Insight in ‘Insight’ shock

The only insight you usually find on the South China Morning Post’s op-ed page is the big blue word at the top. Many of the columns are fence-sitting and hand-wringing masquerading as moderation. Of the rest, some seem designed to fill a quota of blatant or half-veiled pro-SCMP-InsightProfYounggovernment/Beijing propaganda, while the more independent voices tend to be repetitive and clichéd as well as strident. Incisive and original analysis and thought rarely get a look-in.

Today, something stimulating slips through. Hong Kong U law professor Simon Young points out what most of us have probably sensed – that the Chinese government and its local proxy have pretty much abandoned any hope of implementing the proposed 2016-17 political reform. He argues that they would now silently prefer the pro-democrats to veto the package. That way, the pro-dems can take the blame (and rot), while Beijing can keep the existing no-pretense, pure-and-simple rigged structure and continue tightening its grip.

Given this, the professor says, it makes sense for the pro-dems to reconsider their plan to veto the reform. Instead, they should demand negotiations with the Hong Kong government over achievable tweaks to slightly liberalize the current proposed package. Such minor symbolic changes (a less-unrepresentative Nomination Committee, etc) would strike public opinion as reasonable; by rejecting them, the national/Hong Kong authorities would be revealing their preference not to have any reform.

This argument relies on the assumption that Hong Kong now has nothing to lose by accepting the broad concept of guided and rigged ‘universal suffrage’ unveiled in late 2013. The professor could bolster his theory by placing it in the national context. A Xi Jinping iron-fist clampdown is taking place across the whole of China. Any improvement to the culture and climate of Hong Kong’s political system – say by formalizing some role for public opinion – could therefore help protect the interests of the city’s people. (The ‘guided democracy’ concept for Hong Kong dates from the wishy-washy Hu Jintao/Wen Jiabao regime.)

As a clever and cunning ruse to persuade pro-dems not to veto, this would be a brilliant bit of government propaganda. But, being clever and cunning, it’s obviously not that. And the professor is surely right in feeling that the authorities don’t even want the reforms to go through. It’s not a game of chicken now.

Perhaps it depends on two things.

First, what happens if the pro-dems stick to their plan and veto the package? All the signs are that governability will continue to deteriorate and more unrest will take place. The more militant Trotskyist-style dems may look forward to a true workers’ revolution, but others will be uneasy. Maybe Beijing will see the error of its ways and ease off, letting Hong Kong be itself and happy and free. More likely, the moderate pro-dems might think, Xi’s officials will use a second CY Leung term to continue diminishing press freedoms and rule of law. Ultimately, Beijing has tanks, and the world doesn’t care.

Second, how much difference to representativeness and accountability would the guided election system really make? This is unknowable. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam (and others) hinted at one stage that debates and the use of polling would give public opinion some real clout in forcing candidates to focus on people’s wishes (interestingly, she seems to be downplaying this argument in favour of the package, which was the nearest the government had to a good one).

(Guesses at what happens in Hong Kong under more direct Beijing rule also need to factor in the possible introduction of popular economic and social policy – anti-tycoon, pro-welfare – to sweeten the medicine of tighter restrictions on the press and the judiciary.)

I declare the weekend open with the initial thought that it may not make as much difference as he thinks, but the professor could well have a point.

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18 Responses to Insight in ‘Insight’ shock

  1. Chris Maden says:

    I have long thought that the best way out of this mess is for the pro-dems to vote the package through. If the candidates are all crap (that’s a very small “if,” by the way), the pro-dems can urge voters to spoil their ballots in very significant numbers. This would leave Beijing snookered if it happened, but the mere threat of it happening may be enough to force them to allow some good candidates on to the ballot.

    But, it seems that the pro-dems are as tunnel-visioned in their thinking as everyone else in politics in this sad city.

    They promised 50 years of no change and delivered. The rest of the world has moved on…

  2. Guided democracy? Weren’t you the one that said any guided election would see Beijing’s preferred candidate, presumably CY, squared off against an unelectable fall guy, whose past would be easy pickings for HK’s guided press corpse.

    Given CY’s current polling numbers I’m guessing that LegCo Rep for one of the Chambers of Commerce, Philip Wong would be the man to take the bullet with the one-finger salute to HK and the CV that could never survive a scrutinised election.

  3. Stephen says:

    I have always thought that true universal suffrage for this part of China was a red line that the CCP won’t cross and legitimizing the current CE selection pantomime serves no purpose either. That the Pro-Dems (I thoroughly agree with their ideals) are divided and devoid of a charismatic leader they probably will be slaughtered at the next Legislative Council election – even as we know the system is heavily slanted in the United Front’s favour. Hence the current plan will get wheeled out and passed 5 years later as they will have lost their veto.

    On the plus side those most vocally pissed off at the moment are in their 20’s and university educated and it’s going to take a fairly hefty and clever dose of popularism (the likes of which we haven’t seen the like of since the late ‘80’s Rose Garden) to ask them to accept the political status quo. Will affordable housing, retirement protection and some Tycoon unfriendly policies be enough ? Square that circle ?

  4. PD says:

    Unfortunately, these clever-clever “solutions” never work with the wily Chinese government or their running dogs. Give them an inch and…

    Think of all the private-public land compromises which, somehow, never deliver.

    Any such move to ostensibly sup with the devil would split the pan-dems down the middle. Remember when the Democratic Party supported the last “reform”?

    After a quarter of century of principled resistance, the forces of good do need something to show for their pains. Blocking a mean Pekinese trick is a major achievement in itself, which, come 2022, may never come again.

  5. Flip-Flopper says:

    The plan should be vetoed, plain and simple.

    The biggest insult one can hurl at CY (“689”) at the moment is that he has no mandate.

    No matter how many ballots get spoiled (and the powers that be will find a way to ignore them in any case), and no matter what the voting numbers are, the winner under the current system will claim a big mandate. We will end up with a monster on our hands.

    The pan-dems should point that out at every turn. They have nothing to fear by rejecting the package. Ultimately, by keeping a CE with a non-existent mandate, they can argue that they are doing their best for HK.

  6. Scotty Dotty says:

    Shurely shum mistake… the prof is well off the point.

    Aside from the fact it won’t ever happen – Hong Kong’s dems have but one default setting since the handover to reject or veto or protest EVERYTHING – it would be a sure way to cultivate (even more) civil disobedience and street violence.

    If Hong Kong democrats ever supported undemocratic votes/processes you can batten down the hatches and expect the PLA in Central.

  7. PCC says:

    The fake universal suffrage model strews many potential banana peels in the path of the CCP. They have no idea what they’ve let themselves in for.

    There will also be a great deal of room for pro-democracy mischief, not least the various contenders’ natural desire to tailor their messages to gain the electorate’s approval.

    The pro-dems definitely should approve the reform package, if only for the entertainment value it promises to deliver.

  8. Chinese Netizen says:

    “Ultimately, Beijing has tanks, and the world doesn’t care.” Truer words have not been spoken. Unfortunately.

  9. Older Than Oldtimer says:

    @ Tom-Daaitoulaam

    After a run of almost 20 years ‘Phil the Finger’ in 2012 left Legco, ‘election’ politics and the affections of those in the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce. No doubt he now is inching his way towards a PhD in Polydipsia at a comfy sobriety clinic somewhere.

  10. Cassowary says:

    I think the public knows that if the democrats get routed in Legco, we’re probably going to see a revival of Article 23 and national education. That might be motivation enough to keep them in office, regardless of whether they vetoed the reform and no matter how uncharismatic and incompetent they seem. It’s a turn-out game. If the government avoids riling up the dems and buses in all the DAB grannies they can find, they’re good. If CY opens his mouth and pisses off the dems again, not so much. What are the chances of that not happening?

  11. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Flip-Flopper

    “…they can argue that they are doing their best for HK.”

    Doing what best for HK ? In fact doing what for HK at all ?

    All I can see the PD’s doing is throwing bananas ( and occasionally drinking glasses), shouting a lot, watching porn in Legco and failing to support their “champions”- the OC students – except on the very last afternoon !

    I can’t ever remember a PD campaigning for the things that need to be changed in HK . Can you ? Can anyone ?

  12. Knownot says:

    The Pro-Dems’ Dilemma

    It seems that the popular mood
    Is to take what the bosses propose.
    If we decide to oppose
    The popular mood,
    We are screwed.

    Perhaps we should try to be shrewd
    And persuade them to make
    The system less fake.
    Will that be shrewd?
    We’ll be screwed.

    The trouble is: if we refuse,
    China’s hand will be stronger.
    We won’t be here much longer.
    If we refuse
    We will lose.

    The trouble is: if we submit,
    Being ‘pragmatic’
    Is undemocratic.
    If we submit
    We are shit.

  13. Real Tax Payer says:

    As a final thought for friday night it seems to me that BJ and the pro-establishment people in HK ( CY and all) seem to be saying to the pro-dems ( Clint Eastwood style) :


    Perhaps Albert Ho should watch a few hard old Rawhide TV movies instead of soft porn.

  14. stanley gibbons says:


    Despite what others might have said:

    Please desist cause you’re not that good
    And I do not mean to be rude
    But you are shit
    Two words both ending in c is nor rhythmic
    It is idiotic.

  15. PD says:

    RTP , You do seem to have an obsession with ( soft) porn : why is that ?

    More seriously, your paraphrase of Hemlock’s witty, but I believe ultimately wrongheaded, blog is like advising a drowning man to swim: on the surface trying to help, but insincere, since you clearly have no sympathy with the pan-dems’ aims. Not surprising I suppose, given the murky origin of your lucre.

    SG, Some talent in parodying formal features, but little understanding of humour and no attempt to address substantial matters: a reluctant borderline pass.

  16. Simplissimus says:

    I quite enjoyed KnowNot’s ode to One Country …

  17. NIMBY says:

    If the commentary in the link is accurate, we can not hope for Jiang’s faction to pull on Xi’s rei(g)ns later.

  18. Scotty Dotty says:

    I think knownot is excellent.

    The Bard, please continue!

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