By Koo Chau-tin
During his recent visit to Hong Kong, Chris Patten repeatedly expressed his opposition to the independence movement. While he is free to call its advocates immature or unrealistic, he has to admit that he is just as clueless as any of them on how to move Hong Kong forward.
It is true that the Chinese government has made very clear its determination when it comes to maintaining territorial sovereignty over the past few decades, and nobody thought they are going to just let Hong Kong walk away when it wouldn’t happen for Taiwan, a de facto country. The sad truth is nobody has any productive solutions either. Hong Kongers have exhausted every other option and have still yet to find a path towards a more democratic government.
As a matter of fact, no one has ever advanced their political rights under the modern day Chinese government. In 1984, the British government tried on behalf of the Hong Kong people. Today, the only thing they can offer when Beijing violates the Joint Declaration is condemnation. In 1992, Patten himself tried by reforming the legislature. Everything was undone the moment he stepped onto the Royal Yacht Britannia on 1 July 1997. The pan-democratic politicians have been trying since then.
The only real achievement they made in 20 years was adding ten democratically-elected seats to the legislature. In 2014, hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens tried by taking to the streets. With the world watching, they, too, failed miserably. The villagers of Wukan in mainland China almost succeeded in 2011. Unfortunately, their leader Lin Zulian is now in jail so he can’t share his experience with us either.
The independence movement wasn’t born out of nothing. It was born out of the failure of all others. Independence has always been, and will always be the last resort. But the political situation now is just so devastating that many young people see no other ways than to turn to the idea of independence, however infinitesimal the chances of succeeding are. Yes, they may not have anything close to a concrete plan, but even that seems more hopeful than the path pan-democrats took in the past 20 years. Pan-democrats have contributed much to raise political awareness among Hong Kong citizens, but it is just not enough to stop China from slowly encroaching on Hong Kong’s freedom.
Democracy has always been inseparable from self-determination. Patten should know better as a former British MP. Democracy is not just about free speech and fair courts. It is about letting the people be the ultimate source of power. This is not the case in Hong Kong, and will never be as long as Hong Kong remains under Chinese rule. With Beijing tightly controlling both the executive and legislative branch of the Hong Kong government, there is absolutely no accountability and they can completely ignore the will of the people.
Would Hong Kongers voluntarily pledge allegiance to Beijing if they were free to choose their own future? Given how pragmatic Hong Kongers are, that is actually highly probable. But in 2014, Beijing refused to take even that chance. Instead, it broke its promise and rolled out a proposal for a North Korean-style election. That was when Hong Kongers finally realized what a blatant lie “One Country Two System” was. It is just another set of rules they use to manipulate our city.
The Chinese government and its proxy in Hong Kong can do whatever they want because there are no checks and balances on their power. Mainland law enforcers can come to Hong Kong and just grab some political dissenters away. Beijing can interpret the Basic Law however they want to bend the system in their favour. The Hong Kong government can spend hundreds of billions (literally) of Hong Kongers’ money to build infrastructure that only Beijing wants. Let’s face it – “One Country Two System” was never going to work, especially with an ever-growing authoritarian power like China.
Patten also criticized the independence movement for diluting support for democracy and dissipating the moral high ground established in the unsuccessful Umbrella Revolution. He said this because he spent most of his political career in a real democracy. That is why when he was appointed to govern Hong Kong, he cared about what the people think, and Hong Kongers remember that. But the Chinese government doesn’t give a damn, and when they don’t give a damn, moral high grounds alone won’t get you anywhere – not to mention there is nothing immoral about fighting for self-determination. Even if the pro-democratic camp is able to get all 40 democratically-elected seats in the legislature, they still won’t be able to change anything because of the rigged Functional Constituencies system, in which a handful of Beijing-backed legislators can block any legislation they put forward.
Patten advised Hong Kongers to get back to talking about governance. Indeed, some people believe governments can still serve the people without them being the ultimate source of power. But please don’t call that democracy. There is name for that kind of government and it is called benevolent dictatorship. There have been rare cases in history in which that form of government worked out, but it is a completely different argument. If Patten really believes in democracy, he should know it is about having a fair system, not merely fair outcomes. It is not about leaving the EU or not, but whether everyone has a voice in the debate.
Yes, Hong Kong’s legislature has largely been paralyzed in the past few years because of the political struggle. Hong Kongers are aware of that, but as seen from the recent Legislative Council election, we don’t really care anymore. Under the fake democracy given to us by China, legislators have no real power to carry out the will of the electorate. On the other hand, when Beijing wants something done, they can always push it through no matter how hard people try to stop it.
When your government is a joke, there is no solemnity whatsoever in the oath you take to serve it. Despite being sympathetic towards the independence movement, I, too, agree that the way Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching expressed their anger towards the Chinese government during oath-taking was rather immature. However, we must also ask ourselves why democratically-elected legislators should pledge loyalty to a dictatorship which they can’t hold accountable. Hong Kongers are stuck in a dilemma Patten has never faced. We are electing people into a system we don’t believe in, and now they are facing disqualification because they allegedly “refused” to take an oath that we don’t agree with.
Hong Kong is dying. What’s worse is it is dying slowly, too slowly that most people can’t find the urge to fight back. As Patten himself admitted, there is little he can actually do to enforce the Sino-British Joint Declaration, but he should at least try to understand the despair and frustration of the Hong Kong people. We are tired to being told what wouldn’t work. We are just desperate to find something that would.