Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Thoughts and Observations on the "Umbrella Movement"

I’ve been refraining from commenting on Hong Kong current affairs because I feel that observing development of events in Hong Kong from far away has its limitations, which would cloud my judgment and render it unfair.

However, over the past few days, something momentous and of historical importance has taken place and has unleashed on me too great an emotional impact for me not to at least record my thoughts and observations, even if these may be partial and biased.

The deep rift between Beijing/HKSAR governments and Hong Kong’s younger generations over political reform has come to a head, and boiling discontent over social and political issues has finally erupted into what is now termed the “Umbrella Revolution”.

What has been bugging me most is Beijing’s and the Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung’s obtuse and patronizing attitude towards the voices of the students and the supporters of the OCCUPY CENTRAL movement (now termed the “UMBRELLA MOVEMENT”, because umbrellas were used by the protesters to protect themselves against police’s indiscriminate pepper spraying) over their demand for true democracy. Those in power do not have one ounce of respect for the movement supporters and have not even deigned to communicate with them direct in an honest manner. (I will go into the background of the dispute later.)

All they could do so far is to keep parroting the same stale line that political reform has to be in accordance with terms laid down in the Basic Law. BUT WHY DOES THAT HAVE TO BE? If what is laid down in the Basic Law is against the wishes of the majority of Hong Kong people, why can’t it be changed, not to mention that it’s merely a matter of difference in interpretations, with Beijing’s interpretation open to ridicule? They keep avoiding the singularly most essential question, which is a question of diluting the political power now concentrated within the wealthiest elite of Hong Kong, as represented by the 1,200-member election committee, all of whom grovel to Beijing, and whom Beijing’s princeling elite are in bed with.

Perhaps the reason they keep avoiding the issue is because they know too well their position is untenable. They know very well that Hong Kong people’s demand for true democracy is grounded in society’s wish to dismantle the propertied ruling class who are essentially the same elite that influences every policy-making decision of the SAR government and who wields political power through the 1,200-member election committee as well as through the functional constituencies in the Legislative Council.
When CY Leung was asked in a recent press conference whether he was actually protecting the rich people’s interests by refusing to budge on the political reform proposal, he replied, in the usually devious and sly way, that his anti-speculative measures are proof that he is not on the property cartel’s side. Who does he think he can fool? His measures have failed to even stop the property market from continuing to rise, let alone scratch the surface of the deeply entrenched interests of the cartel. Let us not forget that it was he who appointed Franklin Lam, the notorious property speculator and big fan of leading developer Sun Hung Kai Properties Group, as an Executive Council member. Let us also not forget that it was CY Leung who refused to put into place rental control regulations to ease the pain of low-income renters and those dwellers of cage homes and subdivided flats.
I am aware that Hong Kong society has been divided over the controversy of the political reform proposal. Roughly there are two camps of thought: one is about support of the HKSAR government-led and Beijing-approved version, which is very little different from the status quo (i.e. maintaining the 1,200-member nominating (election) committee consisting of Beijing-friendly elitist personnel for the pre-selection of the 2017 Chief Executive candidates, and capping the number of candidates at two or three, on whom the populace can then vote); the other camp is about rejecting the reform proposal outright and pushing for genuine universal suffrage – i.e. for all citizens to have the right to nominate the CE candidates and to vote on the nominees.

The insistence on all citizens’ right to nominate is grounded in the latter camp’s belief that the Beijing Government wants to pre-empt pro-democracy personnel entering the race, thus maintaining total control on the CE candidates, a fact that is much resented by Hong Kong’s young people and pro-democracy legislators and their supporters, as is evident with their hatred for C Y Leung, who is regarded as Beijing’s puppet and who is inclined towards autocratic governance like his masters,  including suppression of freedoms. (His endorsement of the Hong Kong Police’s use of pepper spray and tear gas on peaceful protesters on September 27 and 28 is one sound proof of that inclination.)

Although I have no solid data to back me up, I would tend to think that those who are on side with Beijing and the SAR government and think that democratization is a long process and should be taken one step at a time, typically belong to the upper- and middle-class who have accumulated certain wealth and social status and who are most afraid of changes and of pissing Beijing off. In fact, many of my school friends (post 50s) are inclined towards such mentality. It seems to me that they are not that well informed and are unaware that on record, Hong Kong has been fighting for democracy for 30 years. While I understand the mind-set of these people, I beg to differ in opinion and stance. You can call me naïve, but my sympathies would always lie with those who have ideals and dare to act or speak up for social justice and civil freedoms.

There are much too much inequality and injustice in Hong Kong for it to be able to move forward as a model metropolis of the 21st century with equal opportunities for all and better social welfare for the underprivileged. Thanks to Hong Kong’s young people, we can see some silver lining that change is possible. I am glad to see that the international community is at last paying attention to their bravery, spirit, self-discipline and uprightness.

No one said it better than Joshua Wong (leader of Scholarism): if the students don’t come out to stand in the frontline, who will? All I can do is quietly support these students and youngsters and pray for their safety.

 If only China is visionary enough to grasp this opportunity to allow Hong Kong to be the beacon city for democracy, it will instantly earn itself international respect and applause. This would be a much much better display of soft power than those Confucian Institutes.

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