There was a little bit of good news from Hong Kong this week — and more bad news — for those who hope for more transparency and democracy in the territory and less of Beijing’s heavy-handed efforts to mold the Special Administrative Region along the lines of its own closed-door secrecy-laden modus operandi.
The good news was the territory’s government backing away from efforts to pass a clause to the new Companies Ordinance that would limit information about company directors and secretaries. However, any spark of celebration was tempered by comments from the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau spokeswoman, who said the delay would give more room for “the community to reach a consensus.”
The bad news came from Qiao Xiaoyang (喬曉陽), chairman of the law committee of China’s National People’s Congress, who said that regardless of how Hong Kong voters vote in the 2017 elections for the territory’s chief executive, the final decision would rest with Beijing. He added that any consultation on electoral reform in the territory should not begin until most residents agree that anyone who “confronts” the central government in Beijing should not rule the territory.
In both instances, the inference is that the populace will be “consulted,” ie, worn down through time and pressure, until they agree to what Beijing wants.
What Beijing wants is an end to demands for democracy and accountability.
The bid to limit what kind of information about a company’s directors and secretaries would be accessible, such as no longer requiring them to provide their full identification numbers and residential addresses, came just months after Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) were embarrassed by stories by Bloomberg and the New York Times about the massive accumulation of assets by members of their families. The information in those stories came from research into company records on file in Hong Kong.
However, it was not just journalists who have been fighting back against the push for more secrecy; trade unions and the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association — not natural allies — found themselves in agreement on the need to preserve openness.
Details about a company’s owners and top executives are crucial for conducting background checks on prospective business partners and helping employees trace business owners who abscond without paying wages, not to mention efforts to combat money laundering and tax evasion. The protests were about preserving and ensuring accountability.
While one might hope that the decision to shelve the proposal was a victory for common sense, what passes for common sense in Beijing is often not what people elsewhere would call it. Common sense was allegedly the impetus for Qiao’s comments about Hong Kong’s future leaders. It would be “illogical for someone who confronts the central government to be the chief executive,” Qiao said in remarks published on the Web site of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.
Embarrassing is more like it.
It certainly would be an embarrassment for Beijing to have to deal with a leadership in Hong Kong that was actually representative of, and willing to stand up for, the aspirations and desires of Hong Kongers — just as it has been embarrassing for Xi, Wen and their allies to have to deal with truths found in public data.