THIS SYNDICATED COLUMN ON POLITICAL TURMOIL IN HONG KONG WAS PUBLISHED 8 SEPTEMBER IN THE ‘SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST’, HONG KONG’S LEAD NEWSPAPER. A VERY SIMILAR VERSION WAS PUBLISHED 10 SEPTEMBER IN ‘CHINA DAILY’, THE LEADING ENGLISH-LANGUAGE DAILY OF CHINA: “Hong Kong is one of the world’s great metropolises, most travelers concur, and China sports the world’s largest overall economy, most estimates agree. And so, if anything, when the two got reconnected years ago, it should have been a marriage made in political heaven – David meets Goliath and they get hitched!
“Until recently, in fact, the relationship seemed to be bobbing along rather swimmingly. In 1997, Beijing, after long negotiation, took back Hong Kong from London, which had bossed the place since the mid-19th century.
“The territory’s economy then soared; not many people seemed to miss the British rule terribly much; and, on the whole, the iconic “one country, two systems” policy was playing well enough.
“But, recently, anti-Beijing anger began swirling around the world’s most spectacular harbour like a gathering typhoon, over the specifics of the rules by which the city’s 2017 general election would be run. Beijing would permit universal suffrage on the condition that the nominating system produced only candidates who “loved China” (that is, more or less supported Beijing); whereas opponents inside Hong Kong wanted a wide-open, free-swinging nomination process.
“To easily alarmed (and indeed furious) Beijing, that second option meant – in logical theory anyway – the possibility of the election of even a Taiwanese separatist, if that person got enough votes. That was far more “democracy” than Beijing could stomach. Rather like the US, as a matter of fact, it prefers election results that produce friends rather than enemies.
“The final rules and procedures of the 2017 election are the legal province of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, and the new rules handed down said that while everyone could vote, not everybody could run. But instead of accepting this as a very unsurprising and not so awful compromise, the pure-democracy folks in Hong Kong went bonkers. And in this they went too far.
“In any real-world political system, including even an established and vigorous democracy, much less a developing one, a fair-minded person could well have concluded that someone in Beijing was trying to meet the agitated people in Hong Kong at least at some halfway point. After all, China holds absolutely sovereignty over Hong Kong. And under Chinese rule, it should be noted, Hong Kong has had more local elective democracy than permitted by London during its many decades of rule. So where is the balanced perspective?
“What’s more, in some London circles, some serious sulking (or craven political posturing) was still going on. Who lost Hong Kong?
“In July, from London, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Richard Ottaway, announced an inquiry into whether the 1984 Sino-British agreement – which stipulated explicitly that the territory would have a significant degree of autonomy – was being dishonored by Beijing.
“At this, a furious China cried foul. The British, after all, had lorded over their ill-gotten gain from the Opium War for 156 years without offering elections. Again, where is the honest, balanced perspective?
“Beijing surely has a point in arguing that outside interference in the internal political affairs of a sovereign state is just not cricket. Imagine the reaction in the West if some blowhard Chinese legislator were to opine on the impending referendum on independence for Scotland by expressing sympathy for the separatists.
“And so, the democracy purists in Hong Kong were obviously jarred by the clear-headed statement from the British Foreign Office last week, noting that Beijing’s half-a-loaf proposal on the 2017 election process made acceptable sense, while also noting the obvious – that not everyone in Hong Kong would applaud lustily.
“But the Foreign Office statement was a most welcome turning down of the volume. In a sense, it wisely mirrored the moderation of the (relatively new) Xi Jinping administration, which is anything but a huge fan of the kind of universal suffrage the special administrative region will in fact enjoy in 2017.
“It’s rare that one side or the other gets everything it wants in the difficult world of politics. In fact, extremism and vapid posturing of any kind need to be avoided whenever possible in this crazy world of ours where cultures, religions and political systems are crammed ever closer together.
“What must also be accepted is that China’s rise deserves to be treated by the West with dignity and, whenever possible, with understanding and even support.
“Any other course of action will almost surely lead to a most unnecessary conflict of unimaginable dimensions. We should be able to do much better than that. And we had better. === BY TOM PLATE, WRITING FROM LOS ANGELES
WORLD NEWSPAPERS THAT PUBLISHED THIS COLUMN:
HONG KONG COLUMN PICKUP
KHALEEJ TIMES (Dubai):
CHINA DAILY (various editions):
PAKISTAN STATE TIMES:
SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST (HONG KONG)
Professor and journalist Tom Plate’s just-published book is In the Middle of China’s Future. At Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, he is distinguished scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies. Distributed by the Pacific Perspectives Media Centre