Hong Kong Under the Heel

China is the global champion of fakery in consumer products. Now the idea of democracy can be added to its list of creative fakes as Beijing continues to evade its Basic Law promise to the Hong Kong people for direct elections of the legislature and Chief Executive by 2017, 20 years after the handover from Britain.

The National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing is to rule by Sunday on how candidates for the 2017 chief executive’s seat are to be selected and elected. Few in Hong Kong believe its ruling, predetermined by the party inner sanctum, will be anything other than a further distortion of the democratic process.

If the core principle in a democracy is the free expression of the will of the people, then the expected nomination body of pro-Beijing business groups, functional constituencies and hand-picked collaborators will fail that test. It is designed to disqualify popular candidates who do not subscribe to the one-party dictatorship and police state.

In short, it will select another leader beholden to Beijing, who will not have a popular mandate to represent Hong Kong. Zimbabwe and North Korea also allow “universal suffrage” for their disenfranchised citizens.

Political intimidation

Beijing's assault on democratic rights goes beyond elections, of course. In another step to politicizing the Independent Commission Against Corruption, ICAC officers this week raided the home of Jimmy Lai, publisher of Apple Daily and Next Magazine. Officers also called on Lai's aide Mark Simon and labor leader and democratic legislator Lee Cheuk-yan to take away files and documents.

The investigation seeks to establish a link between a donation Lai made and Lee's s speech in January on freedom of the press where he cited political pressure on two banks to withdraw their advertising without mentioning Lai by name. The ICAC was responding to complaints from pro-Beijing forces alleging bribery of legislators by Lai.

This follows the orchestrated military-grade cyber attack in June on computers and servers of Lai's Next Media group and the online referendum organized by the Occupy Central movement. The timing of the ICAC raid is a warning to the Occupy Central leaders of heavy-handed police action and dire legal consequences. Beijing apparently believes that the kind of police-state intimidation that cows people on the mainland should also work in Hong Kong.

Apple Daily and Next Magazine have been uncompromising critics of the Beijing administration and its collaborators in the HK government. The Occupy Central movement also received donations from Lai. Occupy Central has committed to squat in the financial district if Beijing fails to declare a free and transparent election process for the 2017 election.

Occupy Central is expected to move into position peacefully this Sunday when the NPC verdict on the 2017 CE election is handed down.

The ICAC investigation into Lai could yield grounds for Occupy Central leaders to be legally framed too. We are probably seeing a concerted effort to "prove" foreign agents and funding are working to undermine the government – which will then lead to renewed calls for urgent passing of the shelved Article 23 Security Bill. After that, Hong Kong citizens can expect rapid erosion of human rights and personal freedoms they take for granted.

New filter of patriotism

In searching for some basis to disqualify popular candidates, the central government has raised the peculiar filter of “patriotism,” which is nowhere defined in the Basic Law. First it was a vague “Love Hong Kong, Love China” slogan. Hong Kong people had no problem with that. That has quickly mutated to “Love the Communist Party and its socialist dictatorship.”

The majority of Hong Kong people are offspring of parents and grandparents who fled the terror of Mao’s pogroms of 1949 against landlords, traders and intellectuals. Subsequent waves fled the famines caused by the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s and the chaotic class-cleansing horrors of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Memories remain strong.

They have no appetite for communist ideology, patriotic education, one-party dictatorship or the police state. So where does that leave the relationship of the CCP to its Special Administrative Region? The new leadership of Xi Jinping is ratcheting up the tough-cop approach to domestic and international disputes from Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong to the unilateral claim on 90 percent of the South China Sea.

The “peaceful rise” of China and the politics of compromise are binned for an assertive new China that can say no. It has the economic muscle to fund nuclear strike capability, float a blue-water navy and buy its way through Asia, Africa and South America – much as the USA has done since WWII.

Xi is busy consolidating his power internally via targeted anti-corruption campaigns and stirring jingoism against Japan. Hong Kong is too small a problem in the scale of his ambitions to lose sleep over. It will be smacked down smartly.

Nominating Committee

The Basic Law refers to a Nominating Committee to be set up for the purpose of the 2017 election that would follow “democratic principles to be broadly representative.” However Beijing has since decided that the discredited “small circle” rubber-stamp Election Committee that yielded the last three chief executives be re-badged for the purpose.

There was hope in Hong Kong that the five-month public consultation process would lead to a Nominating Committee that represents the electorate. Those hopes have evaporated.

All the chief executives produced by the Election Committee since 1997 have failed to gain the respect or trust of the people they are supposed to represent. The current one, Leung Chun-ying, is the least popular but the first one to be hailed as a "comrade" by the Guangdong CCP website (before that was hastily removed) following his selection. Leung has strenuously denied that he is a Communist Party member.

Handed-over or liberated?

Hong Kong society did not clamor for a return to the mainland. The CCP represents everything they abhor. Hong Kong was betrayed by Margaret Thatcher in 1984 for British national interests without its people having a say. Hong Kong was “handed-over.” There was poignant sadness and sullen gloom at the handover ceremony of July 1, 1997. The CCP propaganda is that the compatriots of Hong Kong were “liberated from 150 years of shame.”

Now the CCP is facing a groundswell of resistance to fake democracy being foisted on a society well aware of its rights and the promises of the Basic Law. Hong Kong society is ever practical – it accepts the Basic Law as a social contract so long as Beijing honors its side of the asymmetric power relationship.

Hong Kong is in turmoil because of bad faith, betrayal of the Basic Law and systematic infiltration of the political process, civil service, police, academe and public bodies by cadres and collaborators serving the diktats of the China Liaison Office (CLO) whose director now wields more power in Hong Kong than the CE. There is a collapse of trust between Hong Kong and Beijing.

Why the distrust?

Hong Kong prospered when the British colonial administration accepted mainland refugees. They gained shelter, rule of law, efficient public services and the freedom to earn a living without political harassment. That released the energy of the immigrants to create new lives and a vibrant economy.

Even though Hong Kongers had no choice in who governed them, they enjoyed First World freedoms of the press, expression, assembly, travel, trade and wealth creation. They were secure in the knowledge of an enabling administration that was fair, stable and mature without a recurrent habit of ideological blood-letting.

The liberal British administration tolerated the underground communist network of schools, trade unions, "patriotic" triads and communist newspapers -- all run from across the border by the Guangdong branch of the CCP. This virus in Hong Kong society was below ground until 1997 but now it runs rampant across the full spectrum of political, academic and media life in the territory, amply funded by the CCP and its corporate proxies.