Wednesday, 6 November 2019

We’ve got to show Beijing that political reform is a win-win

At their core, Hong Kong’s problems are not just economic. They are also to do with the administration’s political calcification frustrations about lethargic political reform and the handling of the extradition bill and protests.

Most protesters have genuine grievances about how the system operates. Yet, if our city is to make political progress, we cannot treat Beijing as a mortal enemy. We should make known our frustrations and demands, and make a case for why mutual interests can be aligned through genuine, systemic political reforms.

First, politics is constrained by realism – the livelihoods and businesses of millions are at stake. Hong Kong is undeniably a part of China, politically, legally and internationally. The mainland also has significant economic leverage, from our intertwined economies to our financial markets, from cross-border commercial interactions to tourism. China supplies 70% of our water, 23% of our electricity and 93% of our food. A switch to “off” is all it would take to being us to our knees.

The whimsical and petulant expressions of symbolic solidarity from the capricious American Congress will not last very long, as the 2020 presidential election gains traction; appealing to the British or the West at large is futile when it is unclear what, if anything, they could do.

Thus, Hongkongers must make the case that political liberalisation and devolution are in the central government’s interests – the appointment of more meritocratic and competent individuals can help better juggle mutual interests, serve as a public pressure valve and prevent bloodshed. This is a realistic proposal, but its viability is rapidly dissipating.

Second, democracy in Hong Kong can only come about when we build a critical coalition between pro-establishment politicians, large businesses, moderates and mainland Chinese who have increasingly significant stakes in the city’s operations.

Branding the democracy movement with anti-Chinese rhetoric only affirms the mistaken impression that it is pro-independence and pro-secession – most Hongkongers know this is untrue. To court secessionist ideals would only alienate moderates and progressives on the mainland, as well as many upon whose backs modern Hong Kong was built.

Most importantly, conflating universal suffrage with anti-Chinese sentiments would transform Hong Kong into a mere pawn in the duel between China and the West – it is perfectly reasonable to take a stance, but doing so with the fates of 7.4 million individuals bundled together is a mistake.
Finally, it may be convenient to attribute the months of political turmoil to the central government but this would be intellectually irresponsible, dishonest and unhelpful.

There is an absurd belief that if one opposes protest violence, one must also ridicule and ignore protester demands. Possible and systemic police misconduct, government inertia, socioeconomic
inequalities, and political polarisation are all pressing problems. But it’s a poor strategy to lump them together with the question of Hong Kong’s relationship with China.

The pro-democracy movement cannot place all its eggs in one basket – particularly one unlikely to generate immediate solutions.Any argument for political reform could take two forms. One, a moralising pitch for Beijing to comply with promises and constraints that it already views itself as adhering to, if not going above and beyond. Two, emphasise that democratisation can vastly improve the Hong Kong government’s ability to serve the interests of both Hongkongers and China as an economic superpower. “One country, two systems” has never been easy to implement. Those who wish to fix this system must channel the concerns of the Hong Kong public in a constructive and non-antagonistic manner, highlight where the two systems’ differences benefit both sides, and show how our interests converge.

This does not mean blindly acceding to the status quo and ignoring the deafening cries for systemic revamping and change. It does mean we should strive for thorough and robust reforms, as opposed to revolution.

It is time for progressives and moderates to step up to reform “one country, two systems”, which is undergoing its most difficult period. Only then can we build a collective future where Hong Kong and Beijing are not enemies, but constituents of a continued, unprecedented political arrangement.