All of a sudden, it seems Hong Kong needs a ‘fresh start’. Officials who, a few weeks ago, were trying to destroy the barriers protecting the city from Chinese Communist Party-style justice have miraculously transformed into contrite and reflective semi-innocents. They present themselves as victims of misunderstanding, if not actual mishap, and they beg not just for forgiveness but for the right to carry on (maybe a bit differently).
Establishment and other constructive and polite moderates concede that there might be something systemically wrong. Officials and even pro-Beijing types who were gloriously ‘out of touch’ in the 1990s seemingly come back to life as one to support post-Extradition Screw-Up reconciliation. Business-sector politician Felix Chung boldly suggests a revamp of the Executive Council. He is joined by mildly inoffensive commentators, who go full hand-wringing about how the Executive Council failed to read the public mood.
ExCo looks like a handy scapegoat. It is officially an ‘advisory’ body, but many of its non-executive members are simply given seats as a symbolic reward for their parties’ loyalty. There is little evidence that they have input into policy; all the signs are that they are used to disseminate the official line.
ExCo is not aimed at ‘reading the public mood’. No part of Hong Kong’s political structure is intended to represent popular opinion to those in power. Since 2014, the trend has been in other direction, with the legislature weakened, political rights tightened, and activists penalized. Elections (especially that for Chief Executive), consultations and advisory bodies are ceremonial or rigged.
The reason is brutal and simple: this is part of China’s overall political structure, in which all power comes from the central point at the top, downwards.
All this Anson Chan et al stuff about how we must now ‘re-think this system’, it doesn’t work, it is dysfunctional, the leaders are out of touch, Hong Kong needs to revisit democratic reform – this is naïve baloney. This top-down authoritarian style of rule is not a mistake or a design fault or a ‘problem’. It is deliberate. To the CCP, the system’s whole purpose is to sideline and override the popular will. The fact that it has provoked a backlash on extradition just tells them it’s still not rigorous enough.
Coming up in exciting Pt 2: Why the ‘we really need to get serious on housing/livelihood now’ trope everyone is discussing is also naïve, missing the point and not going to happen. (This is National Anti-Optimism Week. Sorry.)