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Published: 23:56, January 18, 2022 | Updated: 10:03, January 19, 2022
Hong Kong's democratic development must be compatible with its actual conditions
By Lau Siu-kai
Published:23:56, January 18, 2022 Updated:10:03, January 19, 2022 By Lau Siu-kai

The principle that democratic development in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region must be compatible with Hong Kong’s actual conditions has been clearly established by the Basic Law. This principle has been reiterated many times by national leaders and central government officials. The crux is that democratic development in Hong Kong that deviates from its actual conditions will not only be unviable and unsustainable, but will also be deleterious to the interests of Hong Kong and the nation as a whole.

As a matter of principle, the democratic political system of Hong Kong must be the institutional underpinning of the successful implementation of “one country, two systems”. More specifically, it must be conducive to safeguarding national sovereignty, security and unity, preserving Hong Kong’s original capitalist system and way of life, ensuring “patriots administering Hong Kong”, building an “executive-led political system”, good governance, and Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.

It can be categorically argued that since its return to China, the form and pace of democratization in Hong Kong had become increasingly incompatible with its changing actual conditions, and also increasingly detrimental to the achievement of the goals of “one country, two systems”. Nonetheless, Hong Kong’s democratic development continued to proceed, despite a few hiccups, on the wrong course doggedly and unreflectively. The pernicious consequences therefrom are amply reflected in the rising threats to national security and territorial integrity, the unrelenting challenges to the powers of the central authorities and the authority of the Basic Law, the endless vilification of the patriotic camp, unceasing political struggle, strife within the Legislative Council, friction between the legislature and the executive, “executive-led governance” in name but not in actuality, incessant trampling on the dignity and prestige of the government and the legislature, difficult and ineffective governance, social instability, the displacement of economic, social and livelihood issues on the public agenda by political controversies, the worsening of the deep-seated economic, social and livelihood woes, the escalation of social disaffection and alienation, more and more impediments to economic cooperation between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, and a lackadaisical economic performance.

In order to ensure the long-term success of the new electoral system, Beijing and the HKSAR government have worked together to oust the “anti-communist”, “anti-China” and other subversive elements from the Hong Kong society

Since Hong Kong’s return to China, at the core of Hong Kong’s democratic development is the expansion of opportunities for electoral participation, particularly in the legislative and District Council elections. Nevertheless, the increasingly open electoral system had become more and more incongruous with the changing actual conditions of Hong Kong. Consequently, the electoral system had not only made the successful realization of the goals of “one country, two systems” increasingly difficult, but also threatened to derail the whole political project.

For one thing, Western and Taiwan independence forces in Hong Kong expanded incessantly, and increasingly tampered with Hong Kong affairs. They groomed, trained, organized, financed and directed a lot of proxies in Hong Kong. Over the past decade, these external hostile forces colluded with their proxies to incite a series of unrest and riots in Hong Kong. To the West, the rise of China was an “existential threat” and thus China had to be contained by whatever means available. Hong Kong, where the legal means and mechanisms to safeguard national security were limited and ineffective, naturally became an attractive “chess piece” to be used against China. To the Taiwan independentists, a failed “one country, two systems” would be to their advantage, as this formula for bringing Taiwan back to the motherland would lose its appeal to Taiwan’s residents. By creating instability in Hong Kong, these external forces and their proxies in Hong Kong aimed at compelling Beijing to drastically change Hong Kong’s electoral system in such a way as to allow them to seize partly or wholly the HKSAR regime and subsequently turn Hong Kong into a base of subversion against China.

Second, the opposition forces in Hong Kong, which used to defy and confront Beijing before 1997, continued to challenge and deride the powers of the central authorities. They ardently advocated an alternative interpretation of “one country, two systems”, where Hong Kong was treated as “an independent political entity”. They also repudiated the constitutional order jointly established by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China and the Basic Law of the HKSAR. Over time, the opposition forces had become irreversibly radicalized as a result of the emergence of the “Hong Kong independence” and other separatist extremists. Even the “old-timer” opposition figures, out of conviction or opportunism, had in due course transformed themselves into radicals of sorts. Consequently, by using fervent rhetoric and violent actions, the increasingly powerful and ambitious opposition forces ravaged Hong Kong’s stability and the implementation of “one country, two systems” and sought to capture the HKSAR regime.

Third, the HKSAR government had become increasingly debilitated. It could not command stable and reliable majority support in the Legislative Council. “Executive-led governance” was a joke. Making and implementing public policies as well as enforcing laws were increasingly difficult. The HKSAR government was helpless even in the face of Hong Kong turning into a national security threat by local and external hostile forces.

Fourth, the original capitalist system of Hong Kong had become more and more unviable. If not properly reformed and improved, this capitalist system would beget economic decline, deteriorating people’s livelihoods and escalating public discontent. Hong Kong’s economy would also face increasingly serious challenges from abroad, such as deglobalization, the rise of protectionism, and more and more sanctions imposed by the West. The narrow industrial base of Hong Kong, dominated by finance and real estate, desperately needed to be diversified to provide space for the high-technology, innovative and high-value-added industries. In order to do so, a strong HKSAR government was indispensable to broaden Hong Kong’s industrial structure, overcome the resistance of vested interests, make maximal use of the opportunities provided by the development of the Chinese mainland and the favorable policies of the central authorities, and accelerate Hong Kong’s participation in the nation’s development.

Fifth, the deep-seated schisms in Hong Kong had exacerbated and reinforced each other, posing serious threats to Hong Kong’s social and political stability. The staggering gap between the rich and the poor, the housing shortage, the overburdened public healthcare system, the high cost of transportation, insufficient care for the elderly, and dwindling opportunities of upward mobility for the young had become thorny issues. The accumulating social grievances were adroitly and viciously exploited by internal and external hostile forces.

Sixth, the development of the patriotic camp was unsatisfactory. Internal divisions, the dearth of leadership, lax discipline, and a shortage of political talent were the major difficulties haunting the patriots. In terms of ideological leadership and mass support, the patriotic camp fell very much behind the opposition forces.

Last but not least, Hong Kong residents’ identification with the nation had fallen continually inasmuch as the education, cultural and media sectors were dominated by internal and external hostile forces. Anti-communist and anti-China propaganda were widely disseminated in society, not least among the young people still in their formative years. Estrangement of many Hong Kong residents from their motherland had not been alleviated by the increasingly close economic relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland. Instead, though beneficial to Hong Kong as a whole, closer mainland-Hong Kong economic ties had hurt the interests of certain social and economic sectors.

Notwithstanding the successive appearance of those actual conditions that were not favorable to the successful implementation of “one country, two systems”, the tenet underlying the “Western-style” electoral system of Hong Kong all along remained the same; namely, to provide increasing opportunities for electoral participation to Hong Kong residents. Whether the outcomes of the elections were compatible or incompatible with the achievement of the goals of “one country, two systems” was not an issue to be considered. Under the pressure of internal and external hostile forces, the electoral system had been reformed from time to time to expand public electoral participation. As this original electoral system did not prohibit the opposition activists, who rejected the constitutional order of the HKSAR, from running as candidates in the elections, they and their external patrons were thus able to gain entry into Hong Kong’s political system and undermine Hong Kong’s governance.

Incontestably, the original electoral system of Hong Kong had enabled and empowered the internal and external hostile forces to wreak havoc on “one country, two systems”. With this electoral system at its core, Hong Kong’s democratic development is not able to undergird the successful implementation of “one country, two systems”. Since only Beijing has the constitutional power to devise and change Hong Kong’s electoral system, it, after witnessing all the chaos and turbulence in Hong Kong after 1997, was compelled to act decisively to fundamentally revamp Hong Kong’s electoral system to ensure that the opposition forces and their external patrons were barred from the elections and thereby from Hong Kong’s governance. A powerful candidate-vetting mechanism was installed to screen out the non-patriots. The new electoral system will from now on provide the institutional guarantees for Hong Kong to be administered only by the patriots.

In order to ensure the long-term success of the new electoral system, Beijing and the HKSAR government have worked together to oust the “anti-communist”, “anti-China” and other subversive elements from the Hong Kong society, particularly from the media, education and the civil society. The National Security Law for Hong Kong is highly instrumental in this regard. It is expected that as Hong Kong’s democracy develops along a new path charted by Beijing and is compatible with “one country, two systems”, a powerful executive-led government, with the staunch and reliable support of the patriots in the legislature and in the community, will be able to serve as a stalwart guardian of national security, deliver good governance, and tackle the long-standing, deep-seated economic, social and livelihood woes of Hong Kong.

The author is a professor emeritus of sociology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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