Don't budge in the face of political extortion

Updated: 2014-09-29 05:47

By Bob Lee(HK Edition)

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In the early hours of Sunday, Benny Tai suddenly declared the start of "Occupy Central" when he proclaimed, "as the wheel of time has reached this point, we have decided to arise and act".

Although Tai has, since January 2013, trumpeted "Hong Kong's largest-scale civil disobedience campaign", the dramatic, brazen announcement still caught many off guard.

Tai explained that he sounded the midnight bugle call because he was touched by "the courage of the students" and prompted by swelling numbers of participants at the students' sit-in protest. However, we feel compelled to unmask his hypocrisy: He has hijacked the student movement, and distorted the meaning of the class boycott.

Just a few days ago, amid simmering tensions over Hong Kong's political reform, Benny Tai - the No 1 evangelist for "Occupy", has lately avoided using the term "Occupy". Instead, he picked the word "banquet".

Meanwhile, to cajole more participants to the "democratic feast", the organizers of "Occupy Central" have over the last few days increasingly added ingredients such as "love and peace" to the mix. They issued an eight-page manual of disobedience, asking would-be protesters to bring "no marks, no violence, no anger, no weapons or anything that looks like one". But what actually happened on Sunday - tempers flared, tear gas released and scuffles broke out, reminding us there is no way that "Occupy" organizers can bring "love and peace" but they will sink Hong Kong into an abyss of unimaginable dimensions.

No matter how Tai and his comrades-in-arms hard- or soft-sell the planned blockade of Central, it doesn't change the illegal, destructive nature of "Occupy".

However, by dog-whistling "Occupy" and using confrontational tactics in the name of democracy, Tai has achieved something - he has attracted quite a number of unscrupulous followers, especially among the youth. The Hong Kong Federation of Students last night issued an "ultimatum" to the Hong Kong government, demanding that Chief Executive (CE) Leung Chun-ying step down and the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) withdraw its decision on political reform. How absurd and naive it sounds - how could it be possible that these "democratic wonder kids" intimidate the NPCSC into submission?

As the country's top legislature, the NPCSC has the highest constitutional power - it can't be challenged or overturned. Moreover, its ruling was not made randomly but based on serious deliberation and thorough studies after hearing opinions from all sectors of Hong Kong society. It truly reflects the top legislature's collective will and represents the aspirations of the vast majority of Hong Kong people.

The public should be aware that the crux of escalating conflict over the city's constitutional reform is not about "genuine democracy" versus "sham democracy", it rather concerns a political struggle for the power to govern. Every fair-minded person would reckon that an election by 5 million Hong Kong voters is "real and substantial democracy" as claimed by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, for it will empower the CE with a mandate not enjoyed by any leader in the history of Hong Kong.

Therefore, it is not about Beijing taking a hard line against democracy. It is the opposition's confrontational tactics in tandem with foreign forces touching a raw nerve in Beijing. It is a bunch of radicals in Hong Kong pushing the envelope that causes the central government's distrust to run so deep. In this regard, "Occupy" masterminds should be condemned, and should be made responsible for a protracted political standoff or even a standstill.

Hong Kong is now at a crucial crossroads: The upshot is whether we should grab the opportunity offered by the central government to achieve universal suffrage, or opt for stagnation. CE Leung raised a good question in his recent article published by the Financial Times: Do we want to take on step forward or two steps back? If political reform is ruined by a handful of radicals, we will not only miss the very first opportunity to elect our leader in 2017, we will also miss the chance to return all members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage in 2020.

Judging by the "democratic extravaganza" of "Occupy's" first day, it is clear that universal suffrage in Hong Kong will ignite disorder if it doesn't proceed in an orderly, gradual manner within the NPCSC's framework, strictly in line with the Basic Law, and bearing in mind the actual situation in Hong Kong. It is not too late for "Occupy" agitators to pause on the edge of the precipice, and immediately end their political stunts and dangerous posturing.

The author is a senior editor of China Daily Hong Kong Edition.

(HK Edition 09/29/2014 page7)