Today’s South China Morning Post lavishes many column inches on Hong Kong Civic Party quitter Ronny Tong. Ronny laments that fellow pro-democrats didn’t support him when he tried taking a conciliatory approach to the government or Beijing, and so he is going to explore a ‘third way’. Modern history is littered with ‘third ways’, from Alexander Kerensky to Clinton-Blair communitarianism, and it is hard to be optimistic about bringing Hong Kong’s Leninist sovereign and pluralistic populace together as one happy family.
The Beijing officials who now direct the campaign against Hong Kong’s opposition will see Ronny’s initiative as a chance to further split the pan-dems, confound dissidents’ evil plans and generally crush the enemy – as an instinctive reaction rather than as part of any grand strategy. This means Ronny and his Path of Democracy team may get a few pats on the head, such as invitations to tea and cookies at the Liaison Office. If they run in District or Legislative Council elections they will wedge themselves into a niche on the political spectrum between the mildest pro-democrats (the obscure ADPL, say) and the least-principled carpetbaggers in the pro-Beijing camp (say, Regina Ip’s bunch). And they will find out that in such an atomized political environment, the closer to the middle-ground you get, the more people hate you.
Even some of Ronny’s own natural supporters see moderation as a hopeless cause. As one tells the SCMP, the lovey-dovey-compromise thing works on the assumption that there are flexible and open-minded Beijing officials. Given Xi Jinping’s phobia about deviant ideology, this is not the case.
The conflict between Hong Kong pro-democrats and the Chinese government goes back decades, and both sides have occasionally shown some hint of hoping for mutual trust. But right now, Beijing is engaged in a zero-sum struggle: you are obedient, or you are hostile. For the pro-establishment camp, fears of the Communist Party’s wrath lead them to weep and bow in public over their botched vote on political reform. To most right-thinking (indeed, moderate) members of the public, this groveling to a distant and alien power is pitiful and nauseating. There is a real potential here for calm and unswerving pro-dems to gain broad ‘silent majority’ support as defenders of Hong Kong’s core values. Meanwhile, Ronny and his followers will nobly sacrifice themselves in a test to see whether a ‘win-win’ can exist in such a seething cauldron.