The Standard uses the phrase ‘sad and angry’. The less diplomatic among us might say ‘even more crotchety and grumpy than usual’. Either way, National People’s Congress Standing Committee member Rita Fan declares that it is futile for Hong Kong’s pro-democrats to confront Beijing over political reform, and that the planned Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign can only stiffen the Communist regime’s determination. As the South China Morning Post puts it: ‘The more you protest, the less Beijing will bend’.
So if Occupy Central promises to sit down, shut up and be good from now on, the Chinese government will be nice and give Hong Kong a more truly democratic system? Sure. The fact is that, on the matter of the 2017 election, Beijing made its mind up long ago. But it also a fact, borne out by the struggles over Article 23 and National Education, that protesting on the streets is the only thing that Beijing notices.
Rita recites the familiar stuff about how Occupy Central – a bunch of people sitting in the road desperate for a pee – will wreck not only the Hong Kong economy but gullible young people’s lives. This is essentially a slur against the whole noble Gandhi/Martin Luther King non-violent disobedience thing, but it seems to put Occupy Central on the defensive, leaving them having to explain yet again the detailed, academic philosophy behind their peaceful approach. The correct, attention-grabbing response would be to defame Rita back and loudly demand that she come clean about the things you read about her Shanghainese father’s links with the criminal and infamously violent Green Gang. But of course the pro-dems are too nice for that.
A more nuanced approach by Beijing to the pro-dems would be to ask: ‘Why waste your breath?’ Essentially, the pro-democrats are demanding that the Communist Party put itself up for election against alternatives in Hong Kong. ‘You know we will not/cannot do it, so spare everyone the fuss’. But in order to ask its opponents to be reasonable, the Communist one-party system has to sound reasonable. Its vocabulary is largely limited to ‘crush opposition without mercy’.
The more moderate pro-dems, at least, insist they are not in the business of trying to topple the Communist Party; they just want an open non-rigged choice in Hong Kong’s local elections. They couch this aim in the most virtuous terms of universal human rights and values, which forces Beijing’s officials and supporters to resort to ridiculous euphemisms in which ‘national security’ or ‘patriotism’ equate to one-party dictatorship. To be even more hilariously aggravating, the pro-dems have unearthed a 1944 Xinhua news editorial demanding that the Kuomintang dictatorship of the time grant an open, non-rigged choice in elections.
There will be no meeting of minds here. In Beijing, you have one side with no moral right (except insofar as a pluralistic China today would be, as some claim, in chaos), but all the might and power of the state. In the pro-dems, you have a side with all the moral right, but with no practical or effective means of changing the status quo (except insofar as Beijing is, as some imagine, susceptible to international pressure and shame).
The outcome, this time at least: the pro-dems will score 10 out of 10 for being correct, while Beijing will score 10 out of 10 for having its way. On a brighter note, maybe Rita Fan will fade from view.