Hong Kong’s current political reform controversy is often depicted here here as to suggest that Beijing reneges on its promise of universal suffrage, tramples on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, turns a deaf ear to 800,000 people's voices of democracy, and has the Hong Kong police cramping down on peaceful civil protest.
The truth, however, can be sought from the following realities.
First, as expounded by HK Chief Secretary Carrie Lam's article in the Wall Street Journal, universal suffrage is not spelt out in the Joint Declaration. It was Beijing’s idea to introduce it in the Basic Law, which is a national law of the PRC. Beijing specified in 2007 that universal suffrage to elect the Chief Executive should be introduced in 2017. There is no reason why Beijing should risk international credibility by eating its word. Indeed, recent authoritative pronouncements by Beijing have made this clear beyond doubt.
Second, under the One Country Two Systems formula, Beijing has never allowed, let alone promised, that Hong Kong people can have a completely free hand in choosing whom they want. In accordance with the Basic Law, the selection of the Chief Executive must be “by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures." (Article 45). No alternative is contemplated, nor is there any provision to allow the nominating committee to delegate or dilute its collective power of nomination. Legally, this rules out direct nomination by other means including “public nomination”.
Third, the reason behind Article 45 of the Basic Law is to minimize the chance of someone being elected in the rough and tumble of universal suffrage who may be potentially subversive of the Communist Party in Beijing. This doesn’t mean that the CE must be a Communist Party member, nor does it mean that he or she is debarred from standing up to Beijing. If it were so, the Two Systems would collapse in the eyes of the world. But this does mean that the CE can’t allow Hong Kong to become a base for subversion of the regime on the Mainland. This is the One Country side of the bargain.
Fourth, does this mean that Article 45 does not measure up to so-called “international standards for suffrage or democracy”? Perhaps not. But this is infinitely better than any system Hong Kong has enjoyed so far. Why, then, should Beijing worry, provided it wields the final substantive power of appointing the CE? The answer is that this nuclear option cannot be over-simplified. If Beijing should refuse appointing someone duly elected, there will be huge international outcry of electoral charade. The whole credibility of One Country Two Systems would be in tatters. The people of Hong Kong would be disgruntled, sowing the seeds of political unrest.
Fifth, does it mean that Beijing wants to know the outcome before an election is held? The unspoken answer is Yes, to make sure that no one is allowed to run for election who is suspected to be a potential subverter of Communist Party rule in China. Indeed, this is what the requirement of “patriotism” actually means, a natural and essential credential expected of a Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region accountable to the central government.
Sixth, does it mean that the Hong Kong people would not have a genuine free choice? Not necessarily, because the nominating committee can be made as broadly representative as possible, which also means that the different sectors underpinning Hong Kong’s economic and social viability, including the business, professional, grassroots, and political sectors, must be evenly maintained.
Seventh, is Hong Kong turning into a police state? Not by a long chalk. The description of alleged police violence is really over the top, considering how restrained the police was in maintaining order. The city’s tolerance in becoming the world’s “capital of protests” is well earned. Hong Kong has retained, for 20 years in a row, the top rank as the world’s freest economy, according to stringent yardsticks of the Heritage Foundation. This accolade would not have been kept for so long if Hong Kong’s civil society fails to make the cut. But Hong Kong also prides itself on its rule of law. Hence unprecedented attempts to force through the gates of the Legislative Council building, or gate-crashing the local garrison premises of the People’s Liberation Army, cannot be condoned under the law. Advanced democracies would have acted likewise in similar circumstances.
Eighth, is Beijing’s worry about foreign instigation paranoiac? Not quite. The Hong Kong media is awash with revelations of secret donations of millions of dollars to “democratic” politicians, activists and civic leaders, all from one single source, the founder of the Apple Daily, who is reported to have close ties with U.S. top aides like former US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. These donations allegedly include some $20 million to ex-Catholic Bishop Zen, who became a vocal Beijing critic, during the tenure of his bishopric. What comes to mind is Pope John Paul II’s famous involvement in Poland's Orange Revolution leading to the former Soviet bloc's eventual collapse. It’s small wonder that Beijing remains suspicious of possible plots to ferment a Jasmin revolution in Hong Kong agitating for the Communist Party's downfall. Reference to risks of Hong Kong becoming a future Casablanca is quite apt.
In sum, One Country Two Systems means that Two Systems cannot exist independently of One Country. A high degree of autonomy under the Two Systems, yes, but not to the extent of threatening the stability of the One Country.
The recent publication by Beijing of a White Paper on Hong Kong, unusually translated into seven languages, is meant to tell the world where Beijing's redlines are.
Against Occupy Central, whose organizers also allegedly received secret donations from the same source, there is now a surging movement for Hong Kong’s silent majority to speak out. The Anti-Occupy Central movement has now gathered over one million personal signatures and counting. This clears some of the smoke and mirrors that what Occupy Central stands for represents mainstream public opinions.
Yes, the fissures between Hong Kong and Beijng are widening. Click here Hong Kong deserves more democracy and should see open, fair, and accountable universal suffrage to elect a new Chief Executive in 2017. But the election must be conducted in accordance with the Basic Law. Using coercion, however “peaceful”, to force Beijing's hand to break the Basic Law does not accord with Hong Kong’s law-binding core value. If anything, it is likely to wreck the very foundation of the One Country Two Systems formula which these coercive actions purport to uphold.