Fri, Jul 11, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: If not Tung, then who?

More than 50,000 people gathered outside the building housing Hong Kong's Legislative Council Wednesday night to demand not only the resignation of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華), but more importantly, the popular election of the chief executive and the implementation of democracy in the territory. It was the second large-scale anti-government political demonstration in Hong Kong in little over a week.

Beijing isn't that happy with Tung these days either. Its displeasure was shown by the fact that he has come under fire from the pro-China camp in the territory. One of Hong Kong's representatives to the China's National People Congress, Ma Li (馬力), said the performance of Tung's government over the enactment of an anti-subversion law has not lived up to the expectation of the central government.

According to Ma, the law is the only thing Beijing has asked Tung's government to enact since the handover and yet he has failed to deliver. Ma also asked just what Tung had ever done to help ensure passage of the anti-subversion bill. Other members of the pro-China camp criticized Tung for allowing even minimal changes to be made to the bill, saying it was now "a toothless tiger."

Beijing's sycophants may think the current draft of the bill too weak, but popular revulsion with the proposed legislation has escalated, and with it, anger with Tung. During Wednesday night's protest, the crowd loudly booed when Legislative Council member Audrey Yu (余若薇) said Tung had told her that democracy was very low on the priority list for people in Hong Kong.

Yet it is unlikely that China's rulers want Tung to step down now. The indefinite postponement of the second reading of the anti-subversive bill was just about all the insult they can stomach at present. The bill was unlikely to pass after the head of the Beijing-linked pro-business Liberal Party withdrew his party's support earlier this week, saying more time was needed to consider the security law.

The delay, however, should not be interpreted as Beijing backing down. From the way that Chinese officials have kept silent up about the postponement, it's clear that they're keeping a low profile to avoid fanning the flames of public anger. Beijing is unlikely to allow the anti-subversion legislation to be scrapped or to allow direct elections. It can't afford to let people think that it can be muscled around by protests and demonstrations.

So what will happen? Will Tung budge or, more specifically, will Beijing give in to demands that he go? The chances look remote. Anyway, who would replace him? Anyone put in by Beijing would be just another one of its toadies, just as unresponsive to Hong Kong's residents' demands or criticism as Tung has been. Most analysts don't even think that there will be a reshuffle of the Executive Council, which underwent a slight shifting of portfolios just a few months ago, after Tung's "reelection."

For six years Tung and Beijing have tried to pacify the territory's residents with appeals for social stability, unity and patriotism. But since neither have been able to do much to revive Hong Kong's economy -- another sore point -- their appeals lack credibility with almost everyone besides party hacks.

Social stability and economic development are important issues, but Beijing remains as blind as the KMT's martial-law era regime was to the fact that they are sorry excuses for depriving people of their fundamental rights and freedoms. The Hong Kong people's demand for democracy is a worthy aspiration, but they have awoken a little too late. They are unlikely to get much of a say in their government, given Beijing's abhorrence of anything that could challenge its rule. Nevertheless, we wish them luck.

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