Message To Beijing

By Martin C.M. Lee

The Washington Post

Sunday, July 27, 2003

 

HONG KONG -- This month's momentous events in Hong Kong sent a stark message to Beijing:

 

The only thing more dangerous than democracy in Hong Kong is a continuation of its autocratic government.

 

The half-million well-educated, sophisticated citizens who marched in defense of civil liberties on July 1 forced the Beijing-appointed chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, to call off a vote he would have lost in the legislature.

 

Then three of Tung's top officials resigned, including the security chief who had led the campaign to force through the "anti-subversion" law that threatened to roll back the fundamental freedoms distinguishing Hong Kong from China.

 

Realizing that they had been fed bad information by Tung and their own apparatchiks, who predicted that opposition to mainland-type treason laws would soon pass, Chinese leaders sent a team of officials from security and intelligence agencies to Hong Kong to find out what happened.

 

As a popularly elected representative of Hong Kong people, I and my fellow democrats could have saved them the airfare.

 

This may be hard for leaders in Beijing to understand, but I would encourage them to be reassured by our successful public protests. They have nothing to fear from our cause, which focuses not on independence but on protecting Hong Kong's free way of life.

 

Hong Kong people had to march in such numbers because we do not yet have the democratic, representative system of government we deserve.

 

We in essence echoed the words of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping,who designed the "one country, two systems" policy to guarantee Hong Kong's unique freedoms for at least 50 years. "With a good system, even evil men cannot do evil," Deng said. "Without a good system, even good men cannot do good, but may be forced to do evil." As Deng reminds us, while Tung has many faults, he is also the product of an unaccountable system. He was not elected. He was handpicked by Beijing. Ministers appointed by Beijing on the sole recommendation of Tung were also accountable only to Tung.

 

There is only one solution to Hong Kong's crisis of confidence. Beijing must recognize the political maturity of the people of Hong Kong and move urgently to create the legitimacy Tung has never had. After multiple mass protests, Tung postponed passage of the subversion law until after a further "public-consultation exercise." Hong Kong's constitution, the Basic Law, allows direct election of the chief executive by 2007 and direct election of the full legislature by 2008.

 

Yet this is the one public consultation Tung has consistently blocked:to ask Hong Kong people whether they want to choose their own leaders in free and fair elections.

 

A constitutional convention to confirm Hong Kong people's aspirations for democracy and allow for a truly democratic government is a necessary next step. With our inheritance from Britain of the rule of law, individual freedoms and tolerance for political differences, there is no society better prepared for and more deserving of democracy. And, as the world saw when our population took to the streets, there can no longer be any doubt about how strongly Hong Kong people value their liberties and desire a system that can protect them.

 

Beijing's new leaders have affirmed a commitment to a market economy, which Hong Kong has long had. If Beijing can likewise embrace an accountable, democratic government for Hong Kong, it may find a promising precedent for other parts of China.

 

Let me offer mainland officials a final thought: Hong Kong's people are by nature both conservative and optimistic. Conservative in the sense that we value stability and have simply assumed that better lives could be built away from the turmoil of China in civil war or, later, under communism.

 

Today we are equally confident that democracy here will bring both stability and good government.

 

This combination of modest aspirations and optimism also means that Hong Kong people are prepared to give the new leadership in China the benefit of the doubt. We blame the pre-emptively kowtowing Tung government for misleading China on the true views of Hong Kong.

 

We would now welcome the chance to show how democracy in Hong Kong will avoid the very instability that Beijing most fears.

 

The writer is a democratically elected legislator and the founding chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong.