Hong Kong’s political evolution

A detailed Newsweek article takes a look at how recent politcal pressures have forced Hong Kong to mature from a commercial center relatively uninterested in politics into an epicenter of political consciousness, as the Mainland faces off against politcal activists in the SAR. A true baptism by fire.

For decades the conventional wisdom was that Hong Kong was almost solely a commercial city—the politics could be left to Taiwan, thanks. Some analysts even tried to explain away last year’s massive rally as more a reaction to Hong Kong’s moribund economy, and the public-health panic over SARS, than the dawning of a new political era. Not true. Today, in defiance of a Beijing —ruling in April, many Hong Kong citizens are asking for something they’ve never had before—universal elections. And led by a savvy new generation of activists, they’re digging in for a long, hard struggle with the mainland’s conservative elite and their proxies in Hong Kong. “People have to keep coming back, year after year, until we get [direct elections],” says lawyer Audrey Eu, one of the democratic movement’s new leaders and a first-time Legco member. “Hong Kong will never have universal suffrage until you stand up for it….”

The democrats are not the only ones demonstrating a new political purpose. Even the stodgy pro-Beijing DAB party, which claims 2,000 members, is seeking a new image. After a dismal showing in the November 2003 elections for district council seats, it’s been promoting younger, better-educated personalities such as chairman Ma Lik, who’s praised the new surge in political activism. Last year’s July 1 turnout was a call for better governance and accountability, Ma says. “Hong Kong’s political paradigm is shifting, and it’s doing so for the better.”

The article implies that things have cooled substantially since last year’s half-million man march on July 1, and that Hong Kong may well be resigned to no free elections for several more years. As always, money is the No. 1 consideration for the practical-minded Hong Kongers, and the Chinese tourists are spending lots of cash in HK. So maybe rocking the boat too much will be counterproductive, at least in their eyes.

Nevertheless, with the July 1 anniversary next week there will be another massive protest, and from all I can tell there’s still plenty of dissatisfaction with the Mainland’s plans for Hong Kong’s political future. Has rebellion been replaced with resignation? I guess we’ll have a good idea next week.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

Well, have you seen the recent writings out of Hong Kong? The Democrats are allied with Beijing. They are extending olive branches to each other. The demonstration has been ruled a “celebration” of Beijing’s governance.

So, cooling off, yes. Flat tire, maybe more so.

June 27, 2004 @ 3:14 am | Comment

HK, I’ve got to admit I’ve not kept up with recent activities in Hong Kong, at least not to the degree of the old days. I didn’t realize the people were as pacified as you describe. Apparently the CCP is handling the situation intelligently, at least in terms of getting its way.

June 27, 2004 @ 11:29 am | Comment

Someone asked me last night, “Will you be going to the July 1 parade?”


June 27, 2004 @ 6:59 pm | Comment

I’ll repeat it again… Hong Kong has never been solely a commercial city made up of apolitical people. Twice as many people came out to protest in the spring/summer of 1989 as did last year. Now that the big business leaders primarily run the city, of course they want to frame the city as only interested in money and not politics. And Beijing is primarily interested in Hong Kong being a source of financial investment, so it too wants the city to think of itself as only interested in money and not politics.

And “flat tire”? I think not. It is imperative for the Democratic party to talk with Beijing. If you leave the talking to Comrade Ma and the DAB, then all you will get out of Beijing is further talk of how disappointed Beijing is that Article 23 didn’t get implemented in HK last year.

You can’t win a card game, when you’re never invited to the table.

June 27, 2004 @ 7:11 pm | Comment

Tom, that’s not what people in the Democratic circles tell me.

And something else should be said, I’ve had conversations with many Hong Kong Chinese who say Hong Kong has been apolitical.

They were after all a colony, they are moving from one colonialist power to the next. Hong Kong people have said that they need to learn to be more “political” in their dealings with their own government.

Just because you show up to a demonstration, it doesn’t mean you are political.

It’s the other things, like what the lawyers of this city are here to do, protect the autonomy of hong Kong, or, like the recent roll back of universal suffrage hopes, let Beijing walk all over them while they twist the basic law into socialist rule of law.

June 27, 2004 @ 9:23 pm | Comment

Tom, I totally believe you, but I can only speak from personal experience. There may be a lot of political awareness and activism in HK, I just didn’t see it when I was there. People seemed content to read the papers and make fun of Regina Ip, but there wasn’t much interest (that I saw) in doing much else. So I was thrilled to see the march last year.

June 28, 2004 @ 10:17 am | Comment

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