Hong Kong's future depends on everyone respecting rule of law

Updated: 2019-10-29 07:41

By Ho Lok-sang(HK Edition)

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Ho Lok-sang warns if opposition camp continues to stir up the city, disrupt economy and defy Basic Law, peace and prosperity will never return to us

The protesters have been using the slogan "Recover Hong Kong; revolution of the time". But what is the Hong Kong that we long for? What is the revolution of the time that we need?

An article I wrote in this column back in 2015 (Oct 27) was reprinted in The Straits Times in Singapore under the title "Pulling in different directions". The original title was "Culture makes all the difference". I warned in that article that although we are blessed with enjoying "the best of both worlds", being connected to the fastest-growing economy in the world on the one hand, and connected to the common law countries through our common law tradition on the other, the emerging inclination to fight among ourselves is putting our future at risk. "First, (we) fight with one another, wasting precious energy that otherwise could be put to better use. As a result, it would be more and more difficult to get things done. Second, because each side wants to defend its position rather than seek the best solution, the best solution would be that much more difficult to discover. Third, violence and disruptions to day-to-day activities would become more likely. Economic activities could be disrupted. Tourists would avoid coming. Business activities would be adversely affected. Incomes and jobs would be lost. Fourth, investors and talents would avoid the city. When this happens, decline will accelerate, and a vicious circle once formed would be very difficult to reverse."

Hong Kong's future depends on everyone respecting rule of law

Unfortunately, what I feared at the time is now a reality. But this reality was not what Hong Kong is known for. Hong Kong has been known for, instead, the so-called "spirit under the Lion Rock": "We are all different. But we can work together." Can we rediscover the Hong Kong that we knew? Can we recover the Hong Kong that we knew?

This is for sure more easily said than done because polarization appears to be the rule today around the world. Look and see what is happening in the United States, in the United Kingdom, in Taiwan, in Europe, in Indonesia, and in Latin America. It does take a revolution to change our values so the harmonious social relations that we knew can return to Hong Kong. This is the revolution of the time that we need.

The coming District Council elections are looking ominous. An electoral affairs commission briefing session at AsiaWorld-Expo last week had to be halted shortly after it began because of the disorderly and unstoppable cries from some candidates and their supporters. But we really do need to ask ourselves: What do we really want? What can we realistically achieve, and how can we achieve our goals? Are we defending Hong Kong's best interests?

Somehow, many protesters imagine that if we had "genuine general elections", society would become orderly, and then the economy and our society could find peace and prosperity. But what is happening around the world is telling us otherwise. Look what is happening in Chile. According to Wikipedia, "Chile's government is a representative democratic republic and of a formal multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the president and his or her cabinet. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the National Congress. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature of Chile." It sounds great. But polarization and income disparity have plunged Chile into chaos, with many casualties since massive demonstrations and riots erupted since Oct 7. The Economist Intelligence Unit has also rated Chile as a "flawed democracy". Even the hero of protesters, the US, has been rated as a "flawed democracy" since 2017. The downgrade reflects Americans' long-term decline in confidence in the government, as indicated by the Pew Research Center.

The financial secretary has warned that Hong Kong has already entered recession officially, with two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Unemployment in some sectors is surging, and threatening to spread. Shouldn't we put aside our differences?

I recall the ugly scene when the pro-establishment camp and opposition camp physically struggled to get the chairmanship of the fugitive law amendment bills committee. Actually, whoever got the chairmanship is not really that important. Going through the proposed amendment conscientiously is. Now the bill has been withdrawn, and the city is in chaos. What have we gained?

The SAR government does have the right to withdraw the bill and did so because of a lack of support, but it really has no legal power to bypass the Basic Law's requirements. Because the rule of law is so important to Hong Kong's long-term success, the government cannot defy the rule of law to please the protesters. Universal suffrage was indeed promised by Beijing, and Beijing had honored its promise by allowing Hong Kong people to elect their chief executive under the terms of Article 45 of the Basic Law in 2015. If the opposition and the public are willing to work within the framework of the law, peace and order may return to Hong Kong. But if they want to defy what is in the law, then the days of peace and prosperity will be gone forever. But is this what they want?

(HK Edition 10/29/2019 page8)