Sun, Dec 08, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Hong Kong in clash of civilizations

By Joseph Tse-hei Lee 李榭熙

As the widespread struggle for democracy enters its sixth month in Hong Kong, China remains reluctant to acknowledge that the movement primarily concerns political representation, because this would reveal a total lack of public confidence in the “one country, two systems” model.

In responding to the crushing defeat of pro-Beijing candidates in last month’s district council elections, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) stayed indifferent to the popular will and showed no remorse for the police tactics of brutal oppression. The crux of the matter is one of legitimacy, accountability and transparency in constitutional governance.

Unfortunately, the hope of enforcing Hong Kong’s longstanding autonomy seems to be off the table, as Beijing is pursuing two parallel tactics, namely the policies of no negotiation and securitization by the local police. Insisting that Hong Kong should be absorbed into the political, ideological and socioeconomic framework of the “one country,” Beijing dismisses any call for democratization as a treasonous act of subverting Chinese sovereignty over the territory.

However, there is a growing feeling that Hong Kongers of all ages and stripes have re-examined their constitutional status within the Chinese state. Facing a chorus of internal criticism over the electoral defeat, numerous conservative politicians and business executives are calling for greater autonomy and concessions from Beijing.

Discussing autonomy, which was initially promised by Beijing before 1997, is much more convenient than talking about democratic governance. The agenda of enforcing autonomy focuses on implementation, and characterizes the demands for structural change as economic grievances.

Deliberately ignoring the fundamental question of how legitimate authority ought to be organized, this narrow agenda hinges on an assumption that if the chief executive were more competent and compassionate, and if police commanders behaved professionally and humanely toward civilians, the policy mistakes would be forgotten and public outrage against the government would disappear.

Undoubtedly, such an agenda no longer appeals to the majority of Hong Kongers, who have embraced democratization as a tool of proper governance and the decommissioning of the police as a way to rebuild society. Some younger voters even entertain the idea of political separation from China and seek international aid toward this end.

Despite Lam’s insistence that she will not negotiate directly with pro-democracy advocates over the substantive issue of democratic governance, her administration lies at the mercy of Beijing. Coming to grips with the electoral defeat, Beijing is finding ways to co-opt the newly elected district representatives into its local “united front” regime.

Hong Kong is obviously in the grip of intense anxiety and fear. Once perceived by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) as his crowning achievement, the top-down policy of integrating the territory into the single-party dictatorial system has destabilized Beijing’s extensive infrastructure of surveillance and control. Precisely because the legitimacy of the Lam regime is intrinsically bound to the performance of Xi in managing domestic and diplomatic crises, the future looks profoundly uncertain.

There is a vacuum of crisis management leadership in Hong Kong that has intensified the rise of new civic forces, which are ready to step in and restore public confidence. The months-long pro-democracy resistance rejects the limited legitimacy of the Lam regime in the eyes of Hong Kongers.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top