Democracy in China and Implications for Hong Kong Donald Asprey Summer Intern 2004
Introduction Hong Kong has experienced eventful times since the Handover in 1997. With political awareness on the increase, a democratic movement gaining momentum and Beijing having ruled out universal suffrage for 2007 and 2008, many tough decisions and compromises are going to have to be made by the Central Authorities and Hong Kong SAR Government, as well as the pan-democratic camp. It is likely changes with the executive-led system will occur, whether universal suffrage for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council could be achieved with stability in the near future remains a topic for heated debate. It is encouraging that both sides are now pushing for better communication and understanding, and an environment for real debate about the future of Hong Kong between those that matter appears imminent at long last. Why is the Mainland so reluctant to push forward with political reform in Hong Kong? How does this compare with Beijing's attitude regarding its own reforms on the Mainland? What conditions could enable Beijing to trust the people of Hong Kong with the task of choosing their own Chief Executive and Legislature? These are some of the questions I intend to explore in this short study. To answer these questions I will first concentrate on electoral reforms on the Mainland, namely the impact and success of village elections introduced in 1987, and changes made to the selection of cadres in higher level committees. Then I will examine the basis of the Mainland's relationship with Hong Kong built upon the principle of "One Country, Two Systemsâ€? and how its implementation to date bodes for the future. Finally, I will try to identify the cause of the distrust Beijing feels towards the democratic movement, and what could be done to make universal suffrage more acceptable to Beijing. Democracy in China At a time when Hong Kong is pushing for universal suffrage, it may be useful to look at the progress of democratic reform in China to more accurately gauge Beijingâ€™s attitude towards constitutional reform in Hong Kong. By the mid-1980s, China's economic reforms started under former president Deng Xiaoping began to take off in coastal and urban areas. However, following the implementation of the Household Responsibility System (HRS) a power vacuum began to emerge in rural areas. 1 Previously, farmers had worked for people's communes, which monopolised all resources including food, capital and commodity goods. Under that system, rural villagers worked collectively to produce agricultural products. The commune then distributed them to the peasants. Peasants were 1
1. For a detailed account of village elections see Shi, Tianjian (2000), The electoral reform in rural China, Shi, Tianjian, Rural Democracy in China, pp10-22, Singapore University Press.
dependent economically and psychologically on state authority. Under the HRS, Chinese farmers regained control of the production process. In place of the communes, the authorities established people's congresses in townships. However the township administrators did not have the resources or manpower to manage the brigade and production teams at village level. Public projects depended on the farmers to provide funding from their earnings. An unfortunate effect of the economic reforms was the increase of corruption amongst local officials. Alongside increased taxes and price inflation, incomes of rural peasants stagnated and fell. In some cases officials could not pay for the grain purchased by the state and started handing out IOUs. Villagers began demanding to participate in the management of their villages in return for their funding of local administration. There were serious prospects of social unrest. Within the Communist hierarchy emerged different opinions on the best solution to tackle the problem arising in rural areas in the 1980s. Conservatives proposed establishing government offices in the villages to bridge the gap between the farmers and the discredited township officials. A group of reformers lobbied in favour of elections for a village committee (the most grassroots level of committee). In order to avoid confrontation with the conservatives, the reformers planned to implement the reforms in two stages. The first was to persuade local officials to organise elections as quickly as possible, regardless of any irregularities in the early stages of implementation. The second stage would be to improve on the elections by increasing competitiveness and reducing manipulation. In this way the reformers hoped to lock local bureaucrats onto the elections before the full implications of their own positions became apparent. The reformers believed Chinese peasants would be interested in the reforms if it were shown to bring benefits to them. With the support of the peasants, once implemented it would be very difficult to turn back from the elections. In 1987, National Peopleâ€™s Congress passed the Village Organic Law (VOL) allowing elections for local officials in rural villages. Villages were no longer considered part of the overall Communist Party (CCP) system. Villagers would now vote to choose the director, vice-director and members of a village committee, with control over aspects of the local economy. By establishing villages as autonomous and selfmanaging, supporters of the VOL bill hoped to temper the power of township officials by setting clear limits to their authority and defining village obligations explicitly. Since 1987, almost all provinces in China have hosted village elections. Villages have been encouraged to implement their own regulations. This includes the drafting of â€˜village chartersâ€™ committing members to run the committee democratically or face recall, in a bid to reduce corruption and increase public confidence in the process. Despite the passage of the VOL, many local officials and incumbent leaders were unsurprisingly opposed to direct elections in rural China. Because the VOL had been passed by the National People's Congress it was hard for opponents of reform to argue openly against it. They could, however, claim special hardship in their localities and request a delay in holding elections 'to maintain stability'. They could also hold single-candidate elections that would not threaten their position. As expected by the 2
reformers, when elections were first introduced cadres tended to treat them as a formality. In some cases officials balked at unexpected results and did not honour them. However, a small number of particularly corrupt and disliked officials found themselves voted out of office, and the word spread. According the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA), most villagers did not pay much attention to the first round of elections, but by the third time, many had actively participated. By the time conservative local bureaucrats woke up to the threat posed by elections, the elections had won acceptance among the peasants. There was little local officials could do except control the nomination of candidates. In 1999, local officials were further hampered by the introduction of an open nomination process, known as haixuan (vote from the sea). Reformers continue to progress in improving the elections. So how democratic are these elections? Research found that since the implementation of village elections, attitudes have shifted towards what one could regard as a strong sense of democratic ideals. Few villagers believed that only those with specialised knowledge should be allowed to speak during the process of decision-making. Many villagers acknowledged their right to petition higher authorities when dissatisfied with local policies. Villagers strongly rejected that Chinese accept non-democratic politics as long as they can make money.2 The perception of a good election among villagers has also changed. Research noted that in early the 1990s, an election was considered good if there was minimal violent confrontation, disturbance or kinship fighting. There is now considerably more interest in meaningful competition and for elections to follow a set of sound procedures.3 Scholars also concluded that in rural Mainland China, like Taiwan and Hong Kong, participating in a democratic process has led to strong democratic aspirations and ideals.4 Researchers also investigated the attitude towards the integrity of village elections and found that a large proportion of villagers no longer believed the CCP had the ability or the inclination to manipulate elections. The open nomination process and secret ballot have helped improve confidence in the process. Elections were becoming increasingly competitive. More and more elections involve more than one candidate, and turnover of elected officials has increased significantly. The percent of village leaders taking office for the first time has increased year on year, from 36.8% in 1996, 43.2% in 1997 to 52.5% in 1999.5 According to the MCA, about 30%-50% of newly elected village heads were not CCP members. With the most obvious breaches of electoral laws, Beijing also moved to punish those responsible. In addition, by legitimising alternative forms of political activity such as protests and petitions to higher levels of authority (in strictly limited numbers) the CCP has demonstrated that it is more willing to listen to at least some complaints of the people. Apparently this has led to a reduced number of protests, although this claim cannot be verified independently and is contested by other researchers. 2
Zweig, David (2002), Democratic Values, Political Structures, and Alternative Politics in Greater China, Washington D.C.,United States Institute of Peace, Occasional Paper Series. 3 He, Baogang (1996), The democratization of China, London, Routledge. 4 Zweig, David (2002), Democratic Values, Political Structures, and Alternative Politics in Greater China, Washington D.C.,United States Institute of Peace, Occasional Paper Series. 5 Ibid.
From an outsider's perspective, there are a few areas in which the village elections fail to measure up to more liberal democratic ideals. Not least the strong opposition of the CCP towards autonomous institutions and the emergence of a civil society. This attitude is made abundantly clear in the way the party has dealt with members of such institutions. Members of the Chinese Democratic Party have been imprisoned and frequently outspoken journalists and publications have incurred the wrath of the Party. The CCP obviously regards autonomous institutions and competing loyalties as highly threatening. The villagers are pragmatic enough to realise that it is more beneficial to them to vote for someone with close ties to the party. Therefore the lack of free press, and the minimal chances that the Mainland will legalise alternative political parties in the near future, village elections are unlikely to aspire to the ideals of a liberal democracy without major reform at the highest level of the CCP system. Village elections have additional shortcomings. With corruption rife at all levels of officialdom in Mainland China, it would perhaps be optimistic to expect village elections to be clean and corruption free. Leading scholars are often highly critical of the reforms as they are riddled with problems of vote buying, intimidation (including murder), and otherwise highly suspect practises by those unwilling to lose their grip on power.6 Experts note that the weakness of the process is that of law enforcement. Village Elections are governed under the VOL. Law enforcement agencies are not independent. In theory, the MCA is in charge of implementing the VOL. In practise, its influence becomes limited in monitoring implementation at local level. The local branches of the MCA are under the direct leadership of local governments, in charge of supervising the budget and personnel of local MCA branches. It is not always in the interests of the County and Township Committees to investigate and support impeachment processes against the Village Committees whom they rely upon to enforce their own policies. In addition, more sinister motives are not uncommon when investigations go no where. The lack of independent law enforcement is compromising the authority of law by encouraging people to seek alternative, perhaps even violent and more effective political action. 7 There has been some progress in reforming the judiciary on the Mainland. The CCP is debating its commitment to the rule of law and even possibly the separation of powers between the state and the judiciary. Judicial reform has been a constant topic of discussion in China since the early 1990s, when it became apparent the current judiciary, designed for a state planned economy, was falling behind the economic reforms on the Mainland.8 The World Trade Organisation (WTO) exerted further pressure; a requirement for member states is that the judiciary must be independent. Separation was proposed in order to strengthen the judiciary in its ability to decide commercial cases with adequate impartiality to resist local Governments, the highestranked proponents of this move being President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.9 6
Ying, Shang (2000), Myth and Reality: the Chinese Village Elections. Perspectives Vol. 1 No. 2. Overseas Young Chinese Forum, www.oycf.org. 7 Ibid. 8 Sachs, Jeffrey, Wing Thye Woo and Xiaoki Yang (2000), Economic Reforms and Constitutional Transition: Part II, Perspectives Vol. 1 No. 6. Overseas Young Chinese Forum, www.oycf.org. 9 Peerenboom, Randall (2000), China and the rule of Law: Part II. Perspectives Vol.1 No. 6. Overseas Young Chinese Forum. www.oycf.org.
The proposal was strongly opposed by conservatives in the party, in fear that the judiciary would become so strong that it will be impartial to political cases as well, to the detriment of the Party. At present, Party members are first subject to the Party's Disciplinary Inspection Commissions, who in turn decide whether to forward any case of misconduct to Government's Legal System. Certain improvements have been made, most notably the adoption of the PRC Administrative Procedure in 1989 which enables citizens to sue the government when their legitimate rights and interests are infringed upon by administrative actions taken by the Government. However, many remain to be convinced that under the present structure the judiciary cannot be unduly influenced by political pressure. The CCP is still in a position to enact laws without any checks and balances leading to a situation whereby the state can push through 'bad laws' in the interests of the Party at the expense of society at large. 'China will not have realised the rule of law until senior party and government officials feel constrained by the law and adapt their behaviour accordingly.'10 Have village elections permeated beyond village committee level? From 1999 to 2001, experimental direct elections were conducted for township heads in Sichuan, Shanxi, Shenzhen, and Henan provinces. The CCP moved to stop the process, but unofficially such elections continue to take place in provinces such as Yunnan and Hainan. In addition, elections have extended to Municipal District Congresses in major cities such as Shenzhen and Beijing, the urban equivalent to village committees. However, the attitude of the CCP regarding the future of elections may be gauged by looking at the motives behind the political reforms. Zong Hairen's (a pseudonym) book 'Disidai', 'China's New Rulers', gives an insight into the new members of the politburo following the succession of President Hu Jintao and retirement of former president Jiang Zemin. Apparently, fourth generation leaders are not significantly concerned about a threat to Party rule from political dissidents. They are confident that the security apparatus can harass, jail,'re-educate' or exile anyone who explicitly aims to end one-party rule. But they do worry about a weakening of the Party's ethos of public service and a consequent decline of popular support. It is the lack of discipline and rampant levels of corruption among cadres that is seen as the root cause of increasing disillusionment towards the Party, and the greatest threat posed to long term one-party rule.11 Premier Wen Jiabao voiced concerns when he said 'problems which involve betraying the interests of the Party and the people are quite widespread and quite serious.' Former Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) Li Ruihuan does more to elaborate: 'To be sure the [Communist] Party ranks have grown quantitatively to over sixty million, but why is it our unity, our attractiveness are weaker than they have ever been? Why does no one feel honoured to have a sense of historical mission to be a party member or cadre? This is the biggest danger today, and the fuse for potential social turmoil. People's living standards today are greatly improved over what they were in the fifties and 10
Xin, Chunying (2003), What kind of judicial power does China need? Oxford University and New York University School of Law I.CON, Vol. 1 No. 1 pp58-78. Oxford University Press. 11 Nathan, Andrew and Bruce Gilley (2002), China's new Rulers, the secret files. NYREV Inc. This is a translation of Disidai (Zong Hairen), supposedly based on leaked files from the Organisation Department of the Communist Party, in charge of nominations and appointments of high ranked cadres. The book reveals information on the 'Fourth Generation' leaders under Hu Jintao.
sixties or even the seventies. In some places they have even reached, or got close to, the level of mid-level developing countries in Asia or in the world. But take notice: Which section of the people are those [who are better off]?' referring to Party members who have abused their power for self-gain. 'This is why feelings of anger, cursing, resistance, and oppositional emotions have risen to an all time high. To be sure, people enjoy freedoms under the constitution that are the broadest freedoms in our history. But take notice: Which group of people enjoys freedoms and rights beyond those guaranteed in the constitution? This is why people's criticism, denunciation, resistance, and cries of opposition to the Party and to leading cadres have come to boiling point.'12 If Disidai is to be believed it would appear that the Political Bureau (Politburo) may be split as to how it would address the problems of the party. One group might believe in the strengthening of internal party mechanisms, with the other group, so-called the 'modernisers', believe in expanding external mechanisms such as loosening censorship to allow free press and competitive elections. But the aims of both camps would be the same. They would seek to improve the selection and discipline of cadres to improve the quality of governance and hence the popularity of the CCP. This includes improving cadre selection, organisational leadership, and the systems for exercising power. Although some of the Politburo members have been described as liberal and open to external reform, most notably the now retired Li Ruihuan, none of them have been described as a Gorbachov; that is someone who thinks the party's problems are so severe that they require changes great enough to risk the party's existence. Indeed, the current leaders considered themselves qualified and competent. They believed in their own ability to manage the challenges China would undoubtedly face in the coming years, in managing the booming economy, reducing inequalities and improving the plight of the poor, and strengthening China's position among the world powers.13 The camp in favour of strengthening internal party mechanisms in the late 1990s was on the ascendant. This is shown by the revision of the VOL in 1998. Originally omitted from the VOL in 1987, the new VOL included the statement: The Party branch is still the villages 'leadership core'. 14 The revision was a concession to conservatives in the Party who felt village elections an increasing risk. Some obviously felt the need to make clear that the authority granted to Village Heads and Committees is limited. Selection among cadres is seen as a way of ensuring a cadre's popularity among his subordinates before promotion. Also by increasing competitiveness for these posts the Politburo hopes to see a higher quality of candidates getting promoted. Increasingly at provincial level multiple candidates are being considered for party positions. The first mayor to be elected through public competition was named earlier this year in Jintin city, Jiangsu Province, by the local 'municipal people's congress'. Apparently Wu Xiaodong beat 58 other candidates to
Ibid. Ibid. 14 Shi, Tianjian (2000), Rural Democracy in China. Singapore University Press. 13
the post.15 At County and Township levels party cadres are increasingly appointed via elections among party cadres. One township has gone even further. In Xihu Town of Tongling City, Anhui Province, a farmer named Xiang Xianze was elected head of the Township Committee. Here, non-party members were given the right to recommend communist cadres in a direct election, although nominees were all party members selected beforehand. This does help ensure those elected are responsible not only to the party of which they are members but also to their electorate themselves. The process has started to spread to other provinces as well, such as Sichuan and Jiangsu. However, rather like in village elections, the lack of independent law enforcement will probably enable undesirable practises to persist in this process as well. As one farmer put it 'There are so many people and who knows who in a township? It is easy to play tricks in such a game'.16 The level of democratic reform on the Mainland has progressed in the past 17 years. The CCP has succeeded in increasing the rights of residents to have a say in their governance, albeit at a very local level, and improving responsibility of officials to the electorate. The party has also increased competitiveness, introduced transparent nominations, and shown a willingness to listen and work for the interests of the people. The reforms have instilled a greater sense of democratic ideals amongst rural villagers. However, the weak enforcement of electoral law has led to failure in resolving conflict between rural residents and local officials. The limitations imposed on the elections, such as the intolerance of alternative political parties and viewpoints, and a free of flow information in the form of free press has perhaps facilitated the election of 'appropriate' candidates acceptable to the CCP. It appears that the motives behind the reforms are less to do with progressing towards full democracy and more to do with improving the popularity of the Party, by curbing abuses of position and improving the selection of officials and the quality of governance. The message is that the Party is willing to experiment in increasing the democratic rights of the people, if the reforms improve the quality of governance which in turn promotes the CCP, and so long as such reforms do not in any way undermine the authority of One-Party rule in China. In Disidai, none of the leaders are described as willing to allow an opposing political party to grow strong enough to threaten the Party. Zong Hairen noted of the leaders: 'If they allowed all workers and peasants to set up their own organisations, all intellectuals and students to comment on public affairs at all times, all worker and peasant groups to march on government offices all the time, the government would be engaged in constant talks with these groups. It would seriously impact China's economic development, and foreign investors would lose confidence in China.' As with many things on the Mainland, the cautious journey towards democracy is likely to be more reminiscent to that of a tortoise than a hare, and calls for reform oft buried in economics and stability. One Country, Two Systems
China Daily Newspaper, Hong Kong edition. Further examples may also be found by visiting the website of The Carter Foundation www.cartercentre.org 16 Ibid.
The “One Country, Two Systems” principle was designed with the reunification of Taiwan with the Mainland in mind, not that of Hong Kong and Macao. It was only when it became apparent that the Hong Kong issue had to be dealt with, that is with the end of the lease for the New Territories, that the principle was redirected to the reunification of Hong Kong with the Mainland. The principle revealed a willingness to pursue a peaceful reunification by Mainland officials.17 In 1981, the then chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (SCNPC), Ye Jianying, introduced the principle. The proposal took into consideration the different histories of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan and the time it would take the Mainland to fulfil its modernisation goal. Therefore for 50 years the Mainland would maintain a different approach to the Special Administrative Regions. The “One Country, Two Systems” principle would give time for the territories to integrate before full amalgamation, 50 years considered suitable time for convergence of social, political, legal and economic values. In the meantime, a gradual increase in trade links would lead to a shift of loyalty towards Beijing, and economically Hong Kong would assist in the development of the Mainland. The principle itself reflected changing political priorities in China. This concept requires the rights and freedoms of residents of Hong Kong to be protected and Hong Kong's capitalist system to remain unchanged for time being whilst the Mainland catches up. At the time of writing the proposal the Chinese leadership had began to shift away from the ideology of socialism and communism in practise. They knew well that China's future lay with developing a market economy, although they called it 'socialism with Chinese characteristics'. Is “One Country, Two Systems” a feasible policy? That is a question asked by many researchers on the subject. There appears to be several flaws in the concept, not least its vague and ambiguous nature, with important aspects such as a 'high degree of autonomy' never clearly defined. Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s post-1997 constitution, Bejing has retained three aces in the pack - the power to interpret the Basic Law, amend the Basic Law, and appoint the Chief Executive. It appears that a 'high degree of autonomy' can be expected so long as the three powers mentioned above are not encroached upon. Unwittingly, the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong touched on the power to interpret, in the matter of right of abode, which resulted in the first ‘interpretation’ of the Basic Law by the SCNPC. A second interpretation over the election of the chief executive and legislature was given in 2004, which effectively ruled out universal suffrage in the next round of elections in 2007 and 2008 respectively. How the “cult” Falungong was also dealt with highlighted also offered insight into the operation of “One Country, Two Systems”. When the group was outlawed on the Mainland, the fact that the group in Hong Kong was not similarly dealt with was initially heralded as proof of the success of “One Country, Two Systems”. However, after former president Jiang Zemin called Falungong an “evil cult” on 5 May 2001, 17
Wang, Gungwu and Wang Siu-Lun (1995), Hong Kong's transition: a decade after the deal. Oxford University Press.
the Hong Kong authorities’ attitude changed somewhat. They fined the group for causing obstruction during a protest outside the Beijing Liaison Office. Falungong were refused the right to rent venues for protest. On 14 June 2001, Tung Chee-hwa described the sect as having some characteristics of an “evil cult” with a wellorganised political agenda. The rise in prominence of the group in Hong Kong caused Beijing to prompt the Hong Kong SAR Government to speed up the implementation of the Article 23 of the Basic Law, which requires Hong Kong to pass laws on its own to prohibit acts of treason, subversion, secession, sedition and theft of state secrets. Li Peng, a former chairman of the NPCSC, said on 27 February 2002 that while it was understandable that Article 23 was not implemented in Tung's first term, as priority was given to a smooth transition, the unspoken message was that it should be done during his second term. However, the Tung Administration’s handling of the drafting and passage of the Article 23 national security legislation was so poor that it ended up provoking a massive demonstration on 1 July 2003 of over 500,000 people. With the Liberal Party saying it could no longer support the government’s push for the legislation to be passed on 9 July, the government was forced to withdraw the bill. The changing stance of the Hong Kong authorities towards Falungong and pushing ahead with Article 23 suggested the shaky nature of Hong Kong's political autonomy, and reveals ambiguity of the “One Country, Two Systems” concept. Part of the “One Country, Two Systems” concept was that 'Hong Kong people would rule Hong Kong'. Although the latter statement is also ambiguous, it did mean that Beijing people would not rule Hong Kong. One could be excused for thinking this might suggest an elected Chief Executive, or at least a Chief Executive that adequately reflected the views and ambitions of the Hong Kong people. However, amidst the growing calls for universal suffrage in Hong Kong many Mainland officials, and indeed members of the Hong Kong SAR Government, sought to place more emphasis on “One Country” than “Two Systems”. This suggests that Hong Kong should develop with the goal of future integration with the Mainland in mind. It appears that if Hong Kong were to push ahead with political reform leading to universal suffrage it may lead to a situation whereby final integration would be more difficult than in 1997. Prior to the Handover, Beijing's view of the Hong Kong model under “One Country, Two Systems” would be similar to that of a Crown colony. Citizens would not be encouraged to participate in political activities, the Chief Executive would enjoy supreme power in the territory and be responsible only to Beijing, and the laissez faire economy would remain intact. Democracy would be a very different and rather unpalatable route for Mainland officials. The rigid nature of the Beijing leaders shows they are unwilling to face problems and adjust policy to suit changing situations, such as the undeniable rise of political aspirations amongst the people of Hong Kong. Is there any hope for democracy in Hong Kong under “One Country, Two Systems”? Looking at developments on the Mainland, there are a couple of factors that could bode well for the chances of political reform. The people of Hong Kong are calling for democracy to improve governance. This is a recurring theme. The Mainland has sought to provide a better quality of governance by introducing grass roots electoral 9
reform so long as the CCP does not feel undermined. The idea of elections has to be made palatable to the Beijing. One way would be to enable Beijing to screen election candidates for Chief Executive, but this would no doubt be absolutely unacceptable to Hong Kong. Another, perhaps better way, would be to reduce any affiliations of the existing parties to the Central Authorities. In the present situation it would be very hard for the Central Authorities to accept a victory by the pan-democratic camp, very much in the same way Beijing finds it hard even to acknowledge the incumbent President of Taiwan, Chen Shuibian and the Democratic Progressive Party. Unless the CCP could guarantee a victory from the pro-government camp in any elections for the Chief Executive, universal suffrage remains unlikely. However, were the Central Authorities to view political parties in Hong Kong with indifference, the CCP would not feel more threatened from the result than a non-party member winning in a Village Election. Beijing has shown restraint in allowing the existence of political parties; parties would do well to make to make the most of the situation. The other factor that could help the democratic cause is that of Taiwan, the initial target of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. Relations between Beijing and Taipei seem to have degraded into missile diplomacy. Back when the “One Country, Two Systems” proposal was launched it signalled willingness on the part of the Central Authorities to seek a peaceful resolution. If that willingness is still there, there may exist a body of opinion which believes the best way to convince the people of Taiwan is one where “One Country, Two Systems” is seen as a success. And there can be no better way to show this than to implement universal suffrage in Hong Kong. If peaceful reunification is still high on the agenda, Hong Kong could well benefit from the circumstances. It remains to be seen whether the new leadership will grow to be more flexible in dealing with Hong Kong and Taiwan than they have in recent times. The Way Forward? One can see from developments on the Mainland why Beijing is reluctant to enable universal suffrage in Hong Kong in the present situation. Hong Kong has developed its own rule of law that enables free speech, the formation of political parties, a free press and, most disturbingly in the eyes of the highest officials on the Mainland, a population that have strong political affiliations to parties other than the CCP. Therefore the ability of the Central Authorities to influence the opinions of the people of Hong Kong is very limited and often counter-productive, as shown by the debate on 'patriotism' and the NPCSC’s ‘interpretation’ of the Basic Law. Unfortunately for the Central Authorities and Hong Kong SAR Government, pro-government parties are not as popular as the pan-democratic camp, therefore from Beijing’s viewpoint the implementation of universal suffrage could present the danger of undermining the authority of the Beijing in Hong Kong. It was predictable that Beijing moved to delay universal suffrage citing their best arguments, stability and economic growth. The 1 July 2004t rally revealed yet another step in the democratic movement in Hong Kong, to the surprise of many observers. The major difference between this years march from last years is that the economic situation had improved, SARS did not reemerge and there was no Regina Ip (former secretary for security who resigned over 10
the Article 23 controversy) to stir to cauldron of discontent. This signalled a very important message. The desire for democracy can no longer be seen as a result of recession, of terrible outbreaks of disease or individual blunders on the part of policy makers, but rather a call for what is widely regarded as the best form of governance for Hong Kong. People are far from convinced that the fears regarding political reform are sufficient to retain the present form of government in Hong Kong with its many shortcomings. So what direction can be taken from here? A major concern regarding the implementation of universal suffrage for the Chief Executive and Legislative Council is that Hong Kong could become a welfare state should business interests lose some of their voice in the legislature. This would not only affect Hong Kong but also many parts on the Mainland that are increasing linked to Hong Kong ecomically. There appears to be a niche for a more right wing political party in the pan-democratic camp, or for the Liberal Party if it were to show more support for universal suffrage. The presence of a strong pro-business party in the geographical constituencies may help to allay fears that full democracy would adversely affect the economy. It would be helpful if political parties would do more to earn the trust of Beijing and the public, and recent moves have been promising. However, the nature of politics in Hong Kong does not help. Parties have been split along the lines of loyalty towards the regime in Beijing. This makes it harder for the authorities in Beijing to sit back and accept electoral outcomes if the loyalty or 'patriotism' of some candidates is in question. This results in the unfortunate situation whereby the CCP has a vested interest in the outcome of elections in Hong Kong. It would be more productive were parties split by differences in economic and social policy. The inclusion of loyalty towards Beijing as a major policy, if not the leading factor, from which voters make their choices at the ballot box pushes many issues on the sidelines. The current stance of pro and not-so-pro Beijing parties remains a major hindrance for political reform in Hong Kong. Other issues must be addressed prior to universal suffrage. The current ExecutiveLegco interface often results in stalemate,18 where government feels it cannot propose new policies â€“ and this is with a legislature manipulated to maximise government support. Some serious thought must be given to the executive-led system. One possibility is for universal suffrage to be introduced for both the legislature and the Chief Executive at the same time to give each body with equal legitimacy. The framework for political reform ought to be discussed sooner rather than later. Perhaps most important of all, in order to gain the trust obviously lacking from the Beijing, is the implementation of Article 23. Article 23 was described as the 'litmus test' for freedom in Hong Kong, and first time around it failed. However, Hong Kong is obliged to implement laws to prohibit various activities, and this must be done to the satisfaction of both the Hong Kong people and Beijing. Failure to implement an 18
Sing, Ming (2003), Legislative-Executive Interface in Hong Kong. Loh, Christine and Civic Exchange (ed.), Building Democracy. Hong Kong University Press.
important article of the Basic Law would make it very hard for Beijing to trust Hong Kong to vote for a government without subversive tendencies. At the time of Tiananman in 1989, and more recently with the issue of Falungong, Beijing has viewed Hong Kong as a base for subversive activities and logistical support. The sooner this issue is addressed the better. It is vital the law is acceptable to all concerned, that means that subversive activities are outlawed whilst freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong remain intact. All parties have an opportunity to gain the trust of the people of both the people of Hong Kong and Beijing, which could only be beneficial to all concerned. One can only hope the issue of Falungong can be solved in Hong Kong amicably, providing the protection that has been absent on the Mainland. Conclusion There are definite concerns regarding political reform in Hong Kong that need to be addressed. That said, it is also clear that the present form of government does not meet the needs of a society as advanced as Hong Kong’s. The next few years are crucial if Hong Kong is to make progress in political development, which is long overdue. Beijing appears to have shifted towards greater acceptance of the pandemocratic camp, having previously dismissed them as radicals. The acceptance of the democrat's olive branch for greater communication, alongside inviting some (though not all) members of the camp to Beijing for the 1 October National Day celebration this year, may help reduce conflict between those on opposing sides of the political spectrum. Much could also be done in Hong Kong to ensure the Beijing in no way feels threatened by the democratic movement. Pressure should continue to be asserted in a peaceful manner, and in this respect one cannot fault the Hong Kong people. It remains for those in positions of responsibility within political parties to concentrate more on issues that are actually relevant to Hong Kong. It would be promising if parties could concentrate on Hong Kong issues such as sustainable development, education, and the environment. In short, they should focus on issues that the legislature should tackle. Hong Kong needs to strive for an environment where the CCP does not feel its authority is being undermined. It would be very desirable if the Party could be persuaded to look upon all political parties in Hong Kong with neutrality. By minimising Beijing’s vested interests in the support of one party over another, the ultimate goal of universal suffrage might become more palatable to Beijing. What must be avoided is a situation like that in Taiwan. Such a situation in Hong Kong will inevitably lead to unwanted interference from the Mainland. A lot has been said about the implications for China if full democracy were granted to Hong Kong, good or bad. Indeed it has been suggested that Hong Kong’s development will serve as a model for the future development of the Mainland, so changes leading to democracy must be thought through carefully. Beijing's implementation of “One Country, Two Systems” since the Handover, with cases of interpretations of the Basic Law and continuing encroachment on Hong Kong's political autonomy, appears unfavourable for the democratic movement. A fully democratic institution with a high degree of autonomy looks unlikely unless there is a shift in Beijing's attitude. 12
However, it may not be in the interests of Beijing to stall progress for too long. The most likely scenario whereby the One-China policy can be solved peacefully is one which “One Country. Two Systems” is seen as a success. Democracy in Hong Kong would be a huge step towards achieving that goal. Credit must be given to Beijing for protecting freedoms in Hong Kong that are absent on the Mainland. And looking at the progress that has been made with village elections, the authorities seem willing to experiment and to reform, as long as it is in their interests and as long as they do not feel threatened. Taiwan could prove to be the “spark”. A peaceful solution is definitely the most beneficial outcome for China. This is cause for optimism. One can only hope that the time when the July 1st rally becomes a genuine celebration of Hong Kong’s reunification with the Mainland may not be so far away.
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12. Wang, Gungwu and Wang Siu-Lun (1995), Hong Kong's transition: a decade after the deal. Oxford University Press. 13. Zha, Ng (1998), Covering the Hong Kong transition. PhD dissertation. University of Kentucky. 14. Cheng, Sui On (2003), Challenges to One Country Two Systems in Hong Kong after 1997. M.P.A. dissertation. University of Hong Kong. 15. South China Morning Post newspaper. SCMP Publishing. 16. Sing, Ming (2003), Legislative-Executive Interface in Hong Kong. Loh, Christine and Civic Exchange (ed.), Building Democracy. Hong Kong University Press.
At a time when Hong Kong is pushing for universal suffrage, it may be useful to look at the progress of democratic reform in China to more a...
Published on Dec 23, 2008
At a time when Hong Kong is pushing for universal suffrage, it may be useful to look at the progress of democratic reform in China to more a...