Foreign intervention to hurt Hong Kong

Updated: 2014-04-09 07:05

By Hong Chen (HK Edition)

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Since the handover almost 17 years ago Martin Lee and Anson Chan have repeatedly sought foreign support for the opposition camp whenever Hong Kong's constitutional development reaches a critical stage. Their latest attempt saw Martin Lee publish an article in the New York Times complaining about the "weakening of the One Country, Two Systems principle". This was followed by their attendance at a hearing of the US Congress last week and meetings with US government officials. These officials invariably echoed Lee's unsubstantiated accusations in the NYT to show their support for Lee, Chan and others.

The pair's American pilgrimage reached a climax last Friday when US Vice-President Joe Biden met them in the White House "by accident". Biden heard their usual criticisms - alleging a lack of progress in regard to "One Country, Two Systems", democracy, rule of law, freedom of the press and so on.

But their negative view of Hong Kong is not shared by the British government, which still keeps a close eye on Hong Kong. It is obligated to honor the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong and is keen to protect its economic interests here. The British government presents an assessment report to Parliament every six months. In the latest report published in February, the British Foreign Office concluded: "We consider that 'One Country, Two Systems' continues to work well, in general, and the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Joint Declaration continue to be upheld."

This statement raises questions about the honesty of Lee and Chan. Many local commentators have written about their lack of truthfulness. So there is no need to air all their dirty laundry here. It is worth noting, however, that by frequently begging for foreign intervention the pair have shown their inability to face political reality in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is home to more than 7 million people so its constitutional development should reflect the wishes of the majority of the resident here. But the city is also, without question, part of China. It, therefore, cannot become an independent political entity. This is a matter of national interest which no one can deny.

The central government's policy toward Hong Kong has always been to maintain its stability and prosperity. From deciding not to take the territory back by force in the early days of the People's Republic to offering to resume sovereignty over Hong Kong under "One Country, Two Systems" in the early 1980s, Beijing has never lost sight of its primary objective: to keep Hong Kong stable and prosperous for the benefit of the nation.

This is why the central government decided to proceed with Hong Kong's democratic progress in a gradual, orderly fashion. It is necessary to prevent the SAR falling victim to political chaos caused by a sudden rush towards constitutional reform - especially the scenario of someone unexpectedly winning the Chief Executive election on an anti-Beijing platform with foreign backing. This possibility would not only cost Hong Kong dearly, it would also affect social and political developments on the mainland.

If the "One Country, Two Systems" principle cannot ensure Hong Kong's continued progress as part of the nation, what is the point of implementing it in the first place? Why bother establishing the SAR if it only gives the nation a headache?

Through the groundbreaking concept of "One Country, Two Systems", the central government showed its good intentions. But it cannot afford to sacrifice the nation's long-term interests just to keep Hong Kong comfortable or because foreign governments say so. No one in their right mind would consider such outrageous demands.

Beijing tends to ignore saber-rattling by hostile governments, but is always vigilant about attempts by anti-China forces to turn Hong Kong into a base for subversive campaigns - not least interference in Hong Kong affairs.

It is, therefore, amazing Lee and Chan had no idea how counterproductive their pleas for foreign intervention were. Unless, of course, it had been their intention all along to undermine the central government's plans for democratic progress in Hong Kong.

After all, China is not "the sick man of Asia" any more. This rising nation of 1.4 billion people can say "no" to any hostile force when necessary.

The US and its allies are usually more concerned about their own interests in regard to international relations. This is why they don't want to make an enemy of China. They don't want to miss out on the economic benefits they can reap from relations with the country. This means they will be content, for now, to play sneaky little tricks. Otherwise, Washington would not have found it necessary to announce after Biden's 20-minute talk with Lee and Chan that it was an "unscheduled" meeting. This sounded odd to say the least.

Lee, Chan and their allies do not have the best interests of Hong Kong at heart when they talk about democracy or universal suffrage. One only needs to ask them why they never brought the matter up with their colonial masters. Lee said in Washington last week that without democracy Hong Kong had no future. What took him so long to realize this? Did the thought of democratic elections and universal suffrage escape him under colonial rule?

Chan was the highest ranked ethnic Chinese in the colonial government of Hong Kong. Maybe that is why she never spoke publicly about democracy. Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, is often praised for giving Hongkongers their first taste of rudimentary democracy. But he could not give Chan any credit for this. That really was disappointing!

It is probably high time someone declared "better late than never" on Lee and Chan's behalf. But does it really matter?

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.

(HK Edition 04/09/2014 page9)