Hong Kong is supposed to be celebrating or otherwise marking the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Basic Law. The ‘relevant organ’ organizing the occasion is the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, which is currently preoccupied with pushing the political reform package, in opposition to pro-democrats who claim that the plan violates the very same Basic Law. So you can be forgiven for not noticing all the merriment.
Even in normal times, it would be difficult to turn the Basic Law’s 25th birthday into a big, fun-packed festivity.
In fairness, it is possible to see the document as visionary. It codifies the Chinese-British deal that allowed a free society and capitalist economy to continue under a one-party Communist regime – something many doubted was possible. Thus we have the peculiar situation where a Leninist-style nation-state with no pluralism or due process includes one city with freedom of expression and the press, functioning separation of powers, rule of law and an independent judiciary.
However, the small print in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution gives the central government in Beijing a series of overrides. It requires that the city’s Chief Executive be picked by Beijing via a rubber-stamp committee, with his administration being accountable to the central authority. (Under the political reform package, Beijing would use the same committee to name all the candidates ahead of a final election-type process by universal suffrage.) It allows for the city’s legislative chamber to contain an inbuilt bloc (via functional constituencies) that enables Beijing to veto any undesirable measures that would otherwise be passed by the chamber’s democratically elected members. And last but definitely not least, it gives Beijing the right to ‘interpret’ it. This in effect allows the central government to reverse decisions of Hong Kong’s courts by declaring a new meaning to the Basic Law’s own wording. Beijing has also used this power to pre-empt local legislation on political reform.
So Beijing can over-ride Hong Kong’s apparent separation of powers, and in particular it can magically change the meaning of the Basic Law any time it wants.
Being nice, liberal-minded people, we could probably live with this. You can’t seriously expect a Communist one-party state to allow an alternative source of power within its jurisdiction. It is a logical and constitutional impossibility.
However, the wonderful future Hong Kong was promised with its high degree of autonomy after 1997 has not materialized in the eyes of many of its citizens. For some reason, the quality of governance – never startlingly brilliant in colonial times – has undergone a marked decline since the handover. Specifically, local policy has shifted heavily in favour of certain business interests, notably the property and related cartels. This has contributed to widening inequality, and stagnant or falling purchasing power and prospects for many people, leading to growing popular disaffection.
There are various factors at work, including rising public expectations, changing global economic patterns and local demographics. Most of all – in the humble view of most right-thinking people – we must point the finger at Beijing’s co-opting of certain business interests, which dates back to the 1980s. Anyway, celebrating the Basic Law looks like a sick joke. (The story is that China’s leadership back in the 1980s saw the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ arrangement as a model for Taiwan. To many young Hongkongers, the democracy and de-facto independence of today’s Taiwan is a model for Hong Kong. Still, seemed like a good idea at the time.)
Nonetheless, we must appear to be joyous. And so some poor wretches in the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau were told to organize a Yippee-let’s-all-jump-up-and-down thing to mark the 25th anniversary.
The default option for Hong Kong civil servants when told to devote all their creative skills and imaginative flair to a publicity campaign is silly, infantile, grinning cartoon characters. These appear on Hong Kong Post’s special issue of stamps. For presumably excellent reasons, some of the grinning figures are in Shenzhen…
We also have the Carrie Lam Screw-Ikebana Nasty Flower Arrangement (and even if the colours didn’t clash, that jacket would still be just too frightful). Needless to say, there are badly acted and unconvincing TV commercials (I’m assuming – haven’t watched TV since they invented YouTube).
There’s also a (suspiciously brief) exhibition at the Museum of History, featuring exciting waxworks of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. In a major error, Deng’s spittoon is missing. To compensate, Maggie is portrayed as wearing her nightgown at the historic meeting, and sporting a rather fetching Virginia Woolf hairstyle. Might be worth a visit, if only to see what the Mainland visitors make of it all.
Then there’s the poster, which I am reliably informed appeared on at least one bus stop in Central. It marks the 25 years since the Basic Law’s promul-whatever with a timeline of events that mostly have no relevance but seem to have been chosen to satisfy some vague sort of patriotic feel-good thing. Following the return to the Motherland, we have the 2003 signing of CEPA, an elaborate but tedious and in fact meaningless ‘free trade’ agreement with (and ‘gift’ from) the Mainland, the benefits of which have either been contrived or are simply fictitious. There’s the hosting of the WTO Ministerial Conference in 2005, which most of us recall as the Rioting Korean Farmers Mayhem, but which I think we are supposed to see as another generous ‘benefit’ from Beijing. That’s certainly the case with the co-hosting of the tiresome equestrian bit of the 2008 Olympics Bore-Fest, which stupendous honour came Hong Kong’s way simply because Mainland veterinary standards were so bad, the horses were forbidden to go there, but we were supposed to be grateful, even though it was an expensive pain in the ass to organize. Getting desperate for things we are supposed to grin and jump up and down about, the bureaucrats go for participation in the 2010 Shanghai World Expo – an inane non-event if ever there were one.
Cherish the chance to mock and treat the 25th anniversary of the Basic Law with disdain – the 30th might be at gunpoint. (Or we might be liberated by then: fans of China’s Coming Collapse must not miss Ann Stevenson Yang’s amazing presentation here – pause and look at her slides, as they zip past quickly and demand study.)
On the subject of posters and ads, I couldn’t help noticing that one fashion label – the hitherto unheard-of ISAIA – has eschewed the industry’s usual sexual deviant/drug addict type of model in favour of something new and original: the Tragic Short-Term Memory Loss Victim Found Wandering in the Museum and Doesn’t Know His Own Name look. Well done. Though I’m still not going to buy any of your tacky looking clothes…