HONG KONG: Looking Back on a Rough 2018 for 'One Country, Two Systems'

HONG KONG: Looking Back on a Rough 2018 for 'One Country, Two Systems'
Credit: Reuters / Bobby Yip
What you need to know

2018 was a great year in Hong Kong for Xi Jinping and Beijing loyalists. For everyone else, not so much.

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Everyone here has been celebrating – everyone, that is, whose sympathies are with Beijing, the Hong Kong Government, and all loyalist parties, unions, councils, committees, and the network of friendly associations that now extend throughout the territory. For them, 2018 was a great year filled with victories, accomplishments, and the promise of more to come.

At year’s end one account proclaimed the reasons to celebrate in a full-page 10-point layout. The reasons are worth noting as a guide to Beijing’s strategy and tactics for achieving the end that is now clear, namely, Hong Kong’s absorption into the national mainstream. Titled “Ten Great Political Events; Protecting the Rule of Law,” the record doubles as a list of the losses successfully inflicted on pro-democracy partisans. For them it was a year of devastating blows that they have hardly begun to absorb much less decide how best to counter.

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Credit: Reuters / Jorge Silva
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
2018: The 10 great achievements

1. A message from the chairman on the way forward. The casual use of “chairman” – with reference to Xi Jinping as head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rather than as President of the national government – is in keeping with a new trend among loyalists here. They have begun suggesting that the time has come to “out” the CCP and its leadership role. This has always been discreetly assumed but not openly declared or discussed in so many words. The local CCP organization remains unacknowledged or “underground,” following the old revolutionary tradition of all communist parties and their past conspiratorial struggles while working to turn governments from “white” to “red.” “Chairman” was also Mao Zedong’s title. The leader of the CCP is now known as its General Secretary – more Maoist imagery for Xi Jinping.

Reaffirming the standard “one country, two systems” governing principle and the old familiar slogans about “Hong Kong people running Hong Kong” with a “high degree of autonomy,” Xi Jinping’s aspirations for Hong Kong and Macau were reprised at the National People’s Congress meeting last March, and again during ceremonies last month. These were held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of China’s late 1970s reformist direction and opening to the outside world.

Pictured at these ceremonies with a beaming Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam by his side, Xi Jinping enjoined Hong Kong to assist ever more actively in the nation’s opening up and integrate ever more actively by joining in the administration and practice of the great national development enterprise.

2. The new cross-border high-speed rail link. This includes the innovative “co-location” arrangement, meaning “two customs inspections under one roof.” The mainland-controlled port authority within the Hong Kong terminus took most of the year to finalize in the face of legal challenges from pro-democracy partisans. But by year’s end, with a helpful tongue-in-cheek ruling by a Hong Kong High Court judge on the constitutionality of the arrangement, all controversies were laid to rest. This was hailed as another step marking Hong Kong’s integration into the great enterprise of national development.

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Credit: Reuters / Aly Song
'The Chairman' attends the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge in Zhuhai, China, Oct. 23, 2018.

3. Amending the legislative council’s rules of procedure. This achievement dated back to 2017 but its consequences were registered throughout 2018. The maneuver was skillfully accomplished by taking advantage of legislators who were not there.

By a coincidence of timing perhaps, the Hong Kong government, its Justice Department, and the courts had disqualified six legislators in the oath-taking saga of 2016-17. Judicial reviews were still underway and special elections to fill the seats had not yet been held. But there was an overriding aim: to curtail the practice of filibustering, which had become pro-democracy legislators’ only means of protesting government measures and blocking or delaying government proposals – which include Article 23 national political security legislation now waiting in the wings,

The successful maneuver came as a big relief for the government and Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Her appropriations bills could be passed with relative ease and she applauded the return to a “normal” amenable legislative environment.

4. A warning for Hong Kong independence by banning the National Party. The Hong Kong government succeeded in using the old Societies Ordinance to prevent an independence advocate from organizing the Hong Kong National Party. In July, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security announced the plan citing reasons of national security and public safety. The miniscule party was allowed 21 days to explain why it should not be banned in accordance with prescribed legal procedures.

The period was also extended, but during that time the Foreign Correspondents Club gave party convener Andy Chan a platform to explain himself in public by giving a talk at the club. The Hong Kong government and China’s Foreign Ministry representative office here protested. The public also expressed its indignation with the FCC for allowing public property to be used as a platform to advocate independence and called upon the government to evict the FCC from its government-owned building.

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Credit: Reuters / Bobby Yip
Pro-China protesters carrying Chinese national flags demonstrate outside the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong, Aug. 14, 2018.

5. Investigating those who provoke violence; court judgments for those who provoke disorder. There were several points of reference: the large scale Occupy demonstration that began at government headquarters in 2014; storming the Legislative Council building by activists in 2014; storming closed gates at government headquarters also in 2014; and the 2016 Lunar New Year riot in Mong Kok. All received due process and are being or have been brought to justice in Hong Kong’s law courts.

6. Surreptitiously promoting independence; disqualified in defense of the law. Kudos were in order for Hong Kong’s much-maligned returning officers – the British-English term for civil servants periodically seconded to oversee elections. These officers were responsible for disqualifying several election candidates who were allegedly promoting independence by calling for self-determination.

The list included Agnes Chow of Joshua Wong’s Demosisto party who had hoped to contest the Hong Kong Island Legislative Council seat vacated by her party-mate Nathan Law. He was among the 2016 class of newly-elected councilors disqualified in the oath-taking saga.

Later, teacher Lau Siu-lai was disqualified from trying to regain her seat in Kowloon West. She had originally been disqualified for improvising her oath-of-office during the 2016 swearing-in ceremony, but she was initially thought to be among those allowed a second chance. It was not to be.

And most recently, Eddie Chu was disqualified from taking part in the rural committee elections currently underway. These are mostly uncontested formalities for village representatives from communities in Hong Kong’s northern suburbs.

7. Public opinion Is with the establishment; two special election victories. The post-2016 collapse of pro-democracy campaigns in Kowloon West (KNW) has been especially demoralizing for candidates there and for partisans generally because it signifies the larger defeat of Hong Kong’s democracy movement with its decades-old aspirations for post-colonial election reform.

Kowloon West is one of Hong Kong’s five Legislative Council constituencies and is represented by six legislators. Four of the six elected in 2016 were democrats reflecting the district’s prevailing political inclinations – or so it was thought. But two of the four elected in 2016 were disqualified after the swearing-in ceremony. One was the outspoken independence advocate Yau Wai-ching. The other was street-market campaigner and teacher Lau Siu-lai.

Ultimately, and despite the best of candidate-coordination efforts, a series of mishaps and miscalculations led to the loss of both seats. Pro-government candidates now occupy four of the six LegCo seats in KNW. The two new councilors:

Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, a member of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). With some 36,000 members, the DAB is Hong Kong’s only mass-based political party and should be regarded as the electoral wing of the “underground” CCP. Others number only a few hundred members at most. The Democratic Party is the largest with about 700 members.

Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan, an independent who campaigned with the united support of all pro-government and loyalist groups and parties.

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Credit: Reuters / James Pomfret
Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), celebrates beside Democratic Party member Lee Cheuk-yan (L) and democrat, Frederick Fung after winning the Legislative Council by-election in Hong Kong, Nov. 26, 2018.

8. Democrats’ candidate-coordination effort destroyed by factionalism. Frederick Fung won honorable mention in this loyalist copy-book – even if the Legislative Council seat he lost in 2016 eludes him still. Point Eight is a tribute to the democratic camp’s endemic unconquerable habit of fighting among themselves … with each other rather than with their main adversary. Patriotic election strategists can be forgiven for gloating over their opponents’ misadventures. Judicial mockery is another matter.

Fung is the 2018 poster-boy in this respect. The debilitating habit delivered both Kowloon West seats into pro-Beijing hands and the recipients couldn’t resist acknowledging the gift – even as the chief culprits including both young and old seemed to have no regrets.

Frederick Fung had come in second on the initial straw poll democrats held among themselves to select their Kowloon West candidates for the first special election last March. But Fung is a moderate democrat with a mixed record and the younger generation of activists began a quarrel over the Plan B candidates that continued throughout the year.

Fung grew so angry over this quarrel and the indignity of being shunted aside by his fellow democrats that he quit his own political party. He also insisted on contesting the second Kowloon West special election in November – thereby helping to ensure that the agreed-upon pro-democracy stand-in for Teacher Lau lost to Rebecca Chan. The stand-in was veteran democrat Lee Cheuk-yan.

9. More bad marks for the Pigeon Party. The Democratic Party’s white dove symbol has been a favorite loyalist target for years when discussing the “pigeon party” and its members’ many missteps. Party member and Legislative Councilor Ted Hui featured in one such incident when he snatched the mobile phone of a government monitor while she was evidently trying to track legislators’ whereabouts in the council building ahead of a roll call. Pro-democracy legislators complain that not only are they being routinely followed and photographed outside of their work place but now inside as well.

Ted Hui was arrested, bailed, and charged for the incident with offenses that could bring far more jail time than the one month legislators are allowed without being disqualified. Legal proceedings are ongoing and pro-establishment sympathizers are eager to win another scalp for their democratic disqualification project. They want a thorough purge-like house-cleaning.

10. Democrats in disarray; the Pigeon Party’s resignation wave. This entry signals much mischief ahead. The Democratic Party had to announce 59 resignations last month with more reportedly ongoing. It is Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy party with about 700 members.

The resignations included especially local activists and District Councilors who are looking to contest the District Councils election later this year. They will add to the democracy movement’s fragmentation if their plan for a new local election alliance materializes.

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Credit: Depositphotos
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2019: The promise of more to come

Surprisingly, the 10-point celebration did not mention Occupy founder Benny Tai’s Project Storm. He has been working for months to introduce a large number of like-minded candidates into the 2019 District Councils election campaign mix. But once there, they will encounter the government’s strict new bans against the “separatist” democratic ideals he is trying to instill.

The pro-Beijing press and its teams of paparazzi reporters have been carefully tracking, photographing, and publicizing Project Storm’s preparatory meetings so returning officers should have no trouble matching names and faces with election platforms for those who make it to the preparatory validation stage.

Of more historic significance, given Hong Kong’s ongoing absorption into the national mainstream, has been the preparation of public opinion for the ultimate “outing” of the local Communist Party organization from its underground hiding place.

South China Morning Post regulars are among those taking the point in this regard. “If Beijing increasingly wants to make its views known to the Hong Kong public, it’s perfectly legitimate to let the party operate like any other local political party, with the ability to accept members, receive donations and campaign in elections” (Alex Lo, SCMP, Dec. 1). So what if our publisher is a party member, asks chief news editor Yonden Lhatoo (SCMP, Dec.2).

Even more to the point, pro-Beijing Legislative Councilors have called on the Hong Kong government to abandon its practice of careful circumspection. Instead, it should call a spade a spade, explicitly recognize the CCP as the nation’s ruler and openly acknowledge its members as such (SCMP, Nov. 28).

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The News Lens.

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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