The concept of “democracy” and Occupy Central HK

The following article from China Daily website, is written by James Hsiung. He is a professor of politics and international law at New York University. What really caught my attention is the following passage:

On the philosophical-cultural plane, the concept of “democracy” has different meanings in China and the West (especially in the US). In Chinese tradition, democracy means more “for” the people than “by” the people. … I would add that because Chinese culture postulates that human nature is innately good, only warped by post-natal influences (such as scarcity), government has a dual function unknown in the West. This is: (a) to see the people properly educated and insulated from corrupting influences — something like Plato’s philosopher king, who would care about what kind of music people listened to; and (b) to intervene to protect people’s livelihoods (i.e., the economy), to prevent poverty and hardship. All this adds up to the government being “for” the people.

The full article in 2 parts:

Students trapped in a terrible political game

Of all the voluminous comments on the political crisis in Hong Kong known as the “Occupy Central” movement, a clear division can be drawn between two groups of on-lookers. Those who back the movement see it as a necessary means — no matter how drastic, or even farcical, for attaining the “pan-democrats” goal of realizing their version of universal suffrage. Their opponents, however, view it as an open, internationally scripted conspiracy to undermine Chinese sovereignty in Hong Kong under the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. I posit that there is an alternative way of viewing these events, as will be explained below.

In the first place, however pitifully, the students who joined the protesters in occupying the usually congested business centers of Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, do not seem to be aware that they are being manipulated as pawns in an insidious political maneuver. The game is being staged against the SAR government and ultimately the Beijing authorities, by certain Hong Kong politicians of hidden agenda using “democracy” and “true universal suffrage” as a front in their rallying cry for wider support.

The true story only became known when it was belatedly revealed in Washington that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its subsidiary, National Democracy Institute (NDI), under the auspices of the State Department, were behind and indeed, were financing, the “Occupy” movement. In a Land Destroyer Report, Tony Cartalucci revealed details of a secret meeting which two opposition leaders from Hong Kong — Martin Lee and Anson Chan — held at the NED.

There, they confided that the true aim of the “Occupy” movement, planned from as early as April 2013, was to use Hong Kong as a base to “infect” China with its Western-style institutions, laws and interests. Both argued that since China appears concerned about global perceptions of how it governs its people, this could be exploited to obtain concessions from Beijing over its rule of Hong Kong. However the undeclared angle is that the “pan-democrats” hope to bypass Nominating Committee screening procedure and realize their goal of competing in the 2017 election for the Chief Executive (CE) of the HKSAR.

With this knowledge of what he terms a “foreign-driven agenda,” Cartalucci concludes that the “Occupy” movement “has nothing to do with democracy”, but is “abusing democracy to undermine Beijing’s control over Hong Kong, and (designed to) open the door to candidates that clearly serve foreign interests, not those of China, or even the people of Hong Kong.”

I would add that demonstrating students and other “Occupy” protesters may sooner or later learn that they are ensnared in this insidious political game. I wonder, though, how they will react when that day comes and they realize they have been ruthlessly manipulated in a cunning political maneuver.

Secondly, I think it necessary to note that the Chief Executive and police have exercised extraordinary self-restraint in the face of “Occupy” provocations. This point only becomes more obvious by making comparisons. During colonial times, for example, no protest of this type would have been tolerated in Hong Kong. Under the prevailing Public Order Ordinance, no demonstration could occur without first having been approved by police. Under the Societies Ordinance, the London-appointed governor would have had the power to declare the kind of connections, like the ones Lee and Chan had with outside plotters, illicit and subject to criminal investigation.

To bring things up to date, in the US “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which began in 2011, nearly 8,000 were arrested, as duly reported in the e-journal Diplomat (Oct 17, 2014). More than that, those who fought with the police were prosecuted. In one case, Cecily McMillan was sentenced by the New York Supreme Court to three months in jail. In addition, the court also sentenced her to five years probation, and required her to complete mental health counseling. Nothing comparable has happened in Hong Kong so far.

Thirdly, the dragging out of the “Occupy” campaign has caused substantial economic losses to storekeepers and other businesses because of the blocking of main thoroughfares and side streets. It has, more importantly, led to widespread revulsion from the silent majority.

One frustrated Hongkonger was overheard saying: “If this is what democracy is about, we’d rather not have democracy.” This may have been prompted by a momentary pique to the blocking of some of the city’s main thoroughfares. But it may also be an indication that the “Occupy” movement, especially after it has dragged on indefinitely, has not served the cause of democracy as it intended.

Reasons for dismal failure of ‘Occupy’

If it were possible to identify the winners and losers from the “Occupy Central” campaign, the results may take us by surprise.

The winner is certainly not the cause of democracy in Hong Kong. This is clear if the reactions of the growing number of opponents to the “Occupy” movement from the silent majority are taken into account.

There has also been a distinct change in attitudes abroad. This can be ascertained from foreign media (from The New York Times to The Diplomat). They have shifted from a previously sympathetic view to a more negative one in regard to “Occupy”.

Within the SAR, the “pan-democrats” cannot assume they are winners, if the impressions they have made on the silent majority are used as a barometer. Nor can the supposed foreign patrons of “Occupy”. This is because the movement they have supported, and financed, does not appear to have made as big a splash as they had hoped.

And what of the local magnates who supported the “Occupy” movement? This includes the few who helped bankroll it, such as Jimmy Lai Chee-ying. Lai is the alleged conduit in funneling foreign money to protesters and some opposition parties. They, too, are among the losers. The recently initiated investigations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) may also implicate some of the “pan-democrat” politicians supported by Lai. What about the SAR government which bore the brunt of the protester attacks? Or Beijing whose dignity and inviolability were seriously challenged? Well, they proved capable of facing down the concerted challenge of the “pan-democrats”. They did this with self-control, through self-confidence and adherence to principles.

If there is a winner, then it is the newly emergent group of “political neutrals”. They showed concern for the well-being of ordinary people in the face of the interruptions by the “Occupy” protesters. These protests almost brought Hong Kong to a standstill. But the political neutrals showed that they speak for the conscience of Hong Kong’s millions. It remains to be seen how politicians representing this group will do in the 2015 elections for the district councils and the Legislative Council (LegCo) election in 2016.

The external sponsors of the “pan-democrats” may wonder why their campaign has failed. They had planned to use Hong Kong as a base to “infect” China in the fashion mooted by opposition politician Martin Lee. This was planned at a secret meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in April. The answer lies in both the philosophical-cultural and the practical-empirical planes.

On the philosophical-cultural plane, the concept of “democracy” has different meanings in China and the West (especially in the US). In Chinese tradition, democracy means more “for” the people than “by” the people. American futurologist John Naisbitt even speaks of a Chinese “vertical democracy”, in the sense that there are, first, checks and balances between the central level and the lower levels of government, and, secondly, a mutual respect and commitment between people and government. As author Martin Jacques noted, to the average Chinese the government is not a problem, as it is in the US. I would add that because Chinese culture postulates that human nature is innately good, only warped by post-natal influences (such as scarcity), government has a dual function unknown in the West. This is: (a) to see the people properly educated and insulated from corrupting influences — something like Plato’s philosopher king, who would care about what kind of music people listened to; and (b) to intervene to protect people’s livelihoods (i.e., the economy), to prevent poverty and hardship. All this adds up to the government being “for” the people.

This takes us to the practical-empirical plane, or to see how the country has treated Hong Kong, since its reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Before the handover, Deng Xiaoping promised in his “One Country, Two Systems” model that post-handover Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy. He said it would retain its present capitalist system and be ruled by Hongkongers. Unlike colonial times when all governors were appointed from London, all post-1997 Chief Executives, from Tung Chee-hwa to Leung Chun-ying, are Hong Kong people.

And, as promised by Deng, Hong Kong’s capitalist system and way of life (including night-club dancing, and horse racing) have been preserved un-altered. In addition, during the 1998 Asian financial crisis, when Hong Kong’s financial system was faltering under spirited attacks by foreign hedge funds and currency speculators, the country injected huge sums from its foreign reserves into Hong Kong. It bailed out the city’s financial system and economy. During the 2003 SARS epidemic, when Hong Kong’s tourist trade was suffering greatly because the city was being shunned by foreign tourists, seriously damaging its economy, the central government allowed millions of mainland visitors to come here to spend. Since then, the steady streams of mainland tourists have become an important source of revenue upon which Hong Kong can depend. In other words, Beijing has shown that it has bent over backwards to care “for” the well-being of people in Hong Kong. This lesson has not been lost on the silent majority. It in part accounts for their anti-“Occupy” stance.

Unfortunately, this lesson is lost on the “Occupy” protesters. One additional reason for their failure is they have chosen to support a small group of ambitious politicians adept at manipulating political symbols to rally popular support. The hidden agenda of these politicians is to grab power for themselves, without regard for the interests of the people or the nation. Sad, isn’t it?

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About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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