If the Chinese government had some halfway decent public-relations advice, it would have allowed the three Hong Kong student activists to visit Beijing on Saturday. It would have given them a meeting and photo-op with a barely medium-ranking official from a vaguely ‘relevant department’, arranged a brief tour of the Great Hall of the People, and seen them off at the airport with a pat on the head and goody bags full of T-shirts and panda bear refrigerator magnets. In other words, humour them as a busy but generous-spirited mature adult would any naïve kids.
But of course, no. The Chinese Communist Party could never get its head around something so subtle. In a world divided between abject shoe-shiners and enemies to be crushed – and nothing else – Beijing had to make itself look childishly vindictive. By barring entry to its own citizens as if they were undesirable foreigners, the Chinese government also blatantly contradicted its own official line that Hongkongers belong to the motherland. (Asia Sentinel has a good piece on how the insistence that Party = Nation is alienating younger Hongkongers and Taiwanese.) And by acting scared of a clutch of geeky teenagers, Beijing made itself look pathetic and the scrawny bespectacled kids look strong.
The Hong Kong government, meanwhile, sits on the sidelines looking clueless. South China Morning Post commentator Peter Guy today writes that when an 18-year-old conveys more credible leadership than anyone in the oh-so elite establishment, the game is surely up. The Basic Law offers no solution. His suggested Beijing-compatible method of stripping the tycoon-bureaucrat crapocracy out of the equation: a directly appointed Mainland official as governor with a fully elected legislature as a source of legitimacy and ministers. (This is not a new idea. Traditionally, ‘Hong Kong people running Hong Kong’ has been sacrosanct as a guarantee of rule of law and press freedom – but maybe that seems less persuasive now.)
Officially, as the three students found out, China’s leadership cannot accept that the Umbrella-Occupy movement is a symptom of poor governance: that would be an admission of Communist Party fallibility. Changing the Basic Law would also be an unacceptable loss of face. So for the time being we will have nothing but ranting about CIA-funded plots and the inadequacy of Hong Kong’s patriotic education.
Attempts to salvage anything from the proposed 2016-17 electoral reform package will presumably come to nothing. It looks very much as if anything that will fix Hong Kong’s governance problem is unacceptable to Beijing, and anything that is acceptable to Beijing won’t work.
One reason why the protestors might think about packing up and going home at this stage: you’ll be needing those tents again sometime.
An obituary appears in today’s SCMP…
A long time ago, back in the mid-90s, there was a tall, dark, serious, almost-sinister businessman with an extreme and obvious yearning to be Hong Kong’s Chief Executive after the 1997 handover. No – not the one you’re thinking of: a guy called Lo Tak-shing. To prove his loyalty, he started a pro-Beijing English-language magazine called the Window. It was one of those publications that people don’t actually buy – it just turned up on the desk. Among the more readable features was a column on Hong Kong history by one Solomon Bard. I always thought it was an anagram (blood ransom, slob doorman). Later, I noticed the name elsewhere and gathered it was a real person, but thought little more about it. Anyway (if I had been paying more attention to the local music scene I would have realized sooner), it seems he was as interesting as he was long-lasting.