Fri, May 24, 2002 - Page 12 News List

China devouring HK's autonomy

By Sushil P.Seth

Hong Kong made a big splash when the colony was transferred to China in 1997. Before that, Beijing would go into a tizzy when Governor Chris Patten attempted to belatedly introduce democracy in Hong Kong. After the transfer of power it was hoped that China wouldn't stifle the process of democratization; if not for any thing else but to lure Taiwan into its embrace. Not that Taipei was keen on it. But Beijing still hoped.

But recent developments in Hong Kong would seem to have put paid to any possibility of Taiwan's voluntary unification with China. The reappointment of Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) for a second term (starting July 1), without any pretense of popular selection/election, is increasingly making its autonomy a sick joke. He is simply Beijing's man doing its bidding.

He is known to be deeply unpopular in Hong Kong, and his reappointment is a clear message to the people that it is Beijing's mandate, and not popular mandate, that counts. Which makes Tung, in turn, contemptuous of public opinion. How else would one explain his decision to appoint (from July 1) 14 "ministers" to run the government. They will be responsible to Tung, holding office at his pleasure, subject, of course, to Beijing's dictation. There will be no public accountability by way of election of any sort or legislative control.

Still, it is being sold as an exercise in greater accountability. Well, Orwellian newspeak is alive and kicking not only in China but even in its "model" autonomous region. From the Beijing oligarchy to its Hong Kong satrap and his minions, there is now a chain of command running the territory without answering to its people. Hong Kong's partly elected legislative council is blissfully ignored in the process. And why not, as it has no real powers. Tung is sure to further emasculate the legislature during his second term.

Why is Beijing slowly, but surely, eroding Hong Kong's autonomy? Could it be that, if allowed to develop its popular institutions, its example might threaten the political system in the mainland? Its leaders seem to think so. Otherwise, they wouldn't impose on its people a highly unpopular Tung as their chief. The message is quite clear: that Hong Kong remains a colony -- this time governed from the homeland. The perceived threat to the system on the mainland is palpable because any alternative system based on popular legitimacy is a threat to the communist oligarchy.

The lack, if not absence, of popular legitimacy is a serious problem for the leadership in Beijing. But the alternative of participatory democracy is tantamount to political harakiri. Admitting it, though, is a problem. Therefore, democracy is denigrated as a danger to the country's stability, growth and prosperity. In other words, China without the communists will mean chaos.

But, increasingly, it is becoming difficult to define and relate the country to communist ideology. "Greed is glorious" doesn't have the ring of idealism. The communist revolution, with the party in the vanguard role as rulers, was supposed to usher in a workers' paradise. With rising unemployment and increased layoffs from state enterprises, the supposed workers' paradise is as distant as ever. But the leadership in Beijing is as resourceful as ever in coining new meanings and slogans.

We all remember how when Khrushchev sought to rework Marxist ideology in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union, he was reviled by Mao Zedong (毛澤東) as a revisionist. It split the communist bloc, with resultant "revisionist" (Soviet Union) and "dogmatist" (China) labels as part of a vicious ideological/power struggle. But whenever Beijing took liberties with the communist orthodoxy, it was simply creative development with Chinese characteristics.

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