Pan-dems go to Shenzhen, and come back

Why did the Chinese government invite Hong Kong lawmakers to a much-vaunted special meeting on political reform in Shenzhen yesterday? The Beijing officials’ main message was that the ‘8-31’ decree (that the ballot in the 2017 Chief Executive ‘election’ would be rigged) was permanent and binding on all subsequent polls. This was tantamount to saying that militant pro-dems are right, and the Hong Kong government’s pleas to ‘pocket’ these reforms now in the hope of later improvements are a con. Although local officials SCMP-Pan-Edmocand supporters have recently been acting increasingly desperate in their attempts to win over public opinion, it seems someone up in the imperial court is laid back about a pro-dem rejection of the proposal.

Beijing’s emissaries warn that the pro-dems will suffer in future legislative and other elections for voting the package down later this month. Since they hate the pro-dems, you have to wonder why the Communist officials are so concerned for their welfare. Beijing is presumably preparing for the pan-dems to be ‘blamed’ for the package’s failure (just as they would be ‘blamed’ if went through). One of Beijing’s longstanding tactics has been to divide the pro-dems, and it’s almost as if this goal is superseding that of implementing a long-promised quasi-democratic system for Hong Kong.

The Chinese government’s avowed aim is to keep Communist Party rule secure. Over and again, Beijing officials declare that Hong Kong’s election system must ensure that a ‘tiny number’ of pro-independence/anti-CCP enemies do not seize power. This sounds like a paranoid fantasy: Hong Kong is not some distant, impenetrable place but a wide-open city on China’s doorstep, on full display to the loyal Mainlanders in the Liaison Office paid to monitor it. (The obvious and necessary response to a genuine plot would be to break off diplomatic relations with the US.) But when they talk about ‘external forces’ opposing the central government, they are not really talking about the CIA or any other identifiable agency or country. The ‘foreign forces’ are ideas and values. Chairman Xi Jinping thinks he can seal China’s Mainland off from these threats by censoring the Internet and textbooks, but Hong Kong is fully exposed, yet at the same time supposedly integrating with the motherland.

Beijing may succeed in finally and permanently splitting the opposition camp, but hardly in a way that makes it feel safer. After killing off the proposed reform package, the older-generation pan-dems may bicker or fade away – their patriotic dreams of spearheading Chinese democratization in shatters. In their place, we’re getting a younger generation who have no desire to rescue China from the Communists because they don’t even see themselves as Chinese. The June 4 vigil folk are coming to be the moderates, in the face of localists decrying anything Mainland as alien and irrelevant. Beijing’s original (80s-90s) timetable for political reform in Hong Kong suggested an expectation that younger people would be more at ease with the ‘We are all PRC’ thing. Wrong.

All this reflects a fundamental flaw in the one-party state. The government has only two possible relationships with its own people: either pats-on-the-head for the obedient and the shoe-shiners, or unremitting hostility and threats for skeptics and free-thinkers. There is no middle ‘hearts and minds’ setting. We see this same fault in handling Tibet, where having a photo of the Dalai Lama means jail, or Xinjiang, where officials are trying to ‘weaken Islam’ by forcing shopkeepers to sell booze (honest). (It applies to international relations too. Interestingly, one of the Beijing officials in Shenzhen mentioned that Hong Kong’s pro-democrats were often OK in ‘bilateral’ dealings, but were troublesome when they formed a ‘bloc’; he could have been talking about ASEAN and the South China Sea.)

The onus is on the sovereign power to run its territory properly; blaming the inhabitants (or just some of them) when things go wrong won’t wash. But that’s not how the Communist Party works. The failure of this political reform exercise suggests that after decades of misjudging Hong Kong, Beijing is getting into a clear pattern of repeatedly mishandling the place.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. Anyone wanting to seize the initiative always has the issue of everyday governance, which continues to deteriorate. For example, in the last few days alone we have had not one but two examples of how the Hong Kong government couldn’t care less about maltreatment of the elderly poor, and is telling even middle-class parents to go hang, while pouring resources into schools for the ultra-wealthy. Opportunities for Beijing, or for the pro-dems, should they want them.

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13 Responses to Pan-dems go to Shenzhen, and come back

  1. Joe Blow says:

    The little pow-pow in Shenzhen took place because the s stooges in the photo are desperate. It is their responsibility to make things go ‘smooth’ (read: everybody obeys the CCP directives). But things are not going smooth at all. Which means that they may lose their jobs or that their careers get derailed. That junior-minister job they were hoping for may not materialize and, in the worst case, they may be reassigned to the Forestry Bureau in Inner Mongolia., or appointed third secretary at the embassy in Pyongyang.

  2. NIMBY says:

    “The Chinese government’s avowed aim is to keep Communist Party rule secure.” That’s giving “government” a greater force than any CCP member could possibly understand. Government, society, everything is subservient to the party, the party does not rule through government, but rather, like an appendix, government is this organ that hangs around for some forgotten function, and things will go along just as before if all these non-functioning functions were to disappear from the paperwork.

    This isn’t just a problem with the CCP, Sun Yat Sen agonized, stumbled and tried again and again to establish a system of government rather than a system of “relationship”, a Dialectic Modern State instead of a Confucian Li (Form or Arete). The Democrats vs. the CCP isn’t just two opposing political parties; its two different species trying to inhabit the same position in an ecosystem, one of them must go extinct.

  3. Stephen says:

    If the CCP had thrown a few titbits, Future changes possible, no more corporate voting, slight reform of the nominating committee (albeit still packing it full enough with the united front to ensure the result is always secure) then I think a few Pan-Dems may have folded. However they preferred to talk tough and expose Carrie etc as bare faced liars – pocket it now! So presumably the CCP couldn’t care less about constitutional development or making complete fools of Hong Kong’s senior officials. So now the theatre moves to the Legco elections next year – and if they return with a Pro-Dem veto, what then? Sun certainly is setting over the Big Lychee and as for the glorious reunification with Taiwan – no chance.

  4. Scotty Dotty says:

    In fairness to the Peking Peons, when they said a rigged universal suffrage in Hong Kong was “for the long run”, they (only) meant until different relationships applied. They weren’t meaning “permanent” in the full sense of the word. That’s how everything works up north – government by relationship, much like a kids playground, they still haven’t evolved to real government for grown ups.

    Nevertheless, as Hemlock says, the fact they said even “for the long run” reveals a lot.

    You have to feel sorry for poor Carrie & Crew who will be getting (yet another) bollocking this week. “You can’t even run this tiny bit of the Motherland for us so we’ll have to send someone from Peking for you.”

  5. Jason90 says:

    Alex Lo making sense – but it’s probably an isolated instant – he can’t seem to connect poor government to lack of democracy, instead preferring ad hominem attacks on pan- dems. Or is he just following editorial guidelines?

  6. Cassowary says:

    I suspect that they actually want the localists to run wild. They know the localists are a fringe group unlikely to win support from Mr. and Mrs. Middle Class Office Manager. Most decent human beings would hesitate to back groups that demand the deportation of orphans.

    If the moderate Dems cease to be a viable electoral force, the localists can be kept around as a convenient political boogeyman to scare Mr. and Mrs. Office Manager into tolerating, if not supporting, crackdowns on civil liberties. The government will introduce Article 23. The moderate dems will be sidelined. The localists will riot. Perhaps the triads can be conveniently arranged to burn a few cars and maim a few people. Beijing will say “See? This is why you need national security laws!”

    The Communist Party has seen rioting backfire on them before. The bombings of ’67 bought the British 30 more years of loyalty to the crown. If they’re clever, they’ll try to use this playbook, in reverse.

  7. Dr Do me a little says:

    I am sure that each of those three CCPers is thinking by himself: “How can I extract myself from this mess and deflect the blame on those 2 assholes ?”

  8. PD says:

    Hemlock, With respect, the threat made to the pan-dems by the Chinese side had little to do with saying they might perform poorly in future elections. (Indeed this would hardly be a threat, simply an analysis/statement of perceived fact, and of course they would never stoop so low as to discuss such matters with Deltas, albeit Chinese ones.)

    Knowledge of Chinese culture would lead one to conclude that a real threat must (a) try to warn the enemy off some course of action (b) be ambiguous, so that even after the threat is carried out, the victim suspects, but cannot be certain, that revenge has been exacted and (c) be relatively innocuous at first but carry within itself the germ of repeated escalation, thus permitting a virtuous cycle: making of threat–carrying it out–using the previous refusal to toe the line as a pretext for a stronger threat–and so on, indefinitely.

    Today the pan-dems, tomorrow the other misfits, foreign forces in our midst, writers, artists, sexual deviants, ecologists, maybe even the chattering classes. The CP doesn’t do failure: their methods will increase in force until every HKer has been hammered into submission.

  9. Peter says:

    “Today the pan-dems, tomorrow the other misfits, foreign forces in our midst, writers, artists, sexual deviants, ecologists, maybe even the chattering classes. The CP doesn’t do failure: their methods will increase in force until every HKer has been hammered into submission.”

    With such heavy handed methods, I can only see it blowing up in the CCP’s face. Also the CCP doesn’t do failure, until it does and it will be the total undoing of the Communist Party much like how it happened in Poland and other eastern european countries.

  10. Debbie does Dallas says:

    History has taught us that no dictatorship survives in the long run. The CCP will be no different.

    How will it come about ?

    First there will be the economic crisis: big bank(s) fail, smaller banks fail, probably as a result of over-exposure to the real estate bubble.

    The stock market crashes. Inevitable.

    Social unrest follows. The middle class revolts after seeing their paper profits evaporate. The disenfranchised poor -still a large section of society- will riot.

    The fattest rats will panic and flee to North America.

    The house of cards will come tumbling down. A few people in Hong Kong, as elsewhere, will be left dangling from lamp posts.

  11. Gooddog says:

    See y’all at the June 4 vigil!

  12. gumshoe says:

    A very lucid interpretation of the ‘foreign forces’ pap. Gives me something to think about… foreign ideas, not foreign forces.

  13. @Cassowary – “If they’re clever…” – given the balls-up they’ve made of running HK so far, how much would you bet on their intelligence?

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