What is meant by ‘democracy’ in Hong Kong.

Seeing the theatrics going on in the USA leads me to muse on “Democracy” and what it means in Hong Kong terms. Is there a template into which every model must fit, or is it a broad concept which encompasses not only its technical structure but also the values it seeks to uphold ?

Structurally, one would say that Hong Kong is pretty “democratic”. Half the legislature is constituted by persons elected into office on the basis of geographical constituencies, and half by functional constituencies. Within the functional constituencies, the process of selecting a representative is by a one-person-one-vote process.

  In 1985 I stood as a candidate in the Legal functional constituency and campaigned in the way a candidate would in any other part of the world: though I didn’t kiss babies. I came second to Martin Lee who went on to form the Democratic Party.

As regards election for appointment of the Chief Executive, it is a two-stage process. There is first a Selection Committee broadly representative of Hong Kong society as follows: 25% comprising the industrial, commercial and financial sectors; 25% comprising the professions; 25% labour (including trade unions), grass-roots, religious and other sectors; 25% HK deputies to the National Peoples’ Congress and representatives of HK members of the National Committee of the CPP’s Consultative Conference.  The total membership is 1,200.  From the Selection Committee comes 2 or 3 candidates who then go on to the second stage: election by universal suffrage of the candidate put forward for appointment by Beijing.

The government certainly tries to uphold liberal civic values: lawfulness and transparency in government ( in HK there is a powerful ICAC: with far more powers than those of the ICACs in Australia ), respect for the law, freedom of the press, religion, education, expression, movement, inviolability of the home, etc.

What impact the new national security law will have on those values is at present unknown: it will depend to a large extent on how the courts process the prosecutions.

This is Democracy with Hong Kong characteristics, I suppose.

Is a nation governed by a system where a person who loses a nation-wide election for the presidency by 3 million popular votes  4 years ago could still assume  that office a Democracy ? One would say, a Democracy with US characteristics.

Or should one just say, with Thomas Carlyle: ”For forms of government let fools contest, whatever governs best is best”.

Enough of these musings.

I much enjoyed the latest issue of Pearl: in particular Cavan Hogue’s article “The elephant and the mouse”. I thought his comments on the Prime Minister’s reaction ( or overreaction ) to the twitter photoshop were spot-on. It should have been dismissed at the prime ministerial level as a low-down jibe. The unassailable position is that Australia has done that which no other nation has dared tackle: to seriously look into war crimes allegedly committed by its own soldiers.

It is an undisputable fact that, for many centuries, the Middle Kingdom was the dominant force in the SE Asia-Pacific region, with many regional powers voluntarily paying tribute to the Son of Heaven: and President Xi Jinping is basically reasserting that ancient role, and including “newly discovered Australia” into its embrace.

Do you recall how Lord Macartney dealt with analogous situation in 1793 ? After much parley with the Imperial ministers it was arranged that Lord Macartney would “kowtow” by going down on one knee, but would have a portrait of King George III on the floor in front of him, ( the portrait unseen by Emperor Qianlong ) and thus satisfy the rituals of paying tribute to the Son of Heaven …. Not that he got anything out of all that. He was sent away by the Emperor with the message ringing in his ears: “I set no value on objects strange or ingenious” said Emperor Qianlong. As it turned out, he was the last of the Qing Dynasty Emperors who was able to maintain that attitude of distant hauteur.

Emperor Qianlong ended his letter by saying:

“……I do not forget the lonely remoteness of your island, cut off from the world by intervening wastes of sea, nor do I overlook your excusable ignorance of the usages of our Celestial Empire”.

So much for Britons regarding China as in the “Far East” …..

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Henry Litton is a retired Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal judge and author of "Is the Hong Kong Judiciary Sleepwalking to 2047?"

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