Hong Kong’s ‘unfinished democratic development’

A South China Morning Post op-ed acknowledges that ‘sending academics and activists advocating peaceful protest to jail makes for an unedifying spectacle’, and has some interesting thoughts on possible Occupy 9 points of appeal. As with other SCMP sensible and moderate commentaries (like this), it also mentions a need to address unfinished business on democratic development.

Except this can’t happen and won’t happen. Representative government, even in one semi-separate city, is incompatible with China’s control-obsessed one-party system.

Under the current arrangement, Beijing chooses Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, who is then farcically ‘elected’ by a 1,200-strong rubber-stamp body. Under the proposed reforms that the Occupy-Umbrella movement was resisting in 2014-15, Beijing aimed to scale-up this fake election in such a way as to include the whole electorate (‘universal suffrage’). Since you can’t rig a body of 4 million voters like you can a group of 1,200, the proposed system would rely on a rigged ballot. Beijing would choose two candidates – and the people would vote for their favourite.

Thanks to the semi-representative nature of our legislative system, the proposal failed. Had it gone through, the 2017 ‘election’ would in all likelihood have gone like this: Beijing would have chosen an obedient minion to be the next Chief Executive (say Carrie Lam) and put her on the ballot along with a widely disliked designated loser (say CY Leung); the people would then have ‘elected’ Carrie. Same outcome as today, except that when people complain about her incompetence, it would be their fault for voting her in.

Unfortunately, many opponents of such fake elections phrase their objection by saying the rigged ballot is ‘designed to screen out pan-democrats’. Since it is hard to identify an overt self-identified pan-dem you would want as CE, this sounds almost benign. Beijing-style ‘universal suffrage’ is not designed to ‘screen out’ anyone – it is simply a top-down appointment in disguise.

So long as the Chinese Communist Party is in power, this is the ‘democratic development’ that hand-wringing moderates insist remains unfinished and which would somehow restore Hong Kong’s pragmatism, harmony, healing, blah-blah.

I declare the weekend (only two days???) open with some exciting, thought-provoking or otherwise worthwhile reading matter you might have missed.

Since elections are out, how do you choose the next dictator? Frank Ching at Economic Journal asks about China’s succession problem. The NYT’s Ian Johnson looks at stirrings of opposition to Xi Jinping in the steps of Xu Zhangrun.

In Atlantic: “China is not, as was once said of Imperial Germany after its unification, ‘seeking its place in the sun.’ Rather, it is retaking its rightful place as the sun.” Sounds scary, but…

With the 30th anniversary coming, German TV Station ZDF presents its archives of footage from Beijing in 1989.

And a quite amusing look at why Chinese is a pain of a language to learn (otherwise known as ‘you guys need a proper writing system’).

Lastly – a quick, sad update: Michael Wolf, taker of the ultimate HK photos.

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