The problem with pro-government views in Hong Kong that see the street protests as unlawful and counterproductive is that they have no response to young people’s aspirations and fears.
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a Hong Kong politician who supports the administration of Leung Chun-ying and defines the pro-democracy protesters first as lawbreakers.
Speaking yesterday at a debate with a fellow member of the territory’s Legislative Council, she argued the protests are impeding the government from debating the specifics of how to carry out the 2017 election for chief executive under the framework decreed by Beijing this summer.
That decision stipulated there would be no broadening of the franchise of interest groups and geographical representatives who are empowered to nominate a candidate for chief executive, and tightened restrictions on who could make a run for the office. China had promised Hong Kong a progressive path to suffrage; it has done so by promising universal suffrage but for a limited slate of candidates that are basically Beijing-approved.
Both camps can be accused of talking past one another: Ip sparred with Emily Lau Wai-hing, chairwoman of the Democratic Party, in a debate at Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents Club, and there was no common ground.
But the telling moment was when Ip fielded a question from the floor asking if the government realised the extent to which the younger generation is disaffected.
Ip replied with lip service to meeting people’s hopes and giving them upward mobility. But she expressed no vision for how this could be or should be done. She had only a negative answer: not through street protests, or a Democratic Party boycott of Legco procedures on implementing Beijing’s political agenda. Instead, she said it was in the interest of young people to let the rest of society get back to work.
The lack of perceived economic opportunity for young Hong Kongers in a cartel-dominated city is a major impetus to the protest movement. To simply argue that students can prosper in a business-as-usual environment fails the test of leadership. It does not provide them with hope.
Tin ears are plentiful in Hong Kong these days, as the protest movement has divided society – even divided families. Both sides say they want to see the protests resolved and concluded as quickly as possible.
Ip’s stance is that the 2017 election is being held up by the protests. Legco is now meant to consider how to compose the nominating committee for the chief executive, including details such as how many votes each representative may cast and whether ballots should be open or secret.
This process has been postponed by the government. Ip insists Beijing’s summer decision is a “framework decision” that leaves the particulars up to Hong Kongers. The protests may mean well but are breaking the law and fracturing civil society.
Lau noted the “framework decision” has been a backward step, not a progressive measure, by forcing a cap on the number of potential candidates to “two or three”, and by raising the threshold to become a candidate to 51% of the nomination committee’s vote, up from 12.5% in the 2012 contest that ushered CY Leung to power.
“The pro-democracy movement is business friendly,” she said. “We welcome investors.” She challenged the notion that the protests are lawless, noting the only violence has been provoked by anti-demonstration forces, many linked to triads.
But Beijing and the Leung administration refuse to engage in talks. Lau said Ip and her allies should deliver an update to Beijing explaining the situation in Hong Kong has changed since the Communist Party of Xi Jinping issued its decrees for Hong Kong in August.
Both women, actually, claimed the other side was refusing talks. But Lau has been banned from travelling to the mainland for more than 20 years: Beijing doesn’t want to speak with her.
Ip is a member of the Legislative Council and founder of the pro-establishment New People’s Party, she also served as Secretary for Security under Tung Chee-hwa and tried to implement the notorious Article 23 anti-sedition law.
The effort failed when 500,000 people marched in 2003 against the proposal. Occupy Central and Umbrella Movement protests have attracted more than 100,000 people but have failed to galvanise the general population in the same way.