Since the handover in 1997, the central government has hewed to the line of “one country, two systems” and honored every term and condition as outlined in the Basic Law. The people of Hong Kong will be able to vote for their next chief executive in the 2017 election, just not the right to nominate the candidates who will run for the highest office. The voters will choose from among the candidates vetted by a nominating committee. It’s a limited form of democracy but that is the Basic Law.
The Hong Kong police have shown professional restraint and kept a delicate balance between maintaining order and minimizing violence. They have been doing their utmost to keep the disturbance civil and, unlike Occupy Wall Street in New York City, have not resorted to cracking heads with swinging batons.
Fortunately, the situation seems to be calming down. Office workers are being allowed to go back to work. Protesters and government representatives are having a conversation. Hopefully, this is the beginning of negotiations that will lead to a mutually acceptable resolution.
Until recently, people of Hong Kong have not been overly concerned about their freedom to vote and much more concerned over the freedom to make money. That was true under British rule and carried over after the handover. China’s own economic success created enormous opportunities for the folks in Hong Kong that wanted to achieve financial success.
After China began its reform under Deng Xiaoping’s exhortation that “get rich is glorious,” Hong Kong business people became wealthy by moving their factories into the mainland and transferring their management and business knowhow to the mainland. As some wise observers have counseled the protesters, Hong Kong’s future rides on coattails of China’s future.
The young protesters need to ask themselves, “What form of democracy is likely to provide them with a future superior to riding on the coattails of China’s economy?” Certainly not the UK, former masters of Hong Kong. Theirs is a deficit economy tittering on the brink of insolvency and desperate for investments from the mainland and renminbi-based transactions to keep the country afloat.
What about the United States, the “paragon” of all democracies? Which part of this democracy would the Hong Kong protesters like to emulate? The grid-locked dysfunction of Washington as a model of good governance? The right to vote completely squashed by the politics of money where the deeper the pockets, the louder the voices behind the checkbook? Maybe they would like to help pay the mounting national debt, currently close to $60,000 per person?
I respectfully suggest to the young people of Hong Kong that they value the qualities of Hong Kong that make the city special. Rather than tearing it down, they need to work with the government on improving the conditions for all the people. And, there are some significant issues that need the urgent attention of the SAR government headed by Leung Chun-ying.
The most obvious has been the tension created by the flood of mainland visitors to Hong Kong. Their lack of civil behavior such as spitting or urinating in public places are visible irritants and generators of ill will.
How to deal with the tourists from the mainland, obviously a two-edged issue, is a matter the SAR government needs to take up with the central government. The solution has to somehow discourage the abusers that take advantage of Hong Kong but encourage those genuinely interested in Hong Kong as an interesting place to visit.
The internal issues are perhaps more serious but well within the purview of the SAR government. One is to continue to upgrade the quality of education so that young graduates would qualify for well paying jobs and embark on their own paths to well being. Give them hope of upwardly mobile careers and they are less likely to barricade the streets.
The second issue is the lack of reasonable and affordable housing for the large pool of population that have not fully participated in the per capita income growth that Hong Kong has enjoyed. Given that Hong Kong has the world’s highest per capita of billionaires and most of them derive at least in part their wealth from real estate, it would seem that this is an easy matter to resolve by the public and private sector working together.
As is frequently the case, public unrest hints at other underlying causes. So it is pertinent to look at causes that lie beneath Occupy Central.