Foreign journalists and politicians have a favorite trope to describe any involvement of Beijing with Hong Kong affairs: “a death knell for Hong Kong”. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising to see this tired expression being used with reference to the introduction of the National Security Law for Hong Kong and the recent electoral reform in Hong Kong.
At the root of this aberrant view that smacks of wishful thinking is the belief, widely held in the West, that the Hong Kong SAR’s best interests diverge from China’s national interest, and if the latter is defended, Hong Kong will be doomed.
The absurdity of this notion is clear to Hong Kong residents: They saw their city emerge stronger and healthier every time Western observers rang the funeral toll since its return to China.
When British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the media that the proposed changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system would hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong and further undermine international trust in China, he conveniently forgot that the “one country, two systems” constitutional arrangement is predicated upon the international recognition of China’s sovereignty over the former British colony, and that Britain lost any claims over Hong Kong’s internal affairs in 1997.
Those who saw Hong Kong through Western media distortion may not be aware that the local government had little scope for democratic reform due to the obstruction caused by political forces who paid lip service to democracy but in fact aimed to subvert government institutions and destabilize Hong Kong
Mr Raab’s concerns about the fate of democratic reforms in Hong Kong are disingenuous. Under British rule, Hong Kong was far from a democratic utopia, the governors were appointed by London, colonial subjects had no say in the way their city was administered, and protests were harshly repressed.
As to the past 24 years since the handover, it’s fair to say that the political debate was de facto stifled by the anti-China prejudice of so-called “pan-democrat” parties and their leaders. Those who saw Hong Kong through Western media distortion may not be aware that the local government had little scope for democratic reform due to the obstruction caused by political forces who paid lip service to democracy but in fact aimed to subvert government institutions and destabilize Hong Kong.
When the HKSAR government, after consulting China’s National People’s Congress, sought to implement one of the provisions contained in the Basic Law, namely, the election of the chief executive by “universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee”, the proposal was rejected by opposition legislators who argued that it would not bring “true democracy” to Hong Kong.
The rejection of that democratization measure is easily explained: The political leaders of these “pan-democrat” parties were not accountable to their voters but to foreign backers; that is, foreign entities that sought to exploit the frustration of Hong Kong residents to increase popular support for the “color revolution” they were plotting, encourage separatism, and manipulate impressionable youngsters.
Instead of accepting gradual reforms, the “pan-democrats” raised the stakes and sided with radical extremists: Even when riots rocked Hong Kong in 2019, they did not firmly condemn those responsible for the senseless violence, destruction and terror. As a result of its gamble, the “pan-democrat” camp ended up hurting rather than helping the democratic aspirations of Hong Kong people.
The politicians who flirted with the mob that broke all rules of peaceful coexistence in our society showed their true colors by decrying the National Security Law for Hong Kong and the electoral reform as attacks on the rule of law, when in fact these measures are creating the conditions for a healthier political scene, free from external influence.
Those who vehemently criticize the vetting process that will ensure only patriots are eligible to stand for election displayed a disregard for national security, while some of them openly colluded with foreign forces to subvert Hong Kong institutions. Their irresponsible actions would be enough ground for disqualification and would be thoroughly investigated in any of the countries they hold as a model.
The principle of patriots administering the city is hardly controversial, being the minimum requirement for the social contract that underpins the modern concept of state and sovereignty.
If we want the civil and political society to thrive, surely some safeguards must be implemented. The recent political and electoral reforms are a step in the right direction, as they clear the ground for the emergence of a range of political, social and cultural processes that will ideally give rise to a more mature political subjectivity in Hong Kong.
In the last two decades, as a result of sustained and concerted efforts to demonize Beijing and cultivate an oppositional local identity set against the national one, we witnessed a pernicious polarization that entrenched itself in Hong Kong society, dragging the city into a downward spiral of anger, intolerance, distrust, discrimination and violence. Such polarization made compromise and interaction increasingly costly for individuals and political actors on both sides of the divide, corroding basic legislative processes and undermining governance.
With safeguards in place, new voices will finally be heard, the sensible voices that were silenced by groupthink and bullying tactics not only in the Legislative Council, but also in the media, academic and cultural fields where a blind acceptance of Western models and values stifled the free exchange of ideas.
We live in testing times, but there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the future of Hong Kong politics; many people took a hard and honest look at what happened during the 2019 riots and certainly do not want to see their city descend into chaos again. Hong Kong deserves politicians who will work for the common interest of the city and the nation, and have a good track record of serving the community rather than small interest groups, or worse, foreign interests. Hopefully, the time of legislative obstruction, political stunts and cynical exploitation of legitimate grievances for the benefit of foreign media is over.
The author is an Italian-born Hong Kong academic and writer. Her research focuses on social practices and cultural theory.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS