Signs that things are getting back to some sort of ‘normal’: the South China Morning Post carries an op-ed piece from a minister in the State Council Information Office announcing the first publication in English of the Thoughts of Chairman Xi Jinping. At first glance, the fawning description of the collection of speeches is embarrassing. Xi acknowledges the existence of Belgians, we learn, and is therefore of unsurpassed worldliness and wisdom. Reading between the lines, however, it becomes clear that the writer is in fact issuing an urgent warning to the international community of the emergence of an egomaniacal personality cult in Beijing.
In the letters on the opposite page, one Christopher Lavender writes to suggest that Beijing’s proposed nomination system for Hong Kong’s 2017 Chief Executive election is no different from that for UK parliamentary candidates, who (he says) have to be approved by their party HQs. This is obviously bilge. First, the UK has multiple parties, while Hong Kong’s nomination will involve just one. Second, in the UK independents are free to put themselves on the ballot – giving voters a choice of freaks and weirdoes – which will not happen in Hong Kong (unless you count Regina Ip).
It is quite common for the Chinese Communist Party’s faithful followers in Hong Kong to produce garbled explanations of how Western countries’ democratic systems are somehow no better than or comparable to the rigged structure proposed for this city. The US Electoral College, they insist without having a clue what it is, is basically no different from functional constituencies – or something along those lines. True-born leftists can be excused ignorance of Western structures. But the educated and cosmopolitan instant-noodle patriots and shoe-shiners just make themselves look silly by making such feeble analogies; there are more robust and indeed convincing apologetic approaches if you need to grovel to Beijing.
(This brings to mind another cliché re-hashed to death recently: “The British didn’t give Hong Kong democracy for 155 years, therefore [insert whatever point this is supposed to prove].” In fact, Britain did try. First in the late 1940s as part of London’s decolonization policy (local officials cited floods of refugees among excuses not to implement it), and then of course starting from the 1980s, by which time Beijing was in a position to veto the idea with blood-curdling threats, leaving the Brits having to play the role of Big Bad Denier of Universal Suffrage. Not that it’s of any relevance to today.)
Only a few hundred activists are still sitting on the streets as part of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella/Occupy movement. Yet to read the Standard, the mayhem-nightmare is getting even worse. It is true that bits of Chater and Queens Roads in core Central are still sealed off by multiple rows of barriers across them, giving the place a touch of Ypres, perhaps, or at least Gaza. But no protestors. Aside from lighter traffic and cleaner air, life is normal. Yet the government declares kindergartens closed and the Legislative Council – to our great distress – postpones today’s session. In short, the government is creating inconvenience to the public as a way to make the Occupy movement look bad. Could Beijing’s locally based officials be behind this sort of ‘collective punishment’ tactic? The students may be naïve, but at least they’re not this childish.
They are certainly being a bit guileless if they think that discussions with the government will lead to any substantial change. Sitting down with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam is not my idea of boycotting lectures. Beijing has made it clear that it will not give way to demands and offer Hong Kong a less-rigged electoral system for 2017.
How different things might be if the protesters, Occupy, and the whole pro-democracy camp had focused on more earthly and practical concerns. For a hint at what they could have done, consider the news that developer Cheung Kong is producing Hong Kong’s tiniest apartments – at 165 square feet. This should cause outrage, but won’t.
Imagine if the pan-dems had obsessed less about nomination committees and more about grasping tycoons and government collusion. Imagine if they had zeroed in on the highly visible and recognizable symbol of everything that’s wrong: Li Ka-shing, billionaire owner of the aforementioned Cheung Kong. And imagine they had organized a citywide boycott of Li’s consumer businesses, which essentially means Park N Shop, Taste, Fusion, Watsons and Fortress retail outlets. A 10% drop in revenues would have caused the old man unbearable anguish (if his chains’ usual reaction to being undercut by the tiniest independent competitor is any guide). True, other cartelists would pick up market share – but this would heighten the pain for our uber-tycoon as the world’s media got interested, the stock price fell and officials clutching the latest Economic Freedom award awkwardly wondered what to do as the city’s consumers snubbed Xi Jinping’s favourite Hong Kong plutocrat.
But instead, the government can cast the students as deliverers of traffic chaos and string them along with futile discussions about the Basic Law. What could have been?
Further to yesterday’s update on the Lyndhurst Terrace retail scene: one of our city’s many critics of and sufferers from property hegemony writes in defence of Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, pointing out that the company sources from many small independent suppliers, and mentioning the magic word ‘chocolate’. Will monitor closely.