Honest Joe for ‘17

A question lands in the old in-tray…

“This can’t change Beijing’s bottom line. The Communist one-party system finds a one-man-one-vote process for the mayor of a city of 7 million scary enough. Rigging the composition of the ballot is a given and non-negotiable. The not-so subliminal message of the white paper was that the Chinese government would sooner abolish the whole ‘two-system’ deal than yield any control over who gets on the ballot.”

In light of the above quote, do you think any of the moderate proposals that envision a Nominating Committee that is expanded to include all directly elected District Councillors with nominating thresholds comparable to the 2012 Election Committee fit the bill?

Would Beijing be satisfied with a nominating committee that significantly waters down populism while barely meeting international standards?

Any kind of Nominating Committee that resembles Iran’s Guardian Council is going to be vetoed by the Legco. It needs to be the kind of Committee that is rigged in favor of Pro-Beijing candidates, while at the same time ensuring a token democrat is thrown in the mix since there’s a precedent for token pan-democratic CE candidates.

CCP stands for ‘Complete Control and Paranoia’. It is as good as a law of nature that if China’s Communist one-party state cannot rig an ‘election’ it must rig the ballot. A ‘token democrat’ like Albert Ho in 2012 cannot be a candidate in 2017, because the outcome of the election cannot be decided in advance. The individual’s chances of winning don’t come into it: giving a ‘non-patriot’ CIA/Taiwan/etc agent the merest opportunity of grabbing power is out of the question. (Even the last-minute veto – refusal to appoint the election-winner to office – that the Basic Law provides Beijing does not serve as an absolute guarantee against an anti-CCP power grab.)

If this rules out any system that meets ‘international standards’, that’s too bad. If the comparison with previous Hong Kong ballots is in some way embarrassing (it unmasks the pre-ordained nature of past CE ‘elections’) that’s also too bad.

So, it follows that Beijing would be happy to allow all directly elected District Councillors onto the Nominating Committee if the nomination process required such a high threshold of support that the DC members’ presence didn’t affect Beijing’s ability to pre-determine the list of names on the ballot. That is, they would have to be outvoted on the Nominating Committee – be on it just for show, as assorted pan-dems are on today’s Election Committee.

Such a Nominating Committee won’t get through Legco? That’s what this game of chicken is all about. The pan-dem camp ranges from absolutists and purists (People Power, Long Hair et al) to pragmatists and realists. It only takes a couple of the latter to buckle, and a reform bill gets through. For obvious tactical reasons, they are sounding tough at the moment. But the opportunity for Hong Kong to have a political structure with at least some competition leading to an administration with some sort of popular mandate – when the status quo is the only other offer on the table – will probably win them over. Some minor tweaking of details to give them face might help do it. A promise of a seat on the Executive Council or even a government Bureau to run definitely will.

(Local government officials and others are too dense or timid to point this out, but even guided democracy of this sort will be unprecedented anywhere in the PRC, or in pre-1949 China, or in pre-1997 Hong Kong. And, though there are no guarantees, it offers the only foreseeable way of lessening the grip of cronyism on local politics. Chinese officials’ extreme nervousness about this proposed reform indicates that they envisage more than just symbolic change.)

Which brings us to the unseemly sight – not, I fear, the last – of someone trying a bit too hard and a bit too early to throw their hat in the ring for the 2017 race.

Many, many years ago, I was sitting on a train on the then-new Island Line and reading the map showing the stations. Isn’t it interesting, I thought, how the characters for Wan Chai and Chai Wan work? 灣仔and 柴灣 – same ‘Wan’, different ‘Chai’. I wondered if it would be worth the extreme torment of learning to read Chinese well enough to, say, tackle a book in the language.

Reasons not to devote the time and effort required come along occasionally, as we see today with the publication of former Monetary Authority boss Joseph Yam’s volume 居安思. The Standard translates the title as Stay Vigilant in Peacetime, while the South China Morning Post prefers In Prosperity Think of Adversity. Google Translate surely wins with Be Prepared.

Predictably, both English-language papers give the work full shoe-shining treatment, with the SCMP probably coming out on top for sheer obsequious refusal to question the deep-thinking Yam’s thoughts.

It’s the same old stale, scaremongering piffle we’ve had to listen to for years now. Hong Kong is doomed because of the Yuan and because of Shanghai and because of local evil politics.

That’s right: a Communist one-party state is going to allow its currency to become freely convertible (thus undermine one of its main levers of control – should be interesting). Its puffed-up Potemkin financial centre, which historically only ever thrived under foreign rule, is going to blow the Mainland’s trading/investment regime wide open with its Free Trade Hub Zone (thus exposing every corrupt and inefficient state enterprise to foreign competition, thus undermining etc). The Hong Kong Dollar will pale in significance (it’s just a repackaged US Dollar, as any former HKMA boss should know).

Not least, Hong Kong’s terrible political strife will cause the city to collapse in a pile of rubble. ‘So’, we are invited to say, ‘sort out the root causes of it if you’re so clever’. To which his response will presumably be ‘OK, see you in 2017’. Unless someone better comes forward. (And I’m not sure the snowy mane will go down well among Zhongnanhai’s black hair-dye brigade.)



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