Senior Chinese officials are accustomed to dividing the rest of the world into those who obey and those who are to be crushed. They therefore find nuanced expectations-management difficult; it requires semi-openness about your ultimate negotiating position and a willingness to appear as if you at least halfway respect your audiences. How ironic that they are having to adopt such a relatively subtle approach when persuading Hong Kong to accept one particular reality – the reality that when it comes to the next Chief Executive election, potential candidates will be divided into those who obey and those who are to be crushed (or at least left to feel crushed when barred from the ballot).
National People’s Congress Law Committee Chairman Qiao Xiaoyang spells out that people who confront Beijing cannot be elected Hong Kong CE when ‘universal suffrage’ is introduced in 2017. With the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment Etc of HK’s Tam Yiu-chung alongside him begging to have his obnoxiously smug faced severely slapped, it is easy to feel incensed. And sure enough, the pro-democrats express outrage, warning that this suggests the screening-out of candidates who are unacceptable to the Chinese Communist Party.
An interesting three-way struggle looms. The pan-democrats’ alliance for full universal suffrage will attempt to rally public opinion behind absolute refusal to accept any screening (a threat they can theoretically deliver on through their veto power over an electoral reform bill in the legislature). Beijing will use all its warm and cuddly charm, charisma and public-relations skills to convince the community that the package it eventually proposes is at least better than nothing and warrants grudging acceptance. And the Hong Kong people will not just be onlookers. If (say) 60% of them end up backing the pro-dems in the opinion polls, Beijing’s proposal will lack all credibility (as would the subsequent CE election if 40% or less of the electorate votes). If a clear majority support Beijing’s package, at least some pan-dems will have to break ranks with the absolutists, or face a voters’ backlash down the road. The Hong Kong government, meanwhile, will hang around trying to look useful.
Beijing cannot and will not lose this fight – hence the relatively open plain speaking yesterday. As the jittery tone of the pro-dems’ response suggests, Xiao’s comments still leave unanswered questions. If we were to be totally blunt, we would set out the inescapable truth as follows:
The PRC is a feudal state. There is only one emperor. You publicly bow down to him and swear loyalty, or you are an enemy and an outcast. Hong Kong’s pro-democrats are under the influence of an alien culture of pluralism in which ideas and possible rulers compete. If it is any consolation, history is on their side. Why do Chinese officials repeatedly, defiantly and loudly rule out ‘Western’ methods like multi-party systems and balance of powers? Because they know it’s going to happen. But not here, and probably not now. Certainly, Hong Kong’s pro-dems don’t have what it takes to make it happen – not that they’ll be allowed the chance to have a go anyway.
This just in: Another Nina Wang bequest comes to light…