Under the Dome 穹顶之下 (English sub-titles subsequently added) - a new TED-style 104-minute video documentary on China's air pollution challenges, was passionately delivered by celebrity Chinese lady journalist and former CCTV presenter Chai Jing on Saturday 31st January on People.com, the website of the state's mouthpiece People's Daily. It carries a tagline "the conscience of a senior journalist and the social responsibility of an ordinary mother 一位资深记者的道义良心; 一个普通母亲的社会责任), The cri de coeur went viral in China and has since been viewed online some 200 million times.See commentaries in the New York Times and the South China Morning Post.
During the sensitive period when both the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) are in session, commonly referred to as the "Two Sessions", the video was taken off home pages of websites in China. President Xi, meanwhile, took pains to reiterate the leadership's determination to root out pollution on two fronts - both environmental and political. Click here
Claims of self-financing notwithstanding, the video's production and release would not have been possible without high-level support. It's instructive that they coincided with the appointment of a new Minister for Environmental Protection.
However viewed, the video speaks volumes on how serious and deep-seated China's air-pollution challenges are and how they could become a game changer in defining China's energy mix and the country's greener future.
View the following for background on how China is beginning to tackle the impossible -
Dark days ahead but blue skies could return to China's cities by 2030's Click here
Blue Skies for China’s Cities - A multi-dimensional strategy Click here
China's new environmental law more promising than expectedClick here
Can China really reach its ambitious goals for clean energy? Click here
The universal suffrage controversy highlights the serious inherent contradictions of One Country Two Systems. Hong Kong with its distinctly diffferent identity, core values, and aspirations has to come to grips with the imperatives of its sovereign authority. While we treasure all the privileges of the Two Systems, let's not forget that we are part of the One Country which is a One-Party State. There are no precedents anywhere any time in history.
There are of course huge social, economic and indeed political inequalities in Hong Kong. All these are now coming to the fore. But the majority of the Hong Kong people are pragmatic. While most would want more democracy, they do not support using coercive tactics for an All-or-Nothing revolution against Beijing, especially when 2017 may not necessarily be the endgame.
At least a new Chief Executive elected by universal suffrage however restricted would have to face the entire electorate. Electors don't have to vote at all or cast a Blank Vote if any or all of the candidates are not supported.
Coming back to Article 45 of The Basic Law, which defines the One Country Two Sytems formula, it mandates nomination by a Committee, not individual Members of the Committee. "In accordance with democratic procedures" in the context of the Committee means a majority decision of the whole Committee, not just some of its Members.
For election of Hong Kong's future Chief Executive, nomination of candidates through a committee has widely been condemned as undemocratic and "fake universal suffrage". The Pan Democrats, student and other political activists refuse to accept anything less than "public nomination". However, let's not forget that even in the United States, the President is elected through a narrow "electoral college" of 538 Electors. Nomination of a Presidential candidate has to go through Party nomination conventions. There is no such thing as direct "public nomination".
While principles of democracy may justify "public nomination", Article 45 is designed precisely to prevent someone being elected who may pose a threat to Beijing not so much by starting a revolution on the Mainland but by fermenting a greater and greater degree of separatism. That would be anathema to Beijing in the light of rising problems of "separatist regions".
Such worries are not totally unfounded as two thirds of Hong Kong people do not identify themselves as Chinese first and foremost. Neither are Beijing's worries of possible foreign influence. The massive behind-the-scene donations to various activists behind the Occupy Central movement from one single source, the founder of the anti-Beijing Apple Daily, whose close friends include Paul Wolfowitz, former US Deputy Defense Secretary, have yet to be investigated and accounted for. Click here
I am not saying these realities are necessarily ominous for Hong Kong, being a free society. But this is no comfort for Beijing.
It is a question of trust. For the One Country Two Systems to work, how can we have a Chief Executive Beijing doesn't trust?
There is now a serious lack of trust between Hong Kong and the Beijing/Hong Kong governments. This cannot be bridged by coercive tactics. Trust can only be built through working together in a partnership that BOTH can accept, not just a method demanded by one side.
Hong Kong may not like all these constraints. But realities dictate that Hong Kong's fight for greater democracy may need to take one step at a time. Indeed, Beijing and the Hong Kong government have said as much.
Hong Kong's deep social divide must be addressed. But this cannot happen if we do not take a first step forward.
In any case, a sea change is likely to follow if for the first time, Hong Kong's people can cast their votes for their Chief Executive, one way or the other, provided that the nominating process is reasonably open, transparent, inclusive, and competitive, within the confines of the Basic Law and the decisons of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, as mandated by Beijing.
This would pave the way for Hong Kong under universal suffrage to build a trustful working relationship with Beijng and to heal wounds in its social and political fabric in the years ahead. I have floated a few ideas how future better governance may be achieved in my recent piece in the South China Morning Post.
The debate about Hong Kong's political reform is far from over. To advance Hong Kong's struggle for greater democracy, it is extremely important to secure One Man One Vote in 2017 first, however constrained to start with. Idealism, wishful thinking, or endless confrontation is no substitute.
This line is also taken In a think-piece published in the South China Morning Post dated 14 January, by Professor Kerry Kennedy, director of the Centre for Governance and Citizenship at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. He urges that it's time for the pan-democrats to realize that wishing thinking is no strategy. They must adopt a new vision for democratic development - and that means working with the political realities, and not simply ignoring them.
Giving the power to the voting public to reject all of the nominated candidates through a NOTA (None of the Above) vote may be an effective check and balance to enhance the legitimacy of the election process. This may be an idea to break the current impasse between Beijing and the pan democrats. Click here
A front-page leader in the New York Times of 4 January 2015 shows how the West is trying to read the tea-leaves of President Xi's political stance and what it would mean for China. Grasping the tail of the elephant, various commentators perceive the animal's shape as what seems a tubular, sharp-pointed, latter-day form of Maoist dictatorship. Collective leadership which has characterized China's politics in recent decades is now dead in the water, they claim.
There is a ring of truth in this prognosis. The whole truth, however, is more complex and multidimensional.
The fallacy of the New York Times article lies in its fundamental contradictions. On the one hand it fears a lurch away from the market, the rule of law and a rebound towards cultural revolutionary rhetoric.
On the other hand, it fails to note that it was President Xi who for the first time elevated the Market to a "decisive role" in the economy with policies to built a more equitable and just society (Third Plenum). It was he who mandated that to enhance Party legitimacy, the Rule of Law (or Rule by Law) needs to be upheld regardless of ranks (Fourth Plenum). It was also he who brought about the downfall of the Bo Xilai gang who trumpeted red-revolutionary fervency.
The reality is that China is now entering into a socioeconomic and political watershed with deep and turbulent under-currents. When one of the writers of the NY Times article says Xi was the guy the Communist Party wanted from the start, he was only partial with the truth.
The whole truth is that the Party has realized that without systemic reforms, not least to fight entrenched corruption and power abuse, the whole Party boat may sink, bringing everybody down. Xi was the leader chosen to do the job and he must be given unprecedented authority to overcome powerful vested interests in the system.
However, that doesn't mean China wants or has to copy the West's election-cycle-dominated and confrontational multiparty politics. Indeed, China wants to find her own development model and path towards democracy. The D-word is by no means shunted even in high-level public addresses. However, unless a better model proves to work in the unique, historical, cultural, economic and political context of China, she is unlikely to give up the one-party rule any time soon. Click here
But while the quest continues, China wants above all to maintain political stability, which is essential for the country with 1.3 billion people to try out various reform agendas. If this means cracking down on certain forces that seem to rock the boat too much at any given time, so be it.
Perhaps President Xi could be more relaxed about liberalism. But once the big genie is lightly let out of the bottle, it would be difficult to put it back again with a population the size of one fifth of mankind, including nearly 500 million peasants, many of whom remain relatively uneducated.
Xi has the weight of China''s history on his shoulders. To him, it is better to be safe than sorry. But this doesn't mean that he is turning China back towards Maoist dictatorship.
In a speech on 9 November to CEO's at the APEC Summit in Beijing, President Xi expounded on what he meant in his recent references to the "New Normal" in China's development trajectory.
This new connect can be characterized into the following COMPONENTS -
(a) permanent change from high-speed to moderately high-speed economic growth;
(b) continuous economic re-structuring -
services and consumer demand to gradually become the mainstay of the economy;
continous narrowing of regional differences;
economic proportion of household incomes to continue rising;
greater sharing of fruits of economic development amongst the masses.
(c) change from investment-driven to innovation-driven.
The following BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES are likely to result -
(a) Even at around 7% average annual growth, China's economy will still be leading world growth;
(b) Growth will be more balanced, stable and multi-dimensionalwith new "Four Modernizations" - New industrialization, Digitization, Urbanization, and Agricultural modernization and greater reliance on domestic consumption to minimize exposure to external risks;
(c) Economic re-structuring already manifested in the first three quarters of 2014
consumption overtaking investment as main contributor to GDP growth;
share of services at 46.7% overtaking manufacturing;
high and new technologies, including machinery manufacturing registered higher rates of growth compared with industrial averages; and
government streamlining and de-regulation have resulted in greater market vitality with newly-registered enterprises growing at 60% compared with previous year.
The country must CONTINUE TO ADAPT to the "New Normal" in the following way -
(a) clear-mindedness on new contradictions and surfacing of hidden risks;
(b) intensifying of overall reform deepening-
to energize latent market vitality;
to widen paths for innovation;
to push forward high-quality outward openness;
to promote people's well-being, including equality and social justice.
A diagramitc illustration (in Chinese) is provided in the following extract dated 10 November, 2014, from the "100 Plan Organization", a state-sponsored organization to attract global talents. Click here
Live panel discussion on World Insight with Beijing's China Central Television broadcast on 26 October, 2014
At the interview I made the point that China's concept of the rule of law is different from the West. There is no intention of embracing the Western idea of separation of powers between the administration, the judiciary and the legislature. And the rule of the Communist Party cannot be challenged, even as party officials are now held to account according to law. However, there are moves to improve the independence of the judicary by elevating powers to appoint local judges and the funding of the legal system to the provincial level. Additionally, ideas of institutionalizing the current corruption-infested system of "Letters and Petitions" system are beginning to be talked about.
What the promotion of the Rule of Law or Rule by Law actually means in China is further illustrated in the latest leader in The Economist (November 1-7, 2014).
A further article in the same issue highlights the new emphasis on the role in upholding the rule of law of China's Constitution, to which all officials will have to swear allegiance to in future. 4th December would henceforth be made the National Constitution Day.
This debunks the speculation surrounging earlier officially-sanctioned attacks against "constitutionism" that at best lip-service would hence forth be paid to the role of the Constitution in China's politics. What is to be understood is that the supremacy of the Party is enshrined in China's Constitution. That means that the Party's leadership cannot be questioned by China's laws. But that doesn't mean that Party members are above the law, as the recent anti-corruption campaign is at pains to emphasize.
At a BBC World TV interview on 6 October, my fellow interviewee mentioned Hong Kong's identity. This I happened to have flagged up in an earlier TV interview on Beijing's CCTV.
As Mainland China's political, economic and social impacts on Hong Kong have grown dramatically in recent years, the perception that Hong Kong's unique identity and way of life may be at risk is feeding much of the passion driving what in many ways is a spontaneous student movement, with no lack of supporters from younger members of the general public.
This rising consciousness of Hong Kong's separate identity is well dissected in an aricle by Wang Gungwu, a celebrated historian who is now chairman of the East Asian Institute and a professor at the National University of Singapore. The article first featured in the Straits Times and was later reprinted in the South China Morning Post of 8 October, 2014. Download South China Morning Post - Wang Gungwu - Test of Wills
At the BBC interview, I referred to the genie let out of the bottle. It's a genie that obeys the dream in Hong Kong's young hearts and minds - the dream of a more equitable and just future where the leader is freely chosen by the people and fighting for their dreams. These aspirations are now famously symbolized by the so-called "Umbrella Revolution". Some jokingly refer to the umbrellas as "Weapons of Mass Democracy" (WMD).
That dream is articulated by a Hong Kong young lady in a video of the New York Times of 7 October and in an anonymous letter to the students by a HK Mainlander which first appeared in the Asia Literary Review and was reprinted in the South China Morning Post on 10 October, 2014. Download Letter to HK students - Tonight I picked a side
It is also captured in the impassioned songs sung loud by the crowds such as the Beatles' (John Lennon's) Imagineand Hong Kong's late pop singer Beyond's Broad Seas and Open Skies (in Cantonese).
These are manifestations of the so-called "Generation Z", born in the internet era and passionate with ideals to change the world, as expounded in a research paper of 22 October, 2014 by the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre, a Hong Kong think-tank. Download Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre 智經研究中心 - Generation Z (in Chinese)
This shows that a powerful driver of Hong Kong's civil disobedience movement is as much the dissatisfaction and frustration with an unequal and unjust society as the perceived erosion of Hong Kong's own identity, which a Chief Executive chosen by a narrow committee is perceived as unable to defend. Hence, the rapid build-up of broad-based support by the younger Generation Z, armed with passion and mobile technology.
Nevertheless, Beijing's worries about a free-for-all universal suffrage system for Hong Kong are well understood. Hence, safeguards in Article 45 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, to ensure what some may regard as wanting to know the outcome before an election is held. Click here
Moreover, there are suspicions that there could be more extraneous influence at work than meets the eye.Click here
On 11 October, the English edition of The People's Daily, China's official mouthpiece, featured a front-page articlesaying that Louisa Greve, Vice President of the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), met key members of the Occupy Central movement several months ago. Greve is responsible for Asia, Middle East and North Africa and was frequently associated with "Tibetan independence", "eastern Turkistan" and other independence movements. The article decries US's vain attempt to trigger a "Colour Revoultion" in China by fermenting an "Umbrella Revolution" in Hong Kong.
The timing of the latest revelations about CY Leung's pre-election deal with an Australian company may invite further suspicions.
Identity aside, social discontent out of unbridled capitalism, of which Hong Kong may be an exemplar, is rising across a globe embracing capitalism with a vengeance. In this regard, the Hong Kong young lady may well be speaking for the rest of the world.
The following are apt illustrations in this regard -
For China, Embarrassing Parallels Between Hong Kong Protestors and America's 99% , Ana Swanson, Forbes Online, 6 October, 2014 Click here
Hong Kong Occupy Central - Globalization, Capitalism, Identity - IMD Professor Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Forbes Online, 5 October, 2014 Click here
With the dynamics playing out for the heart and soul of Hong Kong under the One Country Two Systems formula, Hong Kong is near what I would call a Martin Luther King moment. There comes a time when a society's rift has to be healed. A game of chicken is no substitute. It's time for both sides to explore pragmatic ideas for the way forward. Some are suggested in my Op-ed article in the South China Morning Post of 7 Ootober.
My participation in a radio panel discussion on Voice of Russia on 8 October together with Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World and an RT analyst.
Voice of Russia's brief transcript is here. Please note that the reference to a "Law Arbritration Committee"" is erroneous. If my intervention was carefully listened to, I did refer to a "nominating committee"" under Hong Kong's Basic Law. Naturally, the overall slant of the discussion was not as balanced as I wished.
My live TV interview with Beijing's CCTV English on 5 October, 2014. I ventured to highlight the conundrum of One Country Two Systems as the student and other protests in Hong Kong reflect a growing clash of identities with those in the motherland. My interview slot starts at 16:50 of the recorded TV clip.