with the cause of for undoing the wrong of "June 4th, 1989". Nearly all in the pro-democracy camp have failed to come up with cohesive and comprehensive policies on how to run the HKSAR as a territory under Chinese rule.
The splintered pro-democracy camp must now give up the "holier than thou" attitude vis-à-vis China, take an audit of the limitations and oppositions they face, and come to a consensus on what shape and paths democratic development in Hong Kong should take.
China and Hong Kong are is one country now and the path taken by the two territories separated by history in the last 150 years must now come closer together. Hong Kong cannot afford to do anything that can be seen by the Beijing leadership as remotely harmful to China. The pro-democracy camp must now start to earn the trust of the Central Government and must try to make a convincing argument that, as China emerges as a member of the international community, an experiment for more democracy in Hong Kong is good for China. These are just some of the things the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong must start to understand. If not, Hong Kong might have to wait for China – an emerging country that has shown more guts and imagination than Hong Kong - to get democracy first (see article "Moral Leadership Passes to the Mainland" in this issue).
A more level-headed argument for more democracy
I had the opportunity to ask the consul generals of two large countries in Europe on whether Hong Kong’s political development in the last five years might have deterred investments into Hong Kong.
"Quite frankly", said one of the consul generals, "there has been very little press coverage about Hong Kong in Europe. They are not interested in local politics but companies setting up in China want to be well placed geographically and they do weigh the lower costs but "higher risks" of placing a business in mainland against higher costs, "political certainty" and added values that Hong Kong could still deliver."
"The international community is clearly worried if the tradition of providing a level playing field for all companies will continue. Will Hong Kong remain international? Will there be more cronyism and government interference ion business? Barring Chinese dissidents such as Harry Wu (who holds a valid American passport) from entering Hong Kong also raises doubts about Hong Kong’s ability to stick to the rule of law. If Hong Kong move closer towards the way mainland China does things, then why should companies set themselves up in Hong Kong?"
It is often argued democracy is not a necessary condition for economic progress, but this is as close to an argument on democracy for the sake of Hong Kong’s economy we have heard1.
Perhaps the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong could, one day, learn to put forward a more level-headed argument for more democracy. Democracy for Hong Kong can be advanced as a win-win proposition for China as well as the SAR. And perhaps then more democracy can be won for will be given to Hong Kong on grounds of national prestige and national development.
1 See also Democracy for Economy’s Sake, HKDF Newsletter, Issue 19, January 2002