China’s electoral overhaul for its Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has provided ammunition for the United States to launch a blistering attack on Beijing’s alleged attempt to undermine autonomy in the SAR. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Beijing of limiting political participation, reducing democratic representation and stifling political debate in Hong Kong. Such a tirade is fraught with dogmatism and oversimplification. There are serious doubts, to say the least, about whether the US has any hidden political agenda behind its criticism of the proposed electoral overhaul. Feeling threatened by China’s rapid rise and its effective but different governance system, the Biden administration regards China as a main strategic rival of the US, as did the Trump administration.
Blinken has alleged that the electoral overhaul for Hong Kong is a direct attack on the autonomy of Hong Kong, but he submitted no evidence whatsoever. In making such criticism, he seems to lack a comprehensive understanding of Hong Kong’s political situation, or he simply doesn’t care about it at all. It is to be borne in mind that there is an urgent need for Hong Kong to find a way to get through the political swamp created by political polarization and radical localism, another name for separatism. At stake is the future of Hong Kong and well-being of Hong Kong people.
First of all, we look at the protracted anti-government violent campaign in 2019. The radical faction of the opposition camp, championing “mutual destruction” for Hong Kong in pursuit of their political agenda, has posed an increasing risk to the region’s high degree of autonomy under the framework of “one country, two systems” by plotting to paralyze the Legislative Council and subsequently the SAR government. They forced the hand of the central authorities. The initiation of electoral reform is intended to foil the ongoing subversive maneuvers by plugging the loopholes in the region’s electoral system which the SAR government cannot fix because of a lack of sufficient political prowess.
Fed up with unfettered politicization and polarization perpetuated by political radicals, Hong Kong society in general sees an imperative need to screen out anti-China and anti-establishment forces in the Legislative Council and other institutions of power, and restore social harmony and stability in Hong Kong. This has become all the more imperative after the “localists”, or those who embrace separatist ideas, gained a landslide victory in the 2019 District Council election, taking control of 17 of the 18 District Councils.
According to a survey conducted by the Bauhinia Institute, more than 80 percent of local people recognize the necessity of upholding the precept of “patriots administering Hong Kong” and nearly 70 percent support the central authorities’ move to improve Hong Kong’s electoral system. The strong popular support for electoral reform can be explained by the fact that the main objective of the electoral overhaul is to reverse Hong Kong’s chaotic politics and rebuild an effective governance system to the benefit of the majority of citizens. It is also aimed at restoring the central government’s trust in the special administrative region. The accusation of ill-intent on the part of Beijing is unfounded.
The electoral reform has brought about a major shake-up in the composition of the Election Committee. In addition to having 300 more members, the Election Committee will have more than 400 seats chosen by mainland-affiliated groups. As a result, critics argue that the electoral overhaul has limited political participation because of the increased number of representatives affiliated with the mainland. Such criticism has failed to weigh all factors in a balanced way. Critics have turned a blind eye to the need to increase the number of representatives affiliated with the mainland. As Starry Lee Wai-king of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong pointed out, the development of Hong Kong has reached the stage in which progress and development must be incorporated into the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the country. These new representatives can play a role in placing Hong Kong on a stronger footing to integrate with the economies of the Greater Bay Area. It can’t be overemphasized that the future of Hong Kong lies in the Greater Bay Area. With this knowledge, Blinken may need to amend his criticism of China’s electoral overhaul plan for Hong Kong.
Another important development is the renaming of the “labor, social services and religious sector” as “grass-roots, labor and religious sector” in the Election Committee. The new sub-sector of grassroots organizations will have 60 seats. We hope the new sub-sector will pay more attention to livelihood issues in Hong Kong. The housing shortage problem, for example, is widely regarded as one of the festering social problems in the city.
Apart from its failure to recognize the pressing need for an electoral overhaul to restore constitutional order and political stability in Hong Kong, Washington is also trapped in a dogmatic mindset and ideological bigotry, and ignores the fact that universal suffrage is not a panacea or a “one size fits all” solution. Indeed, it can be easily manipulated by unscrupulous politicians because of the lack of sufficient post-election accountability. We should not paint the restrictive measures in the proposed electoral reform package in an over-simplistic binary of black and white. It is worth noting that hereditary peers remain one of the main categories of members of the House of Lords in the UK. Many British people support the abolition of hereditary peers. Nevertheless, many others, including scholars, still believe that the present system works well in scrutinizing and amending bills. This supports the contention that, under some circumstances, the placing of reasonable restrictions on universal suffrage is essential to achieving good governance.
Washington politicians have demonstrated glaring hypocrisy and double standards in attacking Hong Kong’s electoral reform while failing to take issue with their allies that don’t take democracy or universal suffrage seriously. Obviously, “democracy” comes to their mind only when it is useful.
The precept of “patriots administering Hong Kong” is by no means intended to drive out diversity in elections. The proposed electoral reform will leave sufficient room for extensive and balanced political participation, including by members of the opposition who uphold the “one country, two systems” principle and are loyal to their country. It is arbitrary for Blinken and others to claim that the electoral overhaul will undermine Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and democracy. The progress of democracy never means to be a beeline, as world history shows. And Hong Kong’s commitment to achieving the ultimate aim of implementing universal suffrage in a gradual and orderly manner, as stipulated in articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law, remains unchanged. We should make the best of the new electoral system and make the dream of universal suffrage come true. Action speaks louder than words to rebuke the groundless allegations made by the likes of Blinken.
Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is a Legislative Council member and a solicitor.
Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister and a part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and the Macao Basic Law Research Center.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS