Echoes of 2003


After he eventually re-emerged from his bunker days after the big July 1 march against the Article 23 national security law in 2003, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa tried offering some concessions. For months, critics had demanded tighter safeguards in the proposed legislation – things like requiring police to get a warrant before raiding suspected subversives. And for months, officials had said these were impossible. Suddenly they became delightfully easy to do. But it was too late. The national security law, a requirement of the Basic Law, was finished, and the real issue was how long it would be before the Crop-Haired One stood down, and whether Beijing would do anything to improve the quality of governance in Hong Kong.

Evidently it did not. Today’s Hong Kong government is in the same position, multiplied by a hundred or so. It is hinting at minor concessions to the political reform package, such as the scrapping of corporate votes in the election process that forms the 1,200-strong nominating committee. This comes on top of the Big Exciting Offer to send a supplementary memo to Beijing giving a truer picture of local opinion on political reform. As in 2003, such ‘concessions’ should have been in-built from the start – but that’s not the point. Protesters and their apparently growing numbers of sympathizers should be looking beyond the technical details of electoral arrangements. With Chief Executive CY Leung blaming invisible foreign enemies and describing the less-wealthy half of the population as unfit for civic life, the nominating committee is a sideshow.

SCMP-GovtSourcesHintThe boss aside, the administration remains morbidly fixated on the political reform package and the protesters occupying the streets. The attitude is ‘wet streets cause rain’: protestors occupying intersections create political crisis. Officials have offered all the concessions they can, so why aren’t the students pulling out of Admiralty and going back to class? It’s a fascinating and puzzling thing to watch. Do they genuinely not get it? Or are they deliberately closing their eyes to reality for fear of what they will see? Or are they pretending (superbly) not to get it because that’s what Beijing expects and requires?

The cliché du jour is that it’s unfair to expect the poor old Hong Kong Police to sort out this major political mess. The fact is that it’s not even reasonable to expect CY and his floundering functionaries to solve it. It is Beijing that has screwed this up. It has mishandled Hong Kong over the years by putting losers in charge, enabling rampant cronyism, and alienating much of the population, especially the young. And now it has brought everything to a head by using disproportionate, belligerent and crude methods to impose what is essentially minor political reform.

If 2003 is any guide, the Chinese government will just walk away. But then again, the one thing the Communist Party fears is its own citizenry – especially when they’re on the streets.


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17 Responses to Echoes of 2003

  1. Gooddog says:

    Essential reading Hemmers – thanks.

    The students have them on the run and the Hong Kong people are becoming MORE supportive of OC (not less) – – I guess 50 centers, triads, Liaison Office meddling, tear gas, beatings, threats and bullying does not engender wide spread support – wodathunkit?

    Beijing is now in danger of losing Hong Kong altogether – public opinion in Hong Kong towards China has moved from vaguely supportive, to ambivalent, to annoyed and it is rapidly turning into anger and open rebellion – Beijing needs to act fast to slow this thing down.

    If they were smart they would sack CY (for misleading them)and allow civic nomination (a gracious gift from Beijing). Then it is all over.

  2. Stephen says:

    Whilst I would hope there is no one stupid enough to think the hapless Hong Kong Government is ultimately responsible for our current political crises but it does need to act the fall guy for the true culprit.

    So does anyone believe that this new report will cause the HK and Macao affairs office to call up the NPC and say “CY screwed up the first report, take a look at this instead?” Upon the NPC reading it they hand down a much less restrictive decision? Should the students accept Carrie’s hoary old lie that 2017 is not the final destination and we create a platform to consult you and will perfect it later? What carrots has Carrie been allowed to offer for round 2 ?

  3. Big Al says:

    It’s been a while since I posted. I have been watching events unfold over the past month or so and have spent some time with my young kids on the streets with the students, whom I wholeheartedly support in this miserable standoff. However, a couple of things have been bothering me:
    1. At what point did “complying with the basic law” become “complying with the basic law AND relevant decisions of the NPC standing committee”? Seems to have been slipped in somehow and now everyone takes this as read. Does the basic law actually state that relevant decisions of the NPC standing committee are to be followed?
    2. Would Semen count as an evil foreign force, or an evil foreign force with Chinese characteristics, since he’s a PRC citizen?
    3. At least CY’s being honest about the election committee, saying that the administration doesn’t give a toss about the views of the poor. As Blackadder so adroitly put it, “Because virtually no-one is [eligible to vote]: women, peasants, chimpanzees, lunatics, Lords … Give the like of Baldrick the vote and we’ll be back to cavorting druids, death by stoning, and dung for dinner”, which I guess is CY’s point.
    Anyway, keep the discussion going. Power to the people (except the poor ones, obviously) …

  4. PD says:

    Fine piece today, Hemlock, although ending a little abruptly. As always, you hit several nails adroitly on the head, especially the need to look at the big picture.

    It’s not going to cut the mustard to issue a “clarified” report to up north, have another sit-down and hold-hands meeting, make another minor enlargement of the Selection Committee, or even stop the forces of darkness preventing Next magazine from being sold and trying to set fire to or throw excrement at the brave students.

    We’re at a crossroads (as every SCMP article for the last decade has falsely claimed). If dramatic moves are not made soon by Peking, it really will become a revolution, as they call it.

  5. nulle says:

    – new report will be ignored by the NPC-SC.
    – CY Leung unlikely to be fired (but I want him gone and replaced with Anson Chan)
    – PLA troops will be deployed and streamed in from Shenzhen. Martial Law declared. History repeats itself.
    – NPC-SC reverses decision on “universal sufferage”, 50% nomination threshold remains.
    – Article 23 and National Education reinstated and passed with pro-dems arrested in jail. Later charged with subversion and treason.

  6. Gooddog says:

    Nulle – wouldn’t it just be easier to give HK civil nomination? What you are suggesting is an enormous and risky step for Beijing. Civil nomination is the lesser of two evils. HK is a special region anyway….

  7. Scotty Dotty says:

    Another great piece today. Thank you from me too.

    As Blackadder was mentioned, another timely quote: “Field Marshal Haig is about to make yet another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.”

    Just replace Haig with Xi and Berlin with democracy. Chuckle

  8. Cassowary says:

    Why would the State Council or the NPC need another report? Don’t they have spies everywhere? Don’t they have a building full of apparatchiks whose job it is to send them files full of disturbing public opinion poll results and subversive Apple Daily clippings translated into simplified characters? I believe that Beijing’s leaders are arrogant, paranoid and terrified of showing weakness, but one thing I don’t believe they are is misinformed. Or if they are, it isn’t because of the CY Leung administration’s previous report.

    This new report is political theatre. A means for the Hong Kong government to take the fall in a very minor way. That’s all.

  9. Gooddog says:

    Hey Hemmers – check out this story –

    Who is this Dabing Li chap? He is an absolute ghost on the internet….Has SCMP been thrown a googly?

  10. henry says:

    Yes, it’s going to end in tears and teargas again. This time it’ll be the PLA. That will be Hong Kong’s death knell. Business will pack up and move to Singapore.

  11. Joe Blow says:

    Tougher line on Occupy ?


    They have the pepper spray, the teargas and the rubber bullets (live ammo optional).
    We have the people ! And more are joining every day.

    Yes, let it get out of hand, let it get bloody and let them make a fool of themselves one more time. The whole world will be watching on this occasion.

    That’s all we need to get rid of The Liar.

    By the way, Barack will be in China next month, having tea with Xi, so no crackdown for at least another month. Barack may pull out, China loses face, and probably a whole lot more.

  12. gweiloeye says:

    Gooddog – fantastic “article” (?) you’ve pointed out there – that seriously must be a plant piece. My guess would be a pen name for the chief editor of SCMP.

    It’s so full of holes I can make a swiss cheese toastie out of it.

    I note the 50centers are not onto it too much yet (10.55pm) in the comments, but it is only early for them. They tend to sleep all day and come out after mummy and daddy have gone to bed.

  13. Yesler says:

    @Joe It’s easy to say “let it get bloody” when it’s not you (or your children) on the front line. (And if you are on the front line and want blood… I think that makes you legally insane.)

    That said, I don’t think the HKPF will be sidelined in favor of the PLA unless there is a widespread rebellion within the force. (Which I find very unlikely.)

  14. nulle says:

    Gooddog, it is all about political perception (aka face) in the mianland.

    Giving in to HK means losing face in the mainland domestic, but crushing them (albeit very costly internationally) can create nationalistic furor of support in the mainland.

    Maybe the CCP will step up the non-official tactics to beat down the Umbrella movement. the CCP already instructs pro-Beijing forces to sue Occupy/Umbrella movement for damages and push Occupy back.

    There are hints mainland official stance of HK is becoming similar to CCP stance to Tibet and Xinjiang. Which means things will get very dark very soon…

  15. nulle says:

    addt’l thought:
    unless foreign investment in China is directly tied to China’s behavior, the cost to China strong-arm/ironclad tactics are not going to be unbearable.

  16. Cassowary says:

    Joe Blow, are you crazy? You and I both know that international opinion is not going to save us. There will be some strongly worded statements and some minor and quickly lifted trade sanctions. Has the world done anything but waggle their eyebrows sternly at Putin for annexing bits of Ukraine? Nope. Beijing can make us suffer a lot worse than it will.

  17. Lai says:

    To say that Beijing will concede as in 2003 is to vastly misunderstand the difference between the CPC, ruling faction, and PRC overall in 2003 and 2014. Unsurprising, as so much of HK takes such an insular attitude toward the rest of the country.

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