Hong Kong as I write this is being paralyzed by demonstrations led by idealistic students and left wing Occupy Wall Street types. I spend a lot of time in Hong Kong. But I have to admit. I didn’t see this coming. I never thought this would get this big.
The world press is cheering on the demonstrators. Who could be against democracy? The evil Chinese Communist Party must not be allowed to restrict democracy in Hong Kong. The students are pure and innocent. They must be supported.
I am sorry but I am not cheering. I think the student/Occupy Movement will bring disaster to Hong Kong. It already is as the retail sector and tourism is dead and bank branches are closing because of the civil disorders.
The student/Occupy Movement is demanding two things that the Chinese Communist Party and the Hong Kong Government cannot give them. One, that the current Chief Executive CY Leung resign. Two that the Chinese government withdraws its vetting process for the selection of Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive in 2017. There is really no possibility for compromise.
The Chinese government does not want to intervene in Hong Kong. Hong Kong as a global financial market and logistics center is valuable to Beijing. Beijing wants to be seen as living up to the Basic Law worked out with the British. Beijing never gives up hope that Taiwan will accept such an agreement.
But the student/Occupy Movement demands in Hong Kong threaten the existence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). If the CCP has to choose between its own survival and the survival of Hong Kong, for them it’s a no brainer. The CCP will choose its own survival. My sources in China tell me that the government has gone out of its way to block all news of the events in Hong Kong. Of course the CCP is worried the Hong Kong Movement will spread.
And there’s a practical issue. Just as communities in the US sometimes have to call in the National Guard to preserve civil order, Hong Kong may have to resort to the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) to preserve order. What we are now seeing is the possibility of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators against Hong Kong’s 28,000 policemen.
If PLA troops are needed to assist the Hong Kong police, that is the end of Hong Kong as a major world financial center. Remember PLA troops are stationed in downtown Hong Kong in what used to be called the Prince of Wales building. So far they have never come out except for the occasional parade. But they are there.
Yes world opinion and the majority of Hong Kong’s younger people are probably in favor of the Movement. So too thousands cheered when Britain announced its entry into World War I in 1914. Great fun. But it was not so much fun four years later when 900,000+ British soldiers had died and Britain was broke. Millions cheered their Fuehrer in Germany prior to WWII. Six years later Germany had endured and had inflicted unspeakable horrors. The majority of people are not always wise or right.
I am reprinting here a letter which I sent into The Economist two weeks ago. It explains my views in some detail and responds to an Economist article that I disagreed with.
The struggle for Hong Kong
SIR – How many British Governors were elected by the people of Hong Kong? The answer to the above question of course is none. In 1841 under duress the Qing Dynasty ceded Hong Kong Island to the British. From 1843 until 1997, when Hong Kong was handed back to China, all Governors of Hong Kong were appointed by the British government. Nobody cried, nobody complained. But now the so called “Occupy Central” people and The Economist are holding Beijing to a higher standard.
Beijing is requiring is that a committee consisting of people it trusts be allowed to vet the possible candidates for the Chief Executive (CE). And Hong Kongers can then vote for the CE by choosing among those candidates. More than they could do under the British.
Hong Kong is now part of China. The British, with no real bargaining power, negotiated a great deal for Hong Kong which is embodied in Hong Kong’s constitution called the Basic Law. Hong Kong has more freedom than most other places in Asia including the fabled Lion City of Singapore. Anyone doubting this should pick up copies of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and compare with Singapore’s Straits Times.
I do not think it is unreasonable for the Communist government in Beijing to expect a certain amount of loyalty from the Hong Kong CE. The people of Hong Kong and foreign investors have to realize that the democratic British lion has been replaced by the undemocratic Chinese lion. Democracy is not something that flourished in China’s thousands of years of dynastic history. The Chinese lion has behaved quite well so far – it has respected the Basic Law more or less – but it is still an undemocratic lion. Hong Kong would be wise to stop annoying the Chinese lion and go happily and freely about its business. Hong Kong’s business after all is business. I would argue that Hong Kong as a financial market will be better off under what you call a “rigged” system than a possibly disorderly open election for the CE.
I spend a good deal of time in Hong Kong. When bored, I watch the Cantonese news on TV even though I cannot speak a word. What I see is at times appalling. Elected legislators throwing things at one another, disrupting the Legislative Council, acting like children. I assume Beijing watches the same channel.
America’s Founding Fathers by the way were not fans of democracy. They preferred a republic. The word “democracy” cannot be found once in the American constitution. The Founders were horrified by the excesses of the French Revolution.
“The greatest enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan,” Prussian General Karl von Clausewitz is reported to have said. The Economist and Occupy Central have opted for the dream of a perfect plan.