There was jubilation when after more than six months of violent protests in Hong Kong, pro-democracy candidates won the majority of District Council seats in the November election and the US Congress passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (HKHRDA). However, the “victory” celebration might be premature and indeed could risk the future of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and its youth.
Under Hong Kong’s political system, District Council members can only deal with such issues as the use of government funds for public works and community activities – of a specific district. They have no power over political and economic issues affecting the SAR. What’s more, the 18 District Councils provide only 117 of the 1,200 members of the electoral college that chooses the chief executive. So this was little more than a symbolic victory, as district councils have limited impact on how the SAR is run.
It could even be argued that the districts that elected “pro-democracy” candidates might face a bleaker future because these office holders are ideologues, pushing their ideological views rather than looking after the interests of the districts they represent. Most of the new councilors have little if any experience or knowledge of democracy or what it means, or understand the responsibility of an elected official. The newly elected democracy-promoting councilors will likely ignore local interests, thus eroding rather than improving their districts’ socio-economic well-being. It might be because of this fear that many people in the districts that elected “pro-democracy” candidates demanded vote recounts.
With regard to the HKHRDA, it may have actually emboldened protesters to be more violent. According to the latest news reports coming out of the city, “pro-democracy” protesters are planning to intensify the level of violence on those who oppose their definition of democracy. For example, shops or restaurants sympathetic to the government and police could be targeted for vandalism.
Furthermore, the HKHRDA is hurting US and other businesses and the people of Hong Kong more than it helps them. The Hong Kong-US Chamber of Commerce, for example, reported that its members were suffering from declining sales. Some are contemplating leaving the SAR for other countries in Asia or returning home. The latest to hit Hong Kong is a recent Bank of England report that US$5 billion fled the city because of the protests. With many local and other foreign businesses planning to shut their doors or having already done so, signaling that worse is to come, the HKHRDA is the last thing Hong Kong needed.
In other words, perhaps with the exception of a symbolic victory in terms of winning the majority of District Council seats, the more than six months of violence and US meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs have done nothing but inflict more grief on the SAR and its people, particularly the young, raising the question: Why did it turn out this way? Perhaps the following comments will shed light on the matter.
First, it is difficult to argue, at least convincingly, that China has taken away the “freedoms” that its former British colonial master is said to have installed in Hong Kong. The fact of the matter is that the opposite might be true: Hong Kong probably enjoys more democracy and freedom of expression and assembly now than at any time in its history.
The colonial power, for example, invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, arresting or even shooting at people and suppressing freedom of speech in the 1960s for protesting against authoritarian colonial rule. Today, people are free to protest, even violently. While the chief executive is not elected by universal suffrage, at least he or she is chosen by a 1,200-member electoral committee representing the SAR’s main “functional constituencies,” whereas in colonial times the governor was appointed by the British government.
Furthermore, the protests were a contradiction, in that while the participants accused the SAR and mainland governments of stifling their freedoms, some of them beat and even burned those who opposed their views. That is, some protesters’ actions bordered on fascism, which is far more repressive than what they accused the governments of.
Second, Hong Kong is not only highly dependent on mainland China for its socio-economic well-being, it might be crucial for its survival. The protests have scared away mainland tourists while in turn the city’s retail and hospitality sectors have become basket cases, with many outlets closing their doors, putting many people on the unemployment line.
Third, there is zero chance that the US and UK would or could “rescue” the pro-democracy activists from the “tyranny of communism.” China is not only too big to be coerced, but the majority of Americans and British would not support a fake cause like this.
Furthermore, instead of blaming China, history might condemn the UK and the “comprador collaborators,” local Chinese enriched by working for the colonial masters, as the source of Hong Kong’s current malaise. In the 1980s, the British probably intended to destroy Hong Kong by revising the education curriculum to belittle Chinese history, values and culture but elevate those of the British. The British-inspired brainwashing education curriculum culminated in a generation of Hongkongers knowing very little about China and thinking themselves superior to their mainland cousins.
With regard to the US government’s extraterritorial HKHRDA, it was perhaps part of a host of cynical policies to demonize China or contain its rise rather than a sincere effort to promote human rights and democracy in Hong Kong. The US Congress is probably more anti-China than the White House. For example, some lawmakers suggested that the Chinese company that produced subway trains (in the US) for Chicago and Boston might be a national-security threat. How paranoid or anti-China is that?
History might therefore not be kind to the protesters and their instigators or financial/political supporters, rendering the disruptions of the past six months counterproductive. The US or UK would not have tolerated the level of violence that the Hong Kong protesters inflicted had it happened on their own turf, thus supporting or even emboldening them to be more violent is blatantly hypocritical.
Moreover, the “pro-democracy” protesters have damaged their own cause: Beating people holding a different view or destroying businesses supporting the police or government are anything but democratic. Indeed, the protesters have become more “sinful” than the people and government they accuse of taking away their “freedoms.”
Every country has the right to walk a path that is suitable for its national interests, or improves them. China’s development and governance architectures might might not be the West’s cup of tea, but they have served the country well, as China has become the world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity, allowing it to lift 800 million people out of poverty in less than 40 years.
It is therefore time for the West and Hong Kong residents to work with China to make the world a better place. The continuation of violence against the Hong Kong and mainland governments will only hurt the SAR. Western – specifically US – sanctions will not stifle China’s economic growth or push the country to the brink of disaster.