The protracted Hong Kong turmoil, like Pandora’s Box, not only revealed the problems and contradictions in Hong Kong. It also forced Beijing to speed up its own governance proposals and calm the chaos in Hong Kong. The world has seen Beijing’s determination and willpower. But where is Hong Kong going from here? A reporter from Duowei News interviewed Lin Zhaohui of the Beijing Hong Kong and Macao Scholars Research Centre.
Duowei: Regarding the reform of Hong Kong’s electoral system, what is the current response of Hong Kong society as far as you know?
Lin Zhaohui: Hong Kong’s response is complex. Some are involved in politics and some are not. Many supporters of the establishment in Hong Kong support electoral reform because they think it is a way to restore stability to Hong Kong and return to normal. Many voters for the establishment also believed that past election methods were unfair and conducive to a certain kind of disruption, so that normal voices could not be heard. This is because some believe that the easiest way for proportional representation to win elections is to put forward radical propositions, while the voters of the establishment are relatively moderate and conservative.
The group of voters who support the pan-democratic faction cannot be ignored. Many people believe that Hong Kong has not only reduced the space for political expression, but also reduced the space for elections in the future. This statement is quite common among Hong Kong pan-democratic voters. There are also many young pan-democrats around, who can choose to emigrate, or prepare an extra passport – a wait-and-see attitude. Some of the more extreme ones are very pessimistic. There will always be such people.
Duowei: What about those who participate in politics?
Lin Zhaohui: Among the political participants, the radicals know that they have no room now. In fact, many have already surrendered with all kinds of excuses. Some people think: ‘if I am taken to court, I will go to jail.’ However, many moderate pan-democrats also have said that they will abide by the new rules in future.
Among the establishment groups, I think there is an interesting phenomenon. There have been two kinds of people. One group says that they support election reforms, but they don’t feel that they are very happy. In the future without a clear radical opposition, their role in politics will be diminished. In the past, it was fine for them to support the central government and the Hong Kong government blindly. They did not need to be political. But now it seems that they have no choice.
In addition, from now on, the central government has assumed responsibility for political reform and has become the first responsible body. Now this precedent is set, there will be no political issues that will become the main issues of elections in the future. In the future, election issues may become issues of policy and economic stance. Thus, the second group of establishment supporters, whether they are the so-called grassroots political parties, or the DAB and the Federation of Trade Unions, which follow the middle-class line, give the people of Hong Kong the impression that they have vested interests and are economic rightists. Although they say they are economic leftists, no one believes them.
In fact, Beijing has made it very clear that this reform is aimed at solving deep-seated contradictions in Hong Kong. This is the key point for the future. If this is the case, the inevitable direction of economic policy will be to the left. Mainland economic policies are left leaning.
I believe that, even if the establishment forces are worried about reform, they must shout for reform at every turn. However, there is yet another group that hopes to delay some details in the implementation of the system, try to maintain vested interests, and achieve a greater right to speak, so that policies do not shift to the left. If all policy has a pendulum and the left and right sides of the economy are constantly swinging, it means that they may lose their voice for a while. They will also try to put pressure on the composition of the election committee and parliament and invest their energy to influence the policy to go in a more comfortable direction for them.
The trick here is to balance participation. You must consider the existence of opposition parties and the self-renewal ability of this legislature. Self-renewal means the ability to change policy whether it benefits vested interests or the interests of the public in Hong Kong. There is the need to resolve deep-seated contradictions, instead of being completely one-sided, and always going towards vested interests.
Duowei: You mentioned the game and balance between the parties. There is a lot of dispute between the parties. The final choice of structure shows that Beijing wants to guarantee absolute security. It also means that Beijing is now very distrustful of Hong Kong. When Hong Kong enters the new cycle, how to establish new mutual trust between Beijing and Hong Kong?
Lin Zhaohui: There is a big assumption here about the Central Government’s distrust of Hong Kong. I think it is not the Central Government’s distrust of Hong Kong. Instead, the Central Government has clearly seen the crux of the Hong Kong problem. Although in the eyes of the pan-democrats, they may see that the establishment accounts for two-thirds or more of the legislature. This is absolute security. But I don’t think that the so-called establishment is a monolith. A large part of it will reflect the will of the SAR through some other means. This is not a traditional vested interest group, but it conveys the central government’s ideas for reform and even its direction, not just risk aversion.
Secondly, if the central government really does not trust Hong Kong and wants to avoid risks, there are many other methods to achieve this. It can be based on the qualification threshold of the election or even other means to prevent risks from appearing. The promotion of election reforms also shows that the central government’s original aspirations for one country, two systems remain unchanged. It still hopes that Hong Kong people will rule Hong Kong. I don’t think the central government does not trust Hong Kong. The central government still has a basic judgment and believes most in people in Hong Kong. If we exclude radicals, the method of the electoral system changes, and the system affects people’s behaviour. Most people still support one country, two systems and support the development of Hong Kong in a stable and far-reaching manner.
Finally, there is a very important point in rebuilding trust. The central government has repeatedly reminded us that reform is more concerned with how to solve the deep-seated contradictions in Hong Kong, rather than to avoid political risks. In the past, to maintain prosperity and stability, many sectors were basically vested interest groups. At that time, the authorities may not have considered how to ensure that candidates who wanted to reform Hong Kong or even promote a certain social paradigm shift could be nominated. This is simply impossible in the existing system. The purpose of this reform is to convey the will of the country. By adding some new members to the legislature, the legislative council will be able to renew itself so that the central government can have a greater voice. This also reflects the advantages of Hong Kong being really backed by a socialist country.
Duowei: From the National Security Law to the reform of the electoral system, many people will ask, after these loopholes are closed, can Hong Kong really get out of the political quagmire? After all, there are complicated historical and practical factors in Hong Kong today. In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle for Hong Kong from politicization to focusing on economy and people’s livelihood?
Lin Zhaohui: Politicization is more caused by the system. But, of course, there are also human factors. After the return (to China) we were a bit stupid and used the wrong system. The Legislative Council elections, district council elections, and chief executive elections were held every four years. That is too frequent. The election system of Japan also makes society pan-politicized, which has become more serious in the past 20 years. This time we also admit that it is a mistake in the past election system. This error correction is a very correct judgment of the central government. There are fundamental political and economic system issues behind it, as well as the core interests of the citizens. This must be dealt with first.
The keys to getting out of pan-politicization are the new legislature, the new election committee, and the new chief executive’s first step. I think that the new SAR government must have clear goals. Whether the new country will unanimously want to eradicate poverty. What Hong Kong needs most now is to eradicate poverty, as well as to find new development opportunities and create more middle-class jobs. Now everyone talks about the Greater Bay Area, but who really understands the development opportunities of the Greater Bay Area? It is frequently mentioned that the Sino-US trade war has affected Hong Kong, but how should Hong Kong position itself and deal with it in the future world structure? In the next few years, after political stubbornness ceases, Hong Kong politicians really need to calm down to concentrate on strategy, policy, and find a way out.
Duowei: So are you optimistic or pessimistic about the way out for Hong Kong?
Lin Zhaohui: I am more optimistic. Now the national will has become clear, it can also be reflected in the system design. The future government can also hold certain votes in the legislature. However, I am also worried about two contradictions:
- First, when the establishment was leaning to the left, there was no theoretical preparation or policy preparation. Basically, the previous policy has not changed much. The government is responsible for overall planning and distribution of money and making transfer payments, and it is not clear what it is going to do. Unlike in the Mainland, every city is very clear about which area to tackle first and which area to consolidate. Hong Kong does not have this kind of thinking.
- The second is where the future chief executive will come from. In addition to civil servants, Hong Kong’s past chief executives also came from vested interest groups. If the nomination system for the future chief executive needs to continue to compromise with vested interests, will it truly take care of the people’s livelihood?
Duowei: According to officials in Beijing, Hong Kong’s coming reforms will have a strong logic of mainland reforms, that is, from “Chinese characteristics” to “Hong Kong characteristics.”
Lin Zhaohui: In the past, many people understood the Hong Kong system that the well water does not violate the river water, and only emphasized the two systems. Hong Kong is Hong Kong and the Mainland is the Mainland. This is very wrong. Since Hong Kong is within the framework of a unitary state in one country, the Constitution is effective for Hong Kong, and the ruling National Socialist Party should also have an influence on Hong Kong. The state fine-tunes a local government system in Hong Kong, and even corrects its future direction. This is what it should be. Furthermore, the deep-seated contradictions mentioned today are not necessarily related to ideology; on the contrary, they are only self-improving and self-correcting from the top-level system design, the benefit distribution system, and the reorganization of the social structure; this kind of impact on the capitalist system European countries such as Britain and France have also changed their electoral and social systems many times. However, I believe that the ruling party in a country with socialism as the key link will inevitably compare itself with Europe and the United States in terms of insight into Hong Kong’s essential problems, reform determination and methods. The country will be slightly different.
Looking at the world, the Communist Party of China, as the ruling party, has a strong ability to renew itself. As we all know, copying the Western electoral system does not work for Hong Kong. At the same time, the central authorities have seen the problems in Hong Kong in recent years. If Deng Xiaoping’s Chinese characteristics were to add market economy elements to the socialist planned economy, then Hong Kong’s reform today is to add elements of the socialist system to the capitalist system. What I have always cared about is that it should be a priority to enable Hong Kong’s poor to move upwards and live a dignified life; a “Hong Kong style capitalism” that allows Hong Kong people to live well and conforms to the actual situation of Hong Kong is entirely possible.
The reason why Hong Kong people cannot fully and accurately understand one country, two systems is because they are puzzled by the CCP and the socialist system. This year is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. The whole world is facing the problem of how to understand this century-old party. Hong Kong is no exception.
How many members of the legislative establishment in Hong Kong understand the history of the Chinese Communist Party? Not many. When Hong Kong’s political circles interpret mainland policies, they rarely think about issues from the overall perspective. They simply don’t understand the strategic vision of national leaders and mainland intellectuals. They don’t understand that Beijing focuses on the future of a country and nation, and even the overall interests of mankind. In a nutshell, Hong Kong people’s understanding of a political party is still copied from the perspective of Western politics. They believe that some behaviours within a political party are fixed, static, and predictable. I often tell young people in Hong Kong that the Chinese Communist Party is a learning party, and it is constantly learning and renewing itself. The same is true of one country, two systems. It is also crossing the river by feeling the stones.
Finally, I want to emphasize that the national government has discovered that Hong Kong’s politicization and deep-seated contradictions cannot be dealt with by itself. The result of Hong Kong’s self-handling is that over the past decade or so, problems have been delayed by political issues. The government and political parties lack the courage to reform, and those with vested interests believe that Hong Kong people’s living in dire straits is irrelevant to them. On the premise of not changing the goal of universal suffrage, the central government has moderately intervened to change the current rules of the game, urging Hong Kong to carry out reforms and redistribute social interests to find new ways out.