Update, April 2007, Watching the Flag Come Down (HOLO Books June 2007) – POLITICS (This web update won’t mean much unless you have read the book and its 2006 epilogue).
We arrived in Hong Kong, from the Literary Festival in
She had announced, on 23 September last year, that she would not stand in a ‘pre-determined’ election. What she had done, though, was to set up what she called her ‘Core Group’ – advisers she would call upon to put forward policy proposals. This was presumably the ‘space’ that, in June last year just before I stopped my published Epilogue, Anson Chan had told her supporters and the news media ‘to watch’.
On 1 July, the ninth anniversary of the Handover, she had taken a prominent place in the march of 58,000 in favour of universal suffrage, surrounded by a protective linked ring of family and supporters. In mid-July, taxed again about standing for election, she said that she wanted ‘to see one step, take one step’.
Having decided it was not worth standing, and set up her Core Group of five advisors – three women, two men, three of them Chinese, one Westerner, one non-Chinese Asian – on 5 March, in time to fuel the election campaign, she issued the result of their work: ‘The Road to Universal Suffrage: a proposed roadmap and timetable for election to the post of Chief Executive and the Legislative Council on the basis of universal suffrage’.
For some, her proposal with, at its heart, the need to get rid of the business-oriented, privileged functional constituencies, did not go far enough; while, at the other end of the political spectrum, the business community rejected her view of the way forward. The abolition of functional constituencies without a system to replace them would unacceptably alter the political structure as prescribed by the Basic Law, proclaimed the non-Chinese president of the Business and Professional Federation (a former colleague of Anson’s).
The following day, an official of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office ticked off pan-democrats for assuming they were ‘heroes of democracy’ when Beijing had already endorsed universal suffrage for the city more than 20 years previously.
March, the headline in the South China
Morning Post (SCMP) declared ‘Hong Kong International Role Boosted:
Regina Ip, who resigned over the National Security imbroglio of 2003, and took
time off to do a master’s degree in political science in the
In her SCMP article of 12 March 2007,
On 15 March, the day before we left, Christine Loh, in one of the regular columns in which she propounds the views of her Civic Exchange think tank, was more interested in taking on the main electoral contender; but she might as well have been replying to Regina Ip when she suggested that the erecting of concrete infrastructure in the name of economic development, and Hong Kong’s notorious air pollution that together reduced the quality of people’s lives, may lead to more protests of the kind that have already been seen.
By this time the pan-democrats were quite excited because, Anson Chan having declared herself unavailable to stand as Chief Executive, a member of Audrey Eu’s Civic Party – Alan Leong – had not only agreed to stand but, as an apparent light-weight with a pink tie and matching pocket handkerchief, had, many agreed, trounced Donald Tsang in a televised debate watched by 2 million of Hong Kong’s 6 million or so population.
election of 25 March approached, everyone knew that Alan Leong could not win
when the 800 electoral college was hand-picked to elect
On Saturday 9 March a demonstration against the ‘small circle election’ by the League of Social Democrats (set up in 2006 by someone with signature long hair, but not a woman), and supported by Emily, was scuppered as it tried to assemble and move off from Victoria Park – scene of many a candle-lit vigil. Hundreds of police penned in fewer demonstrators who, refused the luxury of arrest, had to call off the demonstration after two hours’ stalemate.
Emily was incandescent. She was a journalist until 16 years ago when she stood for election to Legco and won. But she ended her article in the SCMP on 14 March: ‘In the current farce that is called an election, the game plan is to give credibility and legitimacy to an undemocratic and unfair process. The media are doing their level best to achieve this goal, and I look upon them with nothing but contempt.’
Against all this, the Hong Kong Literary Festival started on 12 March, and it was interesting how it and the political debate – at least at citizen level – bounced off each other. The panel of which I was a member had as its topic ‘The Handover: Ten Years On’. The format worked well – three of us and a moderator set the ball rolling, but the audience was expected to join in, and they did.
One strand that emerged was that people are fed up with politics. There is altogether too much of it, particularly party politics. (This linked in with opinions I had received elsewhere from sources that I respect: people, probably women, only too ready to fulfil their obligations to the community through public service – indeed they have already done more than their share – are increasingly deterred by the politicisation of the debate and the intrusion of the news media into their personal lives). I had to point out that politics is endemic in human affairs; and is not something a society can turn its back on, particularly if it aspires to democracy.
When the need for a good strong leader was raised, I ventured, ‘Do you mean a dictator?’
was the Gore Vidal factor. We had already heard him in the packed Glamour Bar
at M on the Bund in
of the most interesting, and unexpected, points raised was the number of
expatriates who, having left Hong Kong to return home or go somewhere they
thought preferable, had missed it so much, and had so much confidence in its
future that they have returned. Historically, non-Chinese came to
One of my
co-panelists was the
On the plane home I became
engrossed in Xu Xi’s ‘Handover’ novel, The
Unwalled City, set in the four years leading up to 1997. It’s a good, atmospheric read, rather more
literary than the usual ‘
The Festival offering on our last proper evening was
Jan Morris in conversation with Simon Winchester. Many were surprised to find
Jan turning against
this, I am aware that it has slightly the tone of one or two of the ranty blogs
– written by disaffected denizens - that come up when you google Hong Kong. I
am also conscious that I was there for only a few days at a pressure-cooker
time in its political life. So, what are my views worth? Only as much as those of an outsider who was
once slightly involved, has tried to keep up, and wishes
I’m not going to keep adding to
this update, but I might just write something after the 2008 Legco elections –
for my strongest impression of politics in
Oh, and the result of the election for Chief Executive: Tsang 649; Leong 123. Voters were assured beforehand that no one would know how they had voted.
PS I’m writing separately about the gathering of the Classmates and Derek’s former team at the book-signing of Watching the Flag Come Down.