The Big Lychee’s chattering classes are struck by bemusement this morning as they try to fathom the latest shenanigans in the never-ending clash between the forces of freedom and despotism.
Beijing’s local officials are seeking to peel the Democratic Party and other moderate, mature, sensible, constructive, decent members of the pro-universal suffrage camp away from the bad, naughty, unreasonable, anarchic hooligans of the Civic Party and League of Social Democrats. The short-term intention is to induce them to vote yes – or at least abstain – when the reform-free political reform package for 2012 goes before the Legislative Council next month. Further ahead, the hope must be that Albert Ho and the rest of the tired and faded DP will be susceptible to a bit of ongoing rehabilitation and eventual acceptance in United Front-land as semi-outsiders whose existence may be acknowledged, as opposed to the hostile, unpatriotic non-persons left naked and shivering in the CP/LSD wilderness.
How are they going about this? Invitations to a PLA open day, permission to join a study tour of the mainland, a pointless chat with a provincial official, and free tickets to the Shanghai Expo have all been dangled as lures. So now it’s time to make the great gesture: a meeting with someone important, namely Deputy Director of the Liaison Office Li Gang.
To call the forthcoming discussion ‘negotiations’ is a joke. Encounters between the imperial court and its subjects are not meetings of equal sides: the former commands and the latter kowtows. The moderate pro-democrats will get tea and a pat on the head. If they had somewhere to put it, there would probably a panda bear in it for them. It is all about symbolism. The question is: will DP members come out of the gathering – say with a little just-for-you snippet of a promise of future reform – so puffed-up and important-feeling that they will be happy to become constructive and cooperative semi-opponents? It doesn’t ring true. Most DP folk would find it impossible to leave their antagonistic comfort zone; pro-Beijing loyalists would also resent even the merest dilution of their status as specially privileged insiders.
Meanwhile, as if he is trying to undermine mainland officials’ efforts, Chief Executive Donald Tsang issues an invitation to CP leader Audrey Eu for a televised one-on-one debate on the political reform package. His note to her even includes a not totally disrespectful reference to the ‘five district referendum’ that he is supposed to have rejected as an abhorrence. As the huge grin on Audrey’s face when she proudly showed the invite to the media made clear, this is as good as a reward for forcing the by-elections. After pointedly refusing to let us ignore the polls for the last few months, Donald now seems determined to stop us from forgetting them, or indeed remembering them as a failure.
Presumably he cleared this insane idea with the Beijing officials in the Liaison Office, but then presumably he didn’t because they would never have approved it. Unless, perhaps, the plan is that when Audrey shows up at the studio a mysterious sniper shoots her from a nearby tower block.
The only rational explanation*, enunciated by Liberal Party founder and semi-outcast Allen Lee, is that Donald interprets the 17% turnout at the by-elections as resounding proof that Bow-Tie Thought has gripped and inspired the populace. Visions of himself reducing the famously skilled barrister to rhetorical rubble amid widespread public applause must have been flashing through his excitable mind, and none of his acolytes had the nerve to openly question his judgement. Predictably, all the other political groups are insisting on joining in the debate, and the pro-Beijing people (and the DP, for that matter) are seething at this apparent show of favouritism for the person supposed to be a money-wasting, constitution-challenging public enemy.
Donald is at his embarrassing worst when he forgets he is a dependable, plodding, linear-thinking administrator and plays at being a dastardly original, Machiavellian politician. As with his predecessor Tung Chee-hwa when he tried on occasions to act decisive, you cringe and really want to look away but can’t. This could – unless someone rides to the rescue and arranges a pointless four-way event – get so ugly we almost end up feeling sorry for him. Though not quite.
*Other than the usual ‘power struggle in Zhongnanhai’ explanation for almost anything.