Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

November 22, 2015

Another day in Hong Kong, but this one is not like the others.  The city was holding elections for its district councils, which don’t make actual laws, but serve as the incubators for laws that are eventually taken up in the Legislative Council or LegCo.  The LegCo is kind of like the parliament of Hong Kong, but given that it’s a part of China, it has a lot less power.  So over 900 candidates are competing for 431 seats in the city’s 18 district councils.  What’s interesting about this election is that it’s a little more than a year after the umbrella protests here that started when China decided not to grant true universal suffrage in the next Chief Executive election in 2017.  Rather than let anyone one for that position, all candidates still need to be vetted by Beijing before people can vote on them.  This move was to ensure that someone would be elected who would be amenable to doing Beijing’s bidding.  What was cool today was that everywhere you went around the city, candidates were holding court and volunteers were cajoling people to vote.  I was asked probably ten times whether I had casted my ballot and met a few of the candidates.  Here was the scene in Sai Ying Pun near where I was staying.


View on Bonham Road in Sai Ying Pun this morning

For too long Hong Kong has been thought of as apolitical and a city that was all about making money, but the umbrella protests last year added another dimension to that narrative.  But the umbrella protests were not the first time Hong Kongers tried to challenge Beijing.  In 2003, nearly 500,000 people took to the streets to protest Basic Law Article 23, an anti-subversion law that led many to fear a loss of freedom of speech.  Those protests helped lead to the eventual tabling of the law.  So over the last decade or so, there has been an emerging political identity here that tends to be defined in opposition to the Mainland.  It’s not always a healthy way to stake out an identity by being anti-something, but it has helped spark a conversation among people here about how docile they want to be in the face of Beijing.

I had dim sum with an old friend this morning who is from Hong Kong, but went to university in the UK, and is now back here with his family.  We were talking about the protests last year and from what he was saying, he is probably more in line with what Beijing would like from the population here.  He basically came across as resigned to the way things are because Hong Kong is a part of China and it’s foolish to try and take on Beijing.  I argued that while not all the tactics in last year’s protests were effective, I think a lot of it was motivated by the fact that people knew it was a losing fight, so why not go balls to the wall and try to get a rise out of the government both here and in Beijing?

It’s sad in a way because Hong Kong can’t win unless China changes. Taiwan is in a somewhat similar position, but it’s actually a sovereign state in all but status.  Hong Kong would have a harder time going it alone, but both are in an arrested state of development because of Beijing.  Hong Kong is actually controlled by Beijing, so it makes more sense even with the One Country,Two Systems fiction.  Taiwan is arrested because of the fear of what China could do, not actual Chinese control.  Anyway, I digress and it’s nearly time to meet my brother and his wife for dinner, who are in town at the tail-end of their honeymoon.





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