It’s not every day that you see a staunch Beijing loyalist accidentally but publicly commit a heresy requiring a rebuttal by a representative of the inquisition. In a spirit of comradely face-saving, the correction is administered by use of the Comfy Chair rather than red-hot coals. But it is nonetheless a humiliation, and a reminder to followers of the Communist faith not to use one’s own imagination and come up with fancy ideas that stray from the official doctrine.
It all goes back to a Civic Party-HK2020 paper on universal suffrage options modestly titled What the Government is Not Telling You. The pro-democracy group used the Basic Law and plain logic to poke holes in the government’s argument that candidates for the 2017 Chief Executive election will have to be nominated by a restricted, pro-Beijing rubber-stamp committee with the label ‘broadly representative’ on it. This prompted Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen to come up with a riposte, carried by most newspapers, citing such scintillatingly persuasive proof as the ‘common-law expressio unis principle’. We have to accept, he said, that the law clearly bars nomination of candidates by the public or by political parties.
Both sides in this debate probably scored at least one or two technical points, and Rimsky gets the special ‘You Know They Are Desperate When…’ Prize for relying on common law to bolster Communist Party dictatorship. But the argument is purely academic, because the inescapable truth is that China’s one-party system cannot accommodate any alternative source of power, and that means only approved candidates may run if an election is to be held by universal suffrage.
(Conversely, non-approved candidates hostile to Communist Party rule are free to run if the ‘election’ is a restricted and rigged one, which is how pro-democracy candidates made it onto the ballot in 2007 and 2012. You can have it one way or the other, but not both. The transition to universal-suffrage election is a loss of control by the Party and has to be balanced by a more restrictive nomination process to screen out anyone unacceptable. This requires some embarrassing back-tracking and myth-making to produce an official story about why Alan Leong and Albert Ho could constitutionally make it onto the ballot in the past but can’t in future. The pro-dems are letting the regime in Beijing off the hook by debating on its terms – on this level of make-believe legalistic detail – when the official position simply calls for honest mockery.)
Step forward Lau Nai-keung. Lau is a mouth-frothing true believer in the Communist cause. But he also displays a capacity for independent thought by occasionally criticizing the quality of governance in Hong Kong (the correct belief is that our administration is perfect, as it is appointed by Beijing, which is infallible). This tragic tendency to lapse into reality got the better of him last week.
Lau fears that electoral reform for 2016-17 could fail. In an attempt to prevent that and help Rimsky out, he proposed a sort of re-rebalancing, whereby Hong Kong people are given the explicit right to reject any or all of the screened-in candidates (through a minimum voter-turnout requirement, for example). He justified this by pointing to the ‘dual accountability’ of the Chief Executive (to Beijing and to Hong Kong) mentioned in the Basic Law.
Sounds fine, you might think (voters could enjoy an implicit semi-veto anyway, simply by boycotting the whole exercise). But the very symbol of a balance (screening-out for Beijing versus a veto for the Hong Kong electorate) alarms ever-sensitive defenders of the totalitarian model. So they wheel out ‘veteran commentator’ Zhou Baijun (this one, presumably) to gently reign him in. The Basic Law allows ‘dual accountability’, he intones, but not ‘equal dual accountability’. (Nothing can be equal to Beijing, and to suggest otherwise logically leads to splittism, Hong Kong independence, or other horrors.) Therefore Lau’s well-intentioned suggestion is invalid. He never actually mentioned the word ‘equal’, but the point is that you’re here to follow the Party line, not come up with one of your own.
Zhou gets everyone back onto the theologically correct path by defining the debate over nomination as one that pits the ‘Love China, Love Hong Kong’ camp against the unnamed but presumably non-loving opposition. He mentions the phrase ‘Love China, Love Hong Kong’ several more times, just so we’re clear.
Discipline is restored, and the struggle continues.