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Published: 02:42, January 12, 2023 | Updated: 10:19, January 12, 2023
Demise of HK’s non-patriotic opposition is foreordained
By Lau Siu-kai
Published:02:42, January 12, 2023 Updated:10:19, January 12, 2023 By Lau Siu-kai

After the central government decisively promulgated and implemented the National Security Law for Hong Kong, the non-patriotic opposition organizations in Hong Kong, such as the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the Civil Human Rights Front, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Demosisto and Apple Daily closed rapidly one after another. 

Several prominent opposition figures such as Jimmy Lai Chee-ying were arrested and prosecuted. The central government has completely revamped Hong Kong’s electoral system, eliminating the possibility of non-patriotic politicians participating in Hong Kong’s elections and entering Hong Kong’s governance structure. The two major parties of the non-patriotic opposition are in disarray, bewildered, and without direction. The Civic Party has no choice other than initiating disbandment. The Democratic Party, which is losing talent and lacking the will to fight, is destined to collapse in the end.

Simply put, the non-patriotic opposition comprises those people who do not trust and accept the People’s Republic of China, the Communist Party of China, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government, the central government’s narrative of “one country, two systems” and the HKSAR’s political system. They have envisioned the HKSAR as an “independent political entity”, refused to accept the legitimacy of the constitutional powers of the central government and hoped to obtain the governing power of the HKSAR via establishing a Western-style democratic regime in Hong Kong. Today, because the demise of the non-patriotic organizations has become an irreversible fact, we can confidently conclude the rise and fall of the non-patriotic opposition is foreordained.

Right from the very beginning, the development path chosen by the non-patriotic opposition had already sealed its fate. Even if its leaders could envisage such an outcome at first or later, because of “path dependence” they have had no way to change or avoid it. Since the emergence of “the question of Hong Kong’s future” in the early 1980s and until recently, due to the appearance of a conglomeration of conditions in its favor, the non-patriotic opposition had been able to prosper for several decades before and after Hong Kong’s return to China and use its growing political clout to instigate waves and waves of political struggle against the central government and the HKSAR government, causing considerable damage to the practice of “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong’s stability and development, the city’s international reputation, China’s global prestige, and the governance of the HKSAR.

The primary reason for the rapid rise of the non-patriotic opposition was that it “wisely” chose a development path that was beneficial to itself and in line with its anti-communist and pro-Western political proclivities soon after “the question of Hong Kong’s future” emerged in the late 1970s. The non-patriotic opposition regarded Hong Kong’s scheduled reversion to China as a godsend. They took advantage of the anti-communist mindset of some Hong Kong residents and their jitteriness about Hong Kong’s future, flaunting themselves as a political force that dared to confront the CPC and “fight for the interests of Hong Kong people”. Over the years, they did everything they could to inflame Hong Kong people’s contradictions with the CPC. This anti-communist political positioning not only represented the political beliefs of the non-patriotic opposition but was also seen by some as a “rational” strategic choice in that historical moment of Hong Kong. This choice for a long time allowed the non-patriotic opposition to win the recognition, trust, and support of many like-minded residents, and achieve impressive results in the popular election component of the Legislative Council and the District Council election. By adroitly leveraging the constitutional powers they obtained in Hong Kong’s governance structure, they succeeded in wreaking havoc on the administration of the HKSAR government. Their presence within the governance structure enhanced their political capacity. 

However, once this anti-communist path had been established, the non-patriotic opposition inevitably embarked on a road of no return. Even if the political environment in Hong Kong changed substantially afterward, their anti-communist stance could not be changed or modified in response as it would have been condemned as a betrayal of their own political beliefs and their supporters, especially the core supporters. If their anti-communist stance changed, softened, or wavered, the non-patriotic opposition would inexorably fall apart and evaporate completely. This kind of anti-communist line that was set early and has hardened with time rendered the non-patriotic opposition extremely rigid and dogmatic in strategy, and it was difficult for them to respond to the momentous changes in the political environment of Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland through changes and adjustments of their own.

As this anti-communist line was established early on, it made it impossible for the non-patriotic opposition to capitalize on Hong Kong’s long-standing and deteriorating deep-seated socioeconomic and livelihood problems, to connect them with the need for “democratic reforms”, and to use them to dominate the city’s public agenda and win mass support. Almost all non-patriotic opposition figures and their followers are in varying degrees admirers of Western-style democracy, at least its idealistic form. They also believed that Western-style electoral reform in Hong Kong would have enabled them to gain political power to resist the “intervention” in the affairs of the HKSAR by Beijing. They reckoned that by using this power and simultaneously employing irregular and dubious tactics they could have transformed Hong Kong into an “independent political entity” or even a “nation”. 

Today, we can confidently say that since Hong Kong’s return to an increasingly powerful and rich country led by the CPC, the demise of the non-patriotic opposition, which based its appeal on anti-communism, was a foreordained outcome from the beginning

As some people in Hong Kong do have different degrees of yearning for Western democracy, the illusory view of “pitting democracy against the CPC” has had strong and mesmerizing appeal in the city. Under such circumstances, the anti-communist line, and its corresponding “vision” of “democratic anti-communism” naturally determined that the non-patriotic opposition would designate “political reform” (primarily electoral reform) as their common political goal, the means to maintain self-unity, and a powerful tool to mobilize the masses. Under the banner of fighting for “political reform”, people with different views and positions on various deep-seated socioeconomic contradictions could “unite” politically. However, the flip side was that once the issue of “political reform” ceased to exist or lost its ability to mobilize, the non-patriotic opposition would be stuck since they would not be able to develop a common position on the deep-seated contradictions and use it to remobilize the masses, thereby escaping the fate of demise. In any case, it would be too late to change course.

From the very beginning, this anti-communist line inescapably pushed the non-patriotic opposition onto the crooked path of colluding with external forces, especially those in the UK and the US. Before the reunification of Hong Kong with the Chinese mainland, the anti-communist stance of the non-patriotic opposition earned them the favor of the departing British. To resist the Chinese government’s “intervention” in Hong Kong affairs before the British exit from the city and to deliberately install pro-Western forces in the future HKSAR government, the British Hong Kong government actively and vigorously groomed, co-opted, and supported the non-patriotic opposition. The primary means was “representative political reform”, which allowed the non-patriotic opposition figures to play a significant role in the city’s governance. 

Since Hong Kong’s return to China, the attention and support of the Americans for the non-patriotic opposition has been on the rise unabatedly, particularly since Washington decided to contain the rise of China. To strengthen its political power and to protect itself against Beijing, the non-patriotic opposition, firmly believing that Beijing would not dare “do something” against them for fear of Western reprisals, were increasingly glad to become the vassals and pawns of the anti-China Western forces. They did not hesitate to join with those Western forces to engage in activities that endangered Hong Kong’s stability and national security.

The non-patriotic opposition embarked on an irreversible path that featured prominently anti-communism, anti-PRC, advocacy of “political reform”, and collusion with Western forces from the very beginning. This path initially brought them considerable political success and endowed them with great destructive power. However, the success or failure of this path ultimately depended on Beijing’s forbearance and tolerance, the trust and confidence of Hong Kong people, and the Western forces’ protection and support. The first factor was critical. From the perspective of objective political laws, because they were obsessed with the “purity” and “morality” of political ideas, the development path of the non-patriotic opposition would inevitably engender increasingly fierce internal splits and radicalization over “principles” and “ideals”; and the political ideas and behavior of the younger members would tend to be even more radical. As a result, the anti-communist, anti-PRC and “political reform” positions of the non-patriotic opposition became increasingly extreme and rigid. And the more extreme and rigid they were, the more violent their actions became. Therefore, they had to rely more on the support and protection of the Western forces, making them ever more subservient. 

However, when the joint efforts of the non-patriotic opposition and the Western forces constituted a fatal threat to the practice of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong, the city’s stability and national security, Beijing had no alternative but to act decisively and forcefully to reverse the situation and exterminate the non-patriotic opposition by crushing them all in one fell swoop. The 2019-20 riots instigated by the non-patriotic opposition and Western forces have made many Hong Kong people who previously had fantasies about them wake up and refuse to be enchanted and misled, which depleted their mass base. The central government-initiated overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system has removed “political reform” from Hong Kong’s public agenda for a long time to come. 

Now that the non-patriotic opposition has been expelled from Hong Kong’s governance structure, it has become well-nigh impossible for them to raise sufficient resources and talent to maintain operation and attract new members. More importantly, it has proven that Western forces have no ability or intention to contend with China over Hong Kong affairs and have no power to prohibit the Chinese government from bringing order back to Hong Kong. The shameful abandonment of the non-patriotic opposition by Western forces has led more and more Hong Kong people to see the hypocrisy and untrustworthiness of the Western forces, making them even more discontented and disgusted with the non-patriotic opposition.

To put it bluntly, the “vibrancy” of the non-patriotic opposition was due in no small measure to the emergence of a special but unsustainable historical moment in Hong Kong. When this historical moment had gone, their demise was inevitable. The non-patriotic opposition all along thought they could still use anti-communist strategies to grow for a long time after Hong Kong’s return to China, which was a seriously mistaken calculation. Today, we can confidently say that since Hong Kong’s return to an increasingly powerful and rich country led by the CPC, the demise of the non-patriotic opposition, which based its appeal on anti-communism, was a foreordained outcome from the beginning. 

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

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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