Changing The Subject in Hong Kong

I don't know if I saw this in the English-language press, but there is quite a bit of this in the Chinese-language press.  There are linguistic and semantic analyses and interpretations of what Chinese Vice-Premier Zeng Qinghong said during his quick trip to Hong Kong.  It came to the notice of many that the subject has been changed.

For the longest time, whenever the Hong Kong democrats bring up the subject of the vindication of June 4, 1989, the central government did not take the question too well.

Two years ago, when the Hong Kong democrats brought up the subject of 'democracy', the central government essentially replied with 'no democracy.'

Two years ago or even one year ago, when the Hong Kong democrats brought up the subject of 'universal suffrage' or 'direct elections', the central government essentially replied with no 'direct elections' via a National People's Congress interpretation of the Basic Law.

In all these instances, the Hong Kong democrats had the initiative and the central government's response simply shines a bad light on it.

Oh, how things have changed since!

(Apple Daily)  At the evening banquet in Hong Kong in the presence of 400 VIPs, Zeng Qinghong delivered a fairly short speech with two main points.  The first point is about the hope that Hong Kong will continue to develop and prosper.  This is the tired old warhorse, and there won't be any dissent.  The second point is really the main point of the evening, and that is about the hope that Hong Kong can realize a harmonious society.  Yes, it is that mythical 'harmonious society.'

It is not clear how much survey research or how many focus groups and in-depth interviews had been conducted by the central government in Hong Kong, but this is the counterpoint to the democracy weapon.  Historically, in 2002, there was a great deal of unhappiness with former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and his team.  With the pre-mature retirement of Tung Chee-hwa and the ascension of Donald Tsang, there seems to be much less anger.

If you look at a public opinion pull, you may find 60% or 70% of the people in Hong Kong would support universal suffrage soon.  But if you call the people out to take social action (as in a demonstration) to force democracy, that percentage is significantly lower now than before (compare the attendance figures at the July 1 marches in 2002, 2003 and 2004).  You may wish for democracy, but it may not happen this instant.  Meanwhile, you have to continue living from day to day, no matter if you are angrier or happier.

Where does that leave the democrats?  Within the democratic camp, there are some who say: "Without democracy, there can be no harmonious society."  Unfortunately, this may be taken to mean that they are ready to create chaos in order to gain democracy.  What kind of democrats would abandon the idea of a harmonious society as a core value?

In Hong Kong, many things entail multiple interests.  Based upon their core beliefs, certain democrats tend to side with the socially weak groups against other interest groups.  They certainly cannot be blamed for that, but some of their actions (such as inflammatory speeches, exaggerated actions, magnification of the importance of minor incidents, etc) cause some citizens to regard them as trouble-makers who want to stir up social conflict.

Democracy and harmony complement each other.  The central government has seized the harmony position.  This is their main slogan inside China anyway, so it was not designed specifically for the current Hong Kong situation.  The worse mistake would be for the democrats to go out there and say that they don't want any part of that 'harmonious society.'  If they did that, they would cut themselves from mainstream opinion in Hong Kong.  The democrats need to change the subject.  Fast.

Meanwhile, in the September 25 issue of Asiaweek (Yazhou Zhoukan), there is an analysis of the specific phrasing and language used by Zeng Qinghong.  First of all, he no longer uses the typical "we support the Special Administrative Region headed by Tung Chee-hwa".  Instead, he said "we support the Special Administrative Region acting according to the law."  Thus, in this way, HK SAR Chief Executive Donald Tsang is kept at arm's length from the central government, which now seems only interested in the rule of law.

Departing from former President Jiang Zemin's customary practice, Zeng did not say that he supports Donald Tsang.  He did not praise Tsang in front of the reporters.  Instead, there was only an official Xinhua press release which affirmed Tsang's performance on the job and praised the "social stability, economic revival and booming business" in Hong Kong.  Yes, it is that "harmonious society" thing again.

So what can a democrat do?  You can't talk to Donald Tsang about universal suffrage, because the man will honestly say that the power resides with the central government.  You try talking to Zeng Qinghong, and he is talking about building a harmonious society.  You can talk to Zeng and you can go public with the people of Hong Kong and argue that democracy and harmony are not mutually exclusive.  Zeng ignores you.   You mobilize a few hundred thousand people (assuming that is even in the cards nowadays) and Zeng says, "Ah!  I knew it!   These people want chaos and they don't want a harmonious society!"