HONG KONG AND DEMOCRACY

I was inspired by an open address from Mr. Gerard Millet, a businessman from France who has been living and working in Hong Kong for over 30 years. I took the liberty (forgive me Mr. Millet) to reword much of it and add other parts of my own as my conclusion is different than his, though I share many of his arguments.

Parthenon-Greece

 Hong Kong and Democracy

After a week of participating in debates and online discussion forums regarding the subject of democracy it has become evident that this subject is a big ball of confusion among many native Hong Kongers. At this point I think one of the best things anyone can do in Hong Kong is to grab their friend and neighbor who is avidly fighting for “democracy” and enlighten them what it really means AND what Hong Kong already HAS!

Before I elaborate on democracy I just want to say once and for all that living in Hong Kong for over 4 years (not planning on leaving any time soon) and having lived in some of the most “democratic” countries in the world, namely the U.S., Canada and Sweden, Hong Kong is (or at least was until the recent mess started) one of the most safe, free, peaceful, tolerant, multi-racial and multi-cultural regions in the world. Maybe the most free and dynamic city in all of Asia. (Singaporeans I know you will argue this…)

Despite being under Chinese sovereignty it enjoys its own judiciary, rule of law, free press (at least relative to the rest of the “free world”) and freedom of expression. Whether you think so right now or not, the people in Hong Kong enjoy the same advantages of a democratic society (outside of electing their own Chief Executive) as most other democratic countries, even if its political system can’t technically be called a “democracy”.

What does democracy mean?

The term originates from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía) “rule of the people”, which was found from δῆμος (dêmos) “people” and κράτος (kratos) “power” or “rule” in the 5th century BCE to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens. [Yes, I just stole this from Wikipedia!]

In short democracy denotes a form of government in which all eligible citizens are meant to participate equally – either directly or, through elected representatives, indirectly – in the proposal, development and establishment of the laws by which their society is run. One basic feature of democracy is the capacity of all voters to participate freely in the life of their society.

If you were to Google or browse through dictionaries you’ll find that no real consensus exists on how to define democracy exactly, but legal equality, freedom and rule of law have been identified as important characteristics since ancient times. These are all present in Hong Kong already.

Do other democratic countries elect their leader?

Yes and no. The electoral system is only a means to structure the participation of the citizens to the political process. How that electoral process is executed doesn’t define whether or not that society is democratic in nature. To imply that without a direct election of the head of state or of government, there can be no democracy is simply untrue. Most of the European countries, including Sweden, do not have a directly elected head of state or government. People vote on a political party, and the party selects its own leader. The head of the majority party becomes the head of state. Very few democratic countries have a directly elected head of state or government.

If one were to break down one of the most famous democratic constitutions – the American Constitution you’ll find that a Democracy is about checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of the government and not about the direct or non direct election of the head of the executive branch.

This is where I believe many students and pro-democracy advocates have been mislead either by lack of information or intentionally through their leaders. Having a democratic type society is NOT established by the fact of having an unrestricted direct election of the Chief Executive.

Hong Kong is NOT a country.

Hong Kong is not an independent country. It is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. It has a mini-constitution (the Basic Law) which includes many (if not most) attributes of a democratic system. It includes an independent judiciary and well separated legislative and executive branches of the government. The head of government, the Chief Executive, has a dual role: he is the head of the Executive Branch but he also embodies some of the attributes of national sovereignty vested in him by the National People Congress of the People’s Republic of China.

To claim that China has no right to have a say about the process of selecting the Chief Executive is to deny the right of China to exercise its sovereignty over Hong Kong. This is naturally unacceptable for China as it would be for any other nation with the same circumstances.

Though this is not really pertinent to the argument, When I cam to Hong Kong I felt like I came to a society about as free and democratic as Sweden where I was raised. I also thought Hong Kong’s society as a whole with its (sort of) British system integrated into a Chinese culture had aspects to it I enjoyed more than in the “freest country on Earth” – the U.S.A. (where I lived for 20 years.) Yes – opinion. Yes – only been here 4 years. Yes – not native. Yes – don’t yet know everything about China and Hong Kong (though I know quite a bit.) And Yes, what I’m otherwise saying here is not so much opinion but hard cold facts of reality.

Occupy Movement

It is true, as acknowledged the world over, that the Hong Kong protesters have behaved in an extraordinary peaceful manner. The media loves to headline stories with blood and controversy and so the Hong Kong police force has gotten its share of pummeling both locally and internationally. No doubt there’s some justified anger to be had but comparing to how the police is (and would have been) reacting to the same circumstances were they to happen in the rest of the civilized and democratic world, Hong Kong’s police force are a bunch of lambs!

What is often failed to be mentioned is that the Occupy Central movement has brought parts of Hong Kong to a standstill for a week now. What do you think would be the reaction of the US or British governments if New York or London had been partially paralyzed for more than a week? I can pretty much ascertain what that reaction would be. The behavior and reactions of the authorities in both Hong Kong and Beijing have so far been very restrained. I hope it continues to be so.

What do we do from here?

I have found many people who like to quote good old Lincoln. One favorite quote is: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” Lincoln probably adapted this from a similar phrase used in the 1850s by abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker. During the early months of the Civil War, Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon gave the president a book of Parker’s sermons and speeches. It included a sermon titled “The Effect of Slavery on the American People,” which Parker delivered at the Music Hall in Boston, Massachusetts on July 4, 1858. In that sermon, Parker said: “…a government of all the people, by all the people, and for all the people.” According to Herndon, Lincoln marked those words in his copy before he wrote the Gettysburg Address.

So without veering off into how this statement relates to electing a Chief Executive, just contemplate for a few minutes the effects of the current student protests and the Occupy Central movement in regards to “all the people.

Public assembly is a human right. But blocking roads and entrances to buildings for a week paralyzing sections of the society – are those actions of and for all the people of Hong Kong?

You say you seek democracy but your actions are very undemocratic in nature.

Rapid dialog to resolve and end this situation is in place. That would be the most beneficial and responsible way to go about this, if we want to consider this society democratic.

The discussion about the electoral reform must be conducted calmly in a proper setting and certainly not in the streets. This process will take time. Patience will be needed. The protesting students have made their views known the world over. Can they please adhere to the principles of the system they say they stand for and responsibly and peacefully stop blocking roads and access to buildings and work places? If not they will continue to deny the working class of Hong Kong their constitutional rights of freedom of movement and access to their work necessary to support their families.

Maybe a new public vote is in order to find out what the majority opinion is on this subject matter in Hong Kong. It would have to include the majority of people though, AND the majority would have to know about it and be briefed without bias on facts – not political opinion. That would be a democratic thing to do.

If the Occupy movement doesn’t act in accordance with resolution while ceasing to upset Hong Kong’s system itself, I’m afraid a large majority of the people of Hong Kong will equate the concept of democracy to anarchy, and there goes your democracy…

One of my favorite books is The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Mostly every tactic described in this book is being played out in Hong Kong, as it has been in most every conflict and war for as long as man can remember. Per Sun Tzu it is the outcome that is important, NOT prolonged operations.

So let’s focus on the outcome, stop redefining democracy and realize what a beautiful city region you already have and work from here to improve it along with China instead of against it. If you want autonomy that’s one thing, but don’t act as though this view is a majority opinion.

15 comments

  1. Thanks Warewhulf, I feel your love to Hong Kong.

    1. Would just like to see your views on this. Have been reading your blog and facebook (including the entire back n forth discussions/arguements), thanks.

      1. I see some observations that I agree with but not necessarily all of his conclusions.

        I agree with these 3 points:

        “First, there is general popular discontent over the prevailing state of affairs and the region’s probable future…” “…Third, the press relentlessly cheers them on and thereby amplifies the movement and turns it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fourth, democracy is always the banner.”

        I don’t agree with the second point, “…while the foot soldiers are largely well-intentioned people with genuine concerns for their own welfare and that of the Hong Kong society, they are led by activists with a strong ideological agenda. As a result, their aim becomes the overthrow of the government or sometimes the entire political system.” Though this is true as far as what is happening, I don’t agree that the activists (at least not all of them) intend to overthrow the government but they just have had enough after years of trying to negotiate and get the voice of the people in HK heard without success. Many just want Beijing to stay true to their PR promise of 1995 which promised a great deal of autonomy and democracy for the region, but was not stated as such as it was written in the Basic Law in 1997 and now is being defined differently by Beijing than what many in HK like it to be.

        I don’t agree with this conclusion, “A fringe of radical (or sometimes, more charitably, merely naive) ideologues are recasting the real and legitimate economic grievances of people here as a fight about Hong Kong’s autonomy.” There are some people, including some pro-democrats who probably have this agenda. It may also be true regarding some of those pushing this movement from the back lines. However, it is not a “fringe” of Hong Kong’s population that are behind this, but pretty much a large portion of the younger population below 30, though not all of course.

        I do agree that the protesting masses are led by people, some both radical and with publicly unspoken vested interests who are mobilizing the students. By using local media (which is immediately followed by international media) as well as local social media, they stir up noise and aggression against their own government and police so as to get more students to come out on the streets because it creates a “I’ve had enough” attitude. But I don’t see as many parallels in HK as the article author sees with the Ukraine movement.

        The Ukraine under Yanokovich had a choice to go with either EU or Russia geopolitically and Yanokovich decided on Russia. The US didn’t like that and sponsored and manipulated his toppling and put someone else in his place who had the interest of the US as a primary concern with much anti-Russian sentiment, rather than the concerns for Ukraine. This created tremendous conflicts within the country, still ongoing. HK is quite different in that respect.

        Beijing’s main line of defense for the current proposal is that the UK never gave HK any form of democracy in their over 100 years of governing. There’s some truth to that, but they did attempt to put a system in place that would enable HK to become a democratic and largely autonomous region at the point of the hand over. This was dismantled almost immediately and the UK didn’t say much about it. So the article you shared seems to echo the sentiment of Beijing in many cases, including their insistence that the protests are being triggered through red flag US operations which are not in the best interests of HK.

        The truth is really somewhere in between as far as I can tell.

        The article states, “Hong Kong is going through a tough period of economic and social dislocation” and elaborates on the matter. Many analysts have concluded the same. Though it is true as a condition of HK, I haven’t found it to be true as far as the impetus behind those protesting. They have merely had enough of not being listened to and the grievance of Beijing not upholding their idea of what the Basic Law should be.

        It is true however that HK’s economical situation and factors have changed. Tycoons have much power over the politicians. Ironically these same tycoons were being swooned by Beijing between 1995 – 1997 to ensure they didn’t leave HK. Now they run business decisions with little to no power of the government to do anything. Xi Jinping’s party is trying to reverse this and the resultant Gini index. The tycoons know this but don’t agree as that would affect their currently very lucrative hold on HK, so they are protecting their vested interests by fueling a “democracy” movement. By those so doing, the only “democratic” intention they have is their own right to keep having ultimate control on real estate and property prices. Too complex issue to elaborate further here.

        The wealth gap is VERY large and that is and should be a valid concern. It is actually a concern by the current HK government and CY Leung, though I don’t know how effective he can be to implement measures to change it. It is one of THE main concerns for Beijing – not the subject of how democratic HK should or shouldn’t be. This factor is never mentioned in media. It is not directly related to the protests as far as the student’s mindset, but certainly is a factor in the mindset of many of the tycoon activists who are using democracy as a spring board to protect their financial vested interests which they know the local government under Beijing want to change.

        Otherwise I agree with the article’s conclusions about HK’s economy.

        I also agree that escalating aggression will not make HK’s future better. The people protesting and people supporting their sentiment are by all indications a minority relative to HK’s overall population. They are however the most vocal. The “silent majority” are being too silent in my humble opinion and should speak out including to international media so people can get the idea that what’s being shown in the media is not the main sentiment of HK.

      2. Evangelo Costadimas · · Reply

        Brian, obviously the person who wrote this article didn’t even bother to do basic fact checking on how Hong Kong is governed today. He states that half of the 1200 Legco members are appointed and half elected by the people. That is actually not true, the ratio is 2/3 appointed and 1/3 elected. Of course the two thirds figure is not coincidental since it is written in the Basic Law that any amendments have to satisfy a number of preconditions and one of them as that two thirds of Legco support that amendment proposal.

        Another point of mis-information is that back when it was a colony HK never had democracy and the governor was appointed by the UK. Yes, the governors was appointed by the UK but the last two governors had instated reforms to bring HK a more democratic government. In fact by 1995 all 100% of the Legco members were voted in position through universal suffrage. Beijing of course dismantled that Legco panel and installed their own. Not to mention that as a colony, HK enjoyed a very high degree of freedom to develop it’s own culture and economy and that was perhaps there were no protests to speak of demanding democracy back then. There were some protests in the 50’s and 60’s that turned to riots and even terrorist bomb attacks by what was a move from the mainland to introduce communist agenda in Hong Kong. Much like they tried to do in Indonesia around the same time.

        1. Evangelo, according to the web site of the HK LegCo as of 2012 50% (or 35 out of the 70 members) of the council members are returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections, and 35 Members by functional constituencies.

          Where did you get your information?

          Also where did you get that in 1995, 100% of the members of the LegCo were voted in position through universal suffrage?

          Per the LegCo’s own web page the state that in 1995: “…the last Legislative Council under British rule became a fully elected legislature. Among its 60 Members, 30 came from functional constituencies, 20 were returned by direct elections in geographical constituencies, and 10 were elected by the Election Committee constituency. The President was elected from among the Members.”

          My information is solely based on the history page from the HK government’s own LegCo page. Are you saying they are lying?

          I know the article that was shared which prompted your comment is also inaccurate, but I’m curious where you are basing your information from?

  2. Low Bee · · Reply

    If you believe your view represents the majority, do you agree that the government should hold a referendum now to resolve the problem, i.e. placing the government’s proposal and the students’ on the same ballot and letting the people decide? If the majority do support the government as you boldly predict, then the government will have enough mandate to silent any opposition voices.

    1. My view represents me. A ballot or vote would certainly be interesting to conduct. Nobody knows how many thinks what in HK. I do know there are many public views in HK, and that of the Occupy movement may not be a representation of the majority of HK. That should also be considered by those in the movement.

      1. nicola · · Reply

        Yes that is the point. Nobody knows what is the majority view. Not you or the protestors,There are many views but they do not represent all Hong Kong people. Most of the protestors do not think they represent the majority. They are doing what they think is right and the best for Hong Kong. Why the “majority” could not be addressed? It is because of the flaw in Hong Kong’s political system. Please read about the LegCo election in 2012 and how the legislators are selected.
        When we are asking of the majority views, we are lacking the system to discover the majority views. How majority views being addressed? By democracy and voting.
        Therefore, we require a fair referendum and universal suffrage for Hong Kong. This then could truly reviews what Hong Kong people are thinking. However, we do not have that privilege under the control by the government. Which the so called universal suffrage is going to be screened and the referendum of proposals could only be done by democratic government.

        1. Nicola, you present an interesting argument here which there are too many factors surrounding to give a simple response to, but I agree on its valid concern and the need to reform it.

          Hong Kong is a unique system where in many cases most of its residents and citizens are enjoying much freedoms and liberties compared to many other places in Asia. There are many parallels between HK and many European systems, but, as you point out, the rights of individual through a democratic voting system (or any other system) to decide on the future course of HK does not really exist through proper legal means.

          I have been contemplating writing another article where I actually express my own views on this matter but have not had the time recently to do so. I was mainly trying to make people think – think broader so as to having a more opened mind. I certainly am not trying to tell people what to think. By thinking more broadly I hoped to enable those who read my article to be able to act within a bigger frame work towards accomplishing what is indeed my own wish for HK – which is not too far divorced from the sentiment of many protesters.

          I only have a tendency to view things by asking, “Who benefits?” Sometimes I am not so sure about the course of the current protest as far as their means, though I personally both understand and empathize with those directly participating in the protest because they’ve had enough and they are standing up for what they believe in.

          In the years past many people in HK were quite apolitical from my own experience. The more tear gas and the more resistance from the police, the more supporters for the protest and the more sense of a Hong Kong identity has emerged, whereas before there wasn’t much of a Hong Kong “patriotism” for lack of a better word.

          Where I tend to be suspicious of the “means” of the Occupy and protest movement is not related to the mindset of the students but rather the fact that the students can so easily be mobilized. Some are genuinely both politically and ideologically settled in their mind, but many others just join because their teammates do. Such a mass movement can easily be used as a pawn by those who may have personal vested interests pinned ahead of the interest of HK as a whole.

          Many factors enter into this and there are quite some evidence in this area pointing to quite a few third parties involving both the US, Beijing and tycoons.

          It is my personal opinion that the current HK government is set up in such a way that it doesn’t represent the voice of the people, so it isn’t of and for the people and from that perspective a democratic reform is needed within the HK government and it’s legal and political arms. That’s mainly what I’m referring to that the way the CE is elected is not an end goal or a silver bullet panacea, but you pointed out one factor (out of many) which also have to be resolved for any voice of the public to be heard and acted on.

          Sorry to be so vague but if I were to elaborate I would have to write a separate article as it wouldn’t fit into just a comment answer.

  3. nicola · · Reply

    I address to the writer’s concern about “undemocratic way” to gain “democracy. First of all, Hong Kong tried 30 years to fight for democracy by so called “democratic” ways such as the protests in 1st of july every year and 4th June candle light ceremony attributing to the students who died in the Tainanmen Square. However, the government did not listen to HK student’s ideas. Mrs Lam did not invite the students to talk about the political reform during the consultation period. We also tried to do classboycott in University for a week and find Mr CY Leung in governor’s house but he did not give us any respond and reply. Till this stage, from my point of view, it was caused by the ignorance of the government. The protesters did what is “democratic” but did not work. Therefore, student went out of street. You may thought that a part of Hong Kong is being paralyzed, however, people can still buy stocks in the market, go back to work and to school. The “paralyzed” part could illustrate more. I would like to know more about your view on this.
    Secondly, democracy do not equal to one man one vote, the protestors understood it therefore they chose not to go for the current proposal. Point they are objecting is there is a “screening” process done by the nominating committee of 1200 people. Those 1200 people are selected according to the method of selecting election committee in 2012. You have mentioned “The electoral system is only a means to structure the participation of the citizens to the political process.” It is definitely true. I would like to ask how could 7,000,000 citizens have structure participation when the candidates are selected by 1200 people? Those 1200 people were selected from 30000 people only in 2012. In 2012 only 1/8 nomination from election committee was need to be the candidate but in 2017, according to Beijing, 1/2 is needed. Could it really let Hong Kong citizen to participate?
    Do not forget about the fact that according to basic law, China had the right to decline the Chief executive selected. Therefore, China could always safeguard their benefit which totally address that Hong Kong is not a country. The protestors knew it also. The protesters were trying to defend the autonomy promised by China.
    Lastly, about the freedom that Hong Kong are enjoying. Hong Kong enjoyed less freedom than before according to the Hong Kong Journalist Association. This year Mr Lau Chun To, the chief editor of Ming Pao was being attacked, with lacerations at the back, thigh and calf. “Hong Kong’s ranking on the Press Freedom Index published annually by Reporters Without Borders dropped twenty places to 54th place. In a report published alongside the index, it was noted that “arrests, assaults and harassment worsened working conditions for journalists in Hong Kong to an extent not seen previously, a sign of a worrying change in government policy.” I respect your view after living in Hong Kong for 4 years and appreciate the fact that you see Hong Kong enjoys freedom. I would not deny that but it is diminishing.
    I welcome all discussion and respect all opinions except to those who did not try to understand the aetiology, progress of the event on democracy in Hong Kong.

  4. Chiwei · · Reply

    Very good all around analysis.

    However, I am just afraid those are for the occupy movement won’t even listen, let along consider the arguments and reflect what they are doing (have done) to the city and its people.

    In one video, a restaurant owner was kneeing on the ground and literally begging the occupiers to unblock the road. The occupiers’ faces showed ZERO sympathy toward this fellow citizen whom they claim they are fighting for.

    For me, they are possessed by a cult, and nothing will move them. It’s very sad but it’s the reality we are facing.

    1. Yes, I doubt many whom I’m addressing will not be able to see what I’m trying to say but rather take offense. Hard to not offend on this topic… But those who can see what I’, talking about maybe then could help in correcting situations where very non-democratic actions and attitudes are being displayed?

  5. Very well written, Ulf; and very much in line with my thoughts. As I mentioned in one of my previous comments, democracy starts with respect. And it is exactly the lost of respect that was vividly displayed in the movement.

    If you allow me, I intend to borrow your words and share it with my friends.

    Francis

    1. Thanks. Share away!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: