Ever since Beijing announced its restrictive quasi-democratic model for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, it has often looked as if Chinese officials were deliberately trying to goad pro-democrats into rejecting it. The cadres ranted and raved. They belittled Hong Kong’s autonomy and questioned its loyalty. They denounced opponents as ignorant, if not treacherous. So belligerent was the hectoring that a plan to provoke pro-democracy lawmakers into vetoing the package – for whatever cynical and devious reasons – seemed a reasonable explanation.
However, as the year-long political-reform struggle-session comes to an end, it becomes apparent that Beijing really was trying to get the proposal to go through all along. State- or party-backed national propaganda organs, which rarely mention Hong Kong affairs, are voicing support for the package, and central government officials are issuing veiled threats about what might happen to pro-democrats if the package fails.
The fact that an onlooker couldn’t necessarily discern these table-banging, mouth-frothing emissaries’ true intentions suggests a serious communication gap. China’s officials are thumping you on the head and shrieking in your ear, and you still can’t tell for sure what their point is. (Our pro-democrats took them at face value from the start, but dare we say this reflects guilelessness as much as powers of perception? Hong Kong local officials’ plodding and mind-numbing efforts to promote the reforms suggested that they were just as unsure and bewildered as the rest of us.)
Scurrilous rumours mention people in or around government (I’m assuming sleazy pro-tycoon/anti-CY pro-establishment legislators) making bets on the outcome of the proposal, which goes into the Legislative Council on Wednesday. They are putting money on the package going through, because of course that’s where the long odds are – there are no serious winnings on offer from backing the obvious outcome.
Assuming they do not amaze themselves and win their 30-to-1 or whatever wagers, there will be a lot of huffing, puffing and finger-pointing about how Hong Kong’s democrats blew their chance. Our seething and petulant leaders will declare that they will now put political reform aside and instead ‘focus on the economy’ – roughly equivalent to telling the children that Christmas is being cancelled this year. Communist loyalists will lament the lost opportunity for democracy, because as we all know they’re really, really into democracy.
The pro-Beijing camp are consoling themselves with the thought that there will be a massive backlash against the pro-democrats in the legislative elections next year. But the latest opinion polls now show public support for the package slipping to the same level as opposition – 43% for each. The pro-dems will probably find a way to screw up at the 2016 polls, just as the pro-Beijing forces will be ruthless in campaign strategy and vote-procuring. But many voters would love a chance to cast a protest vote against the CY Leung administration and its micro-managing overseers in the Liaison Office.
That’s if those guys are still there. Zhang Xiaoming, boss Wang Guangya and Co’s handling of Hong Kong has been a disaster. They will no doubt blame local stupidity or evil foreign forces, but it should be obvious to anyone that their shouting and berating and bullying didn’t persuade, convince or overawe. Indeed, we couldn’t even be sure what they really wanted.