A lot left to play for (and our fate is in our hands)

Our last piece two days ago, “A resolute no to fake democracy”, argued that the Chinese Communist Party’s vision for Hong Kong as articulated in the National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision of August 31 is far worse than no reform at all. Following on that, this piece argues that while the CCP has shown clearly that it has no intention of allowing genuine universal suffrage in Hong Kong any time soon, if ever, there are still important objectives for the pro-democracy movement to accomplish, and we have the power to do so.

Sometimes the brazenness of the CCP is stunning: First, it breaks its promise and legal obligation to Hong Kong to introduce genuine universal suffrage. Then, it calls its broken promise ‘universal suffrage’. Then it intends to force feed this broken promise it calls ‘universal suffrage’ to the Hong Kong people. It must not be allowed to get away with this betrayal and deception. And fortunately, we can stop it.

Some recent media reports portray the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement after the August 31 NPCSC ruling as weakened and Hong Kong people as resigned. Of course, being told in no uncertain terms that you will continue to be denied the basic human right of universal suffrage (ICCPR Article 25, to which Hong Kong is party—Basic Law Article 39) is disappointing, even if you expected it. But contrary to this media narrative, it’s the pro-democracy movement that’s sitting pretty and the CCP that’s got an uphill struggle ahead.

Between the CCP’s vision for Hong Kong (essentially, mainland-style ‘elections’ fully controlled by the CCP) and its realization lies Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. All 27 pan-democratic members of Legco have vowed to vote against the CCP’s vision, and that is enough to block it from passing into law.

Beijing needs fake democracy in Hong Kong. First of all, fake democracy is an essential component of its end game for Hong Kong, which is full formal control over the political system and full mainlandization of the society long before 2047 comes around. Secondly, it is significant that it was the NPCSC that handed down very clear parameters for Hong Kong Chief Executive elections from 2017 onward. The NPCSC could have simply kicked the ball back to the Hong Kong government and made it play the bad guy. Of course, whatever the Hong Kong government came up with would have still been dictated to it by the CCP, but the CCP could have opted for plausible deniability- Hey, it’s not us, but them. Instead, by setting the rules in no uncertain terms, the CCP has effectively elbowed the Hong Kong government aside and put its stamp on the plan. And now that it’s owned it, the plan’s defeat would be the CCP’s defeat.

Pepper says, “… Beijing needs the 2017 universal suffrage vote as much, if not more, than Hong Kong does. Because for Beijing, the exercise is a way of showing the world that it has brought ‘democracy’ to Hong Kong after 150 years of autocratic colonial rule … thereby fulfilling the one-country, two-systems promise of Hong Kong’s new Basic Law constitution. The loss to Beijing of this historic boast would be great in terms of political face, prestige, and legitimacy.”

So the blocking of the CCP’s vision for Hong Kong in Legco would be a significant defeat for Beijing. And Beijing does not like to be defeated, least of all by its minions. You can expect a fierce anti-democracy propaganda campaign in the coming months leading up to the Legco vote, which would probably occur before the end of the calendar year (the Hong Kong government could decide not to present it to Legco if it looked doomed to defeat).

The CCP’s ultimate objective is to split the pan-democratic Legco members and get a sufficient number to go along with its plan. The problem is, it really doesn’t have anything to offer them since they say that they will accept nothing less than a plan that conforms to international law. Still, we shouldn’t take anything for granted. When the last electoral reform plan came up in 2010, the CCP was able to get one party (which shall not be named here) to break ranks with its pan-democratic counterparts and vote for the CCP plan, which was passed as a result. The party that broke ranks reasoned that what it accepted constituted incremental progress (it didn’t, but that’s another story) and, perhaps more importantly, that if there were no electoral reform at all, the CCP could use that as an excuse to further delay introduction of universal suffrage. Looking on the bright side, we can say that the good thing about the pan-democratic party breaking ranks is that it called the CCP’s bluff: It went along with the CCP’s plan in hope of future progress, but the NPCSC decision shows definitively that that was a false hope, and makes the Hong Kong government’s pocket-it-first ploy a real hard sell. Though the pan-democrats seem more united than ever at the moment, it’s not inconceivable that defections could happen again.

That’s where the CCP’s massive propaganda campaign comes in. It will try to persuade the world that what it calls ‘universal suffrage’ really is that, and for this reason, it’s unfortunate that neither the U.S. nor the U.K. has yet been willing to call a spade a spade. It will try to persuade Hong Kong people that, in the ventriloquized words of our very unpopular Chief Executive, CY Leung, ‘one step forward’ is better than ‘two steps back’. Outwardly, Hong Kong people may appear to be wavering as to whether or not they agree with that, but inwardly, most don’t believe it for a moment. As ever with Hong Kong people, the question is how they will act. The CCP is reckoning that a sufficient number of Hong Kong people will opt for giving in to the bully. Nobody but nobody likes the NPCSC decision. Outside of the very narrow circle of CCP allies, you must search far and wide to find any enthusiasm for it. With this decision, the CCP has provoked mass disillusionment with its rule and has created a new generation of enemies in the young, many of whom would have been willing to accept some CCP presence in HK as long as it met its basic obligations. Now the CCP has shown all of Hong Kong clearly that it can’t be trusted at all, and this will be its legacy and liability for a long time to come. It’s up to the pro-democracy movement to turn that widespread disillusionment and distrust into political action. In that sense, the ball is in our court.

Of course, there’s one thing that both the pro-democracy movement and the CCP can agree on: no reform at all is their and our number two option. Unless the CCP manages to crack the pan-democrats, that looks like where things are headed. And that would be a significant victory for us.

So is the pro-democracy movement getting a bit perverse if its best victory is simply the defeat of fake democracy, rather than being able in the short term to achieve a more positive result by pressuring the CCP to come clean on its promise? No, it’s better to live without illusions, and sometimes resistance is the best you can do while continuing to work toward that positive goal of real democracy. The pro-democracy movement’s short-term goal is defeat of the CCP’s fake democracy, and it fully has that within its grasp. Besides and beyond that, it needs to continue to foster the development of democratic culture and consciousness, laying the foundation for the success of democracy when it does eventually one day arrive. At the same time, we must resist impositions from Bejing. The Hong Kong political system has been dysfunctional for some time, and rather than attempting to solve the governance crisis through truly democratic reform, the CCP has simply perpetuated it. The pro-democracy movement has to continue to show clearly that this system of government is not only dysfunctional but not serving the interests of most Hong Kong people, and illegitimate as well. That is a heavy burden to take up in the long term, and our success in this area, given the sheer weight of the CCP and the inexorable mainlandization of Hong Kong society already well underway, is by no means certain.


The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Occupy Central with Love and Peace.