The weakest link in Hong Kong’s overall competitiveness

High-speed public Wi-fi coverage is one area where Hong Kong lags many international cities. Photo: HK GovtHigh-speed public Wi-fi coverage is one area where Hong Kong lags many international cities. Photo: HK Govt

by Ko Tin-yau / May 28, 08:24

Hong Kong has lost the long-time crown as the world’s most competitive economy, according to the latest rankings from the IMD World Competitiveness Centre.

Apparently, the key factor is a drop in Hong Kong’s score in infrastructure.

IMD evaluates competitiveness based on four major aspects– government efficiency, business efficiency, economic performance and infrastructure.

According to this year’s IMD ranking, Hong Kong continued to lead the world in government and business efficiency, and improved slightly in economic performance to 9th place from the 11th last year.

But on infrastructure, the city’s ranking dropped three places to 23rd in IMD report.

Strangely, in a separate ranking done by World Economic Forum (WEF) , the city came out as number one in its infrastructure ranking, despite the overall ranking being number six.

The sharp contrast between WEF and IMD lies in the way infrastructure is defined.

Specifically, WEF report largely focuses on physical infrastructure, including power, water supply, roads, railways, airports, etc. This is where Hong Kong has strength.

IMD break downs infrastructure into five sub-categories, namely basic infrastructure (such as power plants, roads, railways, airport, etc), education infrastructure, technological infrastructure, scientific infrastructure, and health and environment infrastructure.

It is our weakness in the last three items that contributed to the slip of Hong Kong’s IMD rating.

This is not difficult to understand. For example, many cities around the world already have high-speed Wi-fi coverage. We are still miles away from getting there.

Hong Kong lacks sufficient support for start-ups, scientists, research institutions in general. And the city also lags behind other global cities in introducing latest technologies.

In terms of healthcare, the city has the world’s best private hospitals, while the public healthcare sector struggles to meet rising demand.

Hong Kong has been investing heavily in physical infrastructure, such as high-speed railway, HongKong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and the third airport runway. Local authorities need to bear in mind that the city should also beef up its competitiveness in soft infrastructure.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 25

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Heung Yee Yuk and the consultation on land supply

by Yu Kam-yin / May 28, 11:34

A picture of the Heung Yee Kuk Building in Sha Tin. In a bid to  further engage the indigenous clans and the rural council over land supply policies, Carrie Lam last year appointed Cheung Hok-ming, the Kuk’s vice-chairman, to the Task Force on Land Supply

A picture of the Heung Yee Kuk Building in Sha Tin. In a bid to further engage the indigenous clans and the rural council over land supply policies, Carrie Lam last year appointed Cheung Hok-ming, the Kuk’s vice-chairman, to the Task Force on Land Supply

Ever since Kenneth Lau Ip-keung succeeded his late father Lau Wong-fat, or ‘Uncle Fat’, as chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk, a statutory advisory body to the government on New Territories affairs, the indigenous clans in the New Territories have been keeping a relatively low profile.

And the current administration led by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has also remained by and large on relatively good terms with the indigenous clans in the N.T. since Lam took office last year. The government started going easy on the clans.

One might still remember that back in 2011 when Lam was serving as Secretary for Development, she commented that the New Territories Small House Policy cannot exist permanently, and also indicated her tough stance on unauthorized building works found in village houses across the New Territories.

In the meantime, in order to further engage the clans and the Kuk over land supply policies, last year Lam appointed Cheung Hok-ming, the Kuk’s incumbent vice-chairman, to the Task Force on Land Supply.

And before the Task Force officially launched its latest public consultation paper on the future of land use at the end of April, its chairman and vice-chairman, Stanley Wong Yuen-fai and Dr. Greg Wong Chak-yan, tested the water with leading Kuk members to seek their views over the government proposal of tapping into the village land, known as V Zone, and brownfield sites across the New Territories.

According to Kuk sources, even though the rural council is in favor of multi-storey small houses, there isn’t much opposition to developing brownfield sites and V Zone among them, as long as the government talks to owners of these land lots.

As far as Kuk chairman Kenneth Lau is concerned, some indigenous clans anticipate his re-election for another term next year is almost a foregone conclusion.

However, when it comes to the two vice-chairmen, Cheung and Daniel Lam Wai-keung, there are uncertainties hanging over their re-election.

The issue of their retirement has remained unsettled so far, as it is said that Cheung is unwilling to give up his ‘say’ in Kuk affairs.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 8

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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This week’s compulsory read

by biglychee / Yesterday, 12:04

Who is this person and why am I supposed to be interested in him? Can’t he just go away? After a recent deluge of frantic on-line shrieking about the hitherto-barely-heard-of Kanye West, I am buried by an avalanche of uncontrollably excited Twitter and other babbling on the subject of one Elon Musk, of whom I know equally little and care even less. Isn’t there a button you can push, so they just disappear? What’s the point of living in an Internet bubble when hyper-inflated inconsequential mega-bores intrude all the time? (And how do you pronounce ‘Kanye’?)

On top of that, I am preparing for an upcoming inspection visit to Japan. In short, just time for a link – a must-read…

Crime, punishment and politics: the legal suppression of opposition in Hong Kong by Kong Tsung-gan at HKFP. Not just an update, but a full survey of the post-2014 ‘lawfare’ against Hong Kong’s pro-democrats.

…Hong Kong has never seen anything like this before, so many people in the pro-democracy movement put on trial over such an extended period of time for such a wide array of crimes … prosecutions being used as a key weapon against political enemies.

Among many interesting points: the pro-dems’ helplessness in responding, and the government’s success so far in maintaining the reputation of the legal system.

The article describes a systematic campaign to intimidate and subdue opponents and critics, which seems to have come in two waves: post-Occupy, and a renewed effort after the 2016 Legislative Council elections.

Its thoroughness suggests explicit instructions and supervision from Beijing and the Liaison Office, reflecting impatience or panic up in the Chinese Communist Party (not to mention the totally obedient/petrified stance of the local administration).

Note that this is happening at the same time as mounting suppression of Xinjiang Muslims, human-rights lawyers, on-line media, and so on in the Mainland. Note also that this coincides with stepped-up United Front ‘ideological’ work in Hong Kong (the national anthem law, school curriculum revision, push for ‘Bay Area’ identity, likely curbs on opinion), which in turn is tracking strengthened propaganda efforts on the Mainland through Xi Jinping Thought, Marxism, Amazing China, and so much more CCP-BS-hype.

This is one of those times when you don’t fully see what is happening – but when you look back 10 years later you realize what you were living through.

New curriculum goes against CE’s vision: PTU

The teachers' union says mixing Hong Kong issues into different topics will only give a confusing picture to students. Photo: RTHK

The teachers’ union says mixing Hong Kong issues into different topics will only give a confusing picture to students. Photo: RTHK

Joanne Wong reports

The Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU) has criticised the newly revised Chinese history syllabus for junior secondary students, saying it goes against Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s declared vision for youth in the city.

In her election campaign Lam had said she wanted young people to become a generation who would love Hong Kong, have a sense of national identity and develop a global vision. 

But Cheung Wong from the PTU’s Education Research Department told an RTHK programme that the government-appointed advisory body’s recommendation to interlace Hong Kong issues into different topics will only give a confusing picture to students. 

Cheung said students should learn about China and the world from what is happening around them and through Hong Kong’s experience.

The new curriculum says students should learn Hong Kong’s role in China’s opening up from the 1970s, and there won’t be a separate chapter on Hong Kong history. Critics have said that it ignores sensitive issues like the 1967 riots in Hong Kong and the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. 

The Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung, who also took part in the programme, defended the new syllabus, saying most of the teachers consulted by the advisory panel supported the arrangement. 

He also said students can better understand Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland by learning about how the city has played a part in the country’s development. 

He said although the revisions will only be implemented in the 2020- 21 academic year, schools wanting to start the curriculum early are welcome to do so.

But Yeung said publishers and authors of current Chinese history textbooks will need time to make adjustments, and teachers will need training to get a grasp of what the new curriculum is like.

Rail terminus bill to go back to full council – RTHK

  • Legco's House Committee has cleared the way for the second reading of the controversial West Kowloon Station checkpoint legisation. Photo: RTHK

    Legco’s House Committee has cleared the way for the second reading of the controversial West Kowloon Station checkpoint legisation. Photo: RTHK

The second reading of the government’s bill to put mainland immigration facilities in the West Kowloon express rail terminus will resume on June 6, after the move received the nod from Legco’s House Committee on Friday. 

The House Committee’s approval came despite strong opposition from the pro-democracy camp. Pan-democrats complained that a bills committee report on their 45 hours of discussion on the plan is a biased account that distorts the facts.

But New People’s Party lawmaker Regina Ip, who chaired the bills committee, dismissed the criticism, saying it was not meant to be a verbatim transcript. 

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said it was important for the report to provide a more accurate picture of events because people may not have time to go through all the minutes and videos of the meetings.

“This is a very important report and an official one, well that’s why it’s important to include all these relevant, and at the same time, important points that are illustrated or raised by members as well as government officials,” said Chan.

House Committee chair Starry Lee suggested members liaise directly with the Legco Secretariat if they wish to add things to the report before the resumption of the bill’s second reading. 

The second reading will be the last chance for lawmakers to air their concerns before it is put to a vote. 

Separately, the House Committee voted down two adjournment proposals by pro-democracy lawmakers. 

The Democratic Party’s Lam Cheuk-ting had asked to move an adjournment motion to debate lift safety, after a woman plunged to her death in a lift shaft in Sheung Shui earlier this month. But pro-establishment legislators pointed out that the issue would also be discussed at a Development Panel meeting next week. 

Hong Kong First lawmaker Claudia Mo also made an unsuccessful bid to bring an adjournment motion over the recent violent arrest of a Hong Kong journalist by police in Beijing.

Demosisto announces new political strategy

Demosisto has suffered a series of setbacks, including the disqualification of its former chairman, Nathan Law, from being a legislator. File photo: RTHK

Demosisto has suffered a series of setbacks, including the disqualification of its former chairman, Nathan Law, from being a legislator. File photo: RTHK

Demosisto has declared that it will no longer be a political party, but a “civil political group”. 

On the second anniversary of its establishment last night, Demosisto says it no longer sees a future in local elections.

It says its decision follows after a series of setbacks, including the disqualification of its former chairman, Nathan Law from being a lawmaker, and the barring of its member Agnes Chow from taking part in March by-elections this year. 

The group says it will now focus on community work, and working to prevent the passage of Article 23 national security legislation.

Demosisto was formed in 2016, emerging from the student group Scholarism, and its co-founders took active roles in the 2014 Occupy protests.

Green groups protest land consultation exhibition

The groups accused the government's advisory task force of favouring reclamation and the development of the city's country parks. Photo: RTHK

The groups accused the government’s advisory task force of favouring reclamation and the development of the city’s country parks. Photo: RTHK

Several green groups have staged protests in Ma On Shan, the site of a mobile exhibition to consult the public about boosting land supply. 

The environmental group, Green Sense, accused the Task Force on Land Supply of exaggerating the territory’s land shortage problem and favouring such options as reclamation and developing the periphery of country parks. 

The Labour Party, meanwhile, said there are still a lot of farmland and brownfield sites in Hong Kong that could be used.

On Friday, a parallel task force set up by land activists accused the advisory group of trying to “brainwash” people into believing there is no space available for housing – with the aim of pushing the development of country parks and reclamation as the only alternatives.

The government’s task force rolled out its five-month public consultation at the end of April, seeking public views on 18 options it has drawn up for finding land for housing. 

The second phase of the consultation was launched on Saturday, involving large-scale public surveys.

The advisory group will compile a report for the government at the conclusion of the consultation process.

Debunking a myth about Mandarin

Hong Kong’s ‘traditional way of life’ includes the Cantonese language. Hence, the use of Cantonese as the medium of instruction for school kids should be respected, say observers. Photo: BloombergHong Kong’s ‘traditional way of life’ includes the Cantonese language. Hence, the use of Cantonese as the medium of instruction for school kids should be respected, say observers. Photo: Bloomberg

by Ding Wang / May 25, 10:43

The “big brother” portrayed by famous British author George Orwell in his classic novel 1984 is constantly spying on his people and trying to indoctrinate them with absurd misconceptions, or the so-called “Orwellian nonsense”, a phrase that has caught on recently in the West.

Unfortunately, it appears our government has been adopting “Orwellian nonsense” more and more frequently in recent years.

Firstly, the Education Bureau (EDB) recently required history textbook publishers to stop using the phrase “to take back the sovereignty over Hong Kong” on the grounds that it is misleading.

The announcement has baffled a lot of Hongkongers, since the phrase has been frequently used by not only chief mainland officials over the years, but also former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping himself during the 1980s.

In another move, the EDB recently posted an article on its official website, in which it refers to Mandarin as the “mother tongue” of the people of Hong Kong, whereas Cantonese is only an unofficial “dialect”.

The article immediately set the internet alight, and sparked a bitter online feud among netizens both for and against the notion.

As I have mentioned before, the truth is, Cantonese and Mandarin, along with 7 or 9 other dialects, actually form the sub-branches of the big family of the Chinese language.

In other words, it would be misleading to refer to Mandarin as the mother tongue of all Chinese people, because Mandarin and other regional dialects, including Cantonese, are actually on an equal footing and belong to the same family.

It is true that most Hong Kong people are unable to speak fluent Mandarin.

However, perhaps little known is that Mandarin is actually far from being the universally spoken language even in the mainland.

Therefore, to say that Mandarin is the mother tongue of all Chinese and that every mainlander can speak fluent Mandarin is a typical “big brother” lie.

And numbers don’t lie. According to the official figures published by the State Council in September 2017, the popularization of Mandarin, or the Putonghua, only reached 73 percent among the entire mainland population.

Meanwhile, the remaining 27 percent of mainlanders, whose numbers total over 380 million, don’t speak Mandarin in their everyday life.

The official figures have completely dispelled the popular myth that Mandarin is the universally spoken language across the mainland.

To put the figures in perspective, the numbers of people in the mainland who don’t speak Mandarin are around 50 million more than the whole population of the United States, or three times the size of the total population of Japan.

As we saw in recent TV news reports on the 10th anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake, many Sichuan people were speaking in front of the camera in their local dialects.

And in major cities such as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu, the percentage of the local population who communicate in their indigenous dialects in their everyday life remains substantially high.

In fact even Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping often spoke in their own Hunan and Sichuan dialects rather than Mandarin, both on private and public occasions, during their lifetime.

Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s existing system and traditional way of life are preserved after the handover, and the “traditional way of life” of course includes our daily spoken language.

As such, the popular use of Cantonese as the medium of instruction in our schools should be respected.

Moreover, the SAR government must avoid being overly aggressive in promoting the use of Mandarin in Hong Kong. In particular, Cantonese must not be marginalized through mandatory or intimidating means.

Under China’s 13th Five Year Plan, Beijing has vowed to achieve the full popularization of Mandarin across the mainland by 2020.

However, I have serious doubts as to whether the Communist Party can really achieve this ambitious goal.

It is because there are only two years left before 2020. How is it possible that mainland officialdom can convert 380 million people into speaking Mandarin within such a short period of time?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 24

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Lawmaker under fire over airport security incident

Lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok has been accused of flaunting his status and pressuring airport security staff into allowing him to carry a liquid onboard an aircraft in violation of rules. Photo: HKEJLawmaker Ma Fung-kwok has been accused of flaunting his status and pressuring airport security staff into allowing him to carry a liquid onboard an aircraft in violation of rules. Photo: HKEJ

A pro-establishment lawmaker is facing questions after he allegedly pressured airport security staff and broke rules in relation to liquids in carry-on baggage in an incident earlier this week.

Ma Fung-kwok, who represents the functional constituency of sports, performing arts, culture and publication, has been accused of flaunting his status as a lawmaker and his connections with the Airport Authority (AA) chief in order to bypass rules related to prohibited items in cabin luggage.

Ma admitted Thursday that he should not have given airport security staff a hard time, but denied that he deliberately brought up his links with the AA boss in exchanges with baggage screening staff.

On Monday, Ma found himself in an argument with security staff at the Hong Kong airport after officers objected to him carrying a 200-milliliter tube of hair gel in his hand baggage. 

Security staff pointed out that the liquid was beyond the permissible limit and that it can’t be carried onboard the aircraft. The lawmaker was told to either put it along with his checked luggage or discard it.

Ma was preparing to take a flight to Beijing and passing through the airport security check when the incident took place.

Refusing to choose between the two options as instructed, Ma allegedly pressured the staff into allowing him to take the tube on board by identifying himself as a lawmaker, according to Apple Daily, which broke the story on Thursday.

In addition, Ma reportedly claimed that he is acquainted with Fred Lam Tin-fuk, chief executive of AA, the agency which runs the airport.

Following Ma’s words, the security personnel are said to have yielded to the pressure and allowed the lawmaker to pass through with the hair-gel bottle still inside his cabin bag.

Questioned by the media over the incident, Ma first claimed he just tried to “argue strongly on just grounds”, saying he might have possibly mentioned to the staff that he is a lawmaker.

He rejected accusations that he had abused his position, and also denied allegations that he intentionally misused the AA chief’s name to have rules bypassed for him.

Moreover, he suggested that the hair-gel tube he had been carrying was almost used up and that it was actually within the allowed limit for carry-on liquids. 

Claiming that he just tried to argue with the officer due to wrong perception of the rule, Ma said he brought up Lam’s name only to respond to the officer who said he was the most senior ranking there.

He stressed he did not intend to request to see Lam or pressure the officer whatsoever.

However, in a statement Thursday evening, Ma softened his tone, saying that he is willing to offer an apology to the airport security staff if he had caused inconvenience the staff.

He also said that he will be more careful in future with regard to rules pertaining to onboard items.

Under the rules of the Civil Aviation Department (CAD), all liquids, gels, aerosols in cabin baggage have to be carried in containers with a capacity not greater than 100 ml. In addition, liquids, gels, aerosols carried in containers larger than 100 ml will not be accepted, even if the container is only part-filled.

Confirming Monday’s incident, the Aviation Security Co. Ltd. (AVSECO), which is responsible for security at the Hong Kong airport, told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that its initial investigation found the officers involved did not follow procedures and had allowed Ma to take the gel on board.

A disciplinary review has been launched in accordance with established procedures, it said.

Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a Civic Party lawmaker who was once a pilot, slammed Ma, saying the airport incident marks an example of abuse of power.

He likened the incident to a previous case in 2016 when Hong Kong’s then chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, was accused of misusing his power to have airport security rules bypassed for his daughter.

Tam said he has written to the CAD and the AA to demand that the latest incident is dealt with seriously, and that the agencies send representatives to explain the matter to the Legislative Council’s Panel on Security.

An AA spokesman, meanwhile, said the agency has contacted AVSECO for follow-up.

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BLOCKING EVERY PATH: Now It’s the July First March and the District Councils

by Suzanne Pepper / May 23, 2018

Newly elected legislator Au Nok-hin 【 區諾軒 】 is looking at no end of trouble. He’s not alone. But he already has three major political strikes against him and he was only just elected in the special Legislative Council (LegCo) by-election on March 11. If Au isn’t booted out of office before the current term ends, in 2020, it won’t be for want of trying by members of the pro-government majority. They have already tried, unsuccessfully, to have him removed on grounds of disrespect to Hong Kong’s Basic Law constitution because he was photographed at a 2016 protest burning a copy of one its pages (May 11, 2018 post).

Additionally, as a leading member of the Civil Human Rights Front, he is this year’s convener of the July First protest march, which is held annually and organized by Front. This is the coalition of many groups that made its dramatic entrance to Hong Kong’s protest scene on July 1, 2003, when its first march was so successful that the Hong Kong government felt obliged to shelve its Article 23 national security legislation. The theme of the march this year was to have been “end one-party dictatorship” 【結束一黨專政】. It may still be if Au has anything to say about it.

He has also been known to question Beijing’s new ultimatum that self-determination and independence are one-and-the-same thing (Apple, May 4; Wen Wei Po, May 5). Both advocacies are now officially said to violate the letter and spirit of Hong Kong’s constitutional order and advocates are no longer, as of this year, allowed to contest LegCo elections. Popular activist Agnes Chow was disqualified as a candidate for the March 11 LegCo by-election because her political party, Demosisto, advocates self-determination for Hong Kong, although the party specifically does not call for independence (Jan. 30, 2018 post).

Evidently not willing to let the matter rest there, authoritative words are now circulating. They say this new DQ-disqualification standard for self-determination will/should be used to weed out candidates for District Council elections as well. Hong Kong has 18 District Councils with voting precincts drawn at the local neighborhood level. The election is coming up next year and Au is helping out with suggestions for overcoming the “self-determination” handicap..


This is the provocative slogan that has been used at every June Fourth memorial rally in Victoria Park since 1989, provocative because the slogan calls for an end to the kind of government, the Chinese Communist Party-led one-party dictatorship, that used armed force against unarmed protesters in Tiananmen Square. The Hong Kong organizers of the June Fourth event have long debated the political wisdom of continuing to use the slogan and they have always agreed to carry on, as they have decided to do again next month.

But henceforth there may be a big price to pay and it may extend to anyone who dares to join the July First protest march as well, if the slogan is used as its main theme. This is because the rules for the march have always been, since 2003, that all participating groups must accept the lead slogans that are agreed upon in advance by all. Those who cannot agree, don’t join the march. It will be up to Au Nok-hin as this year’s convener to negotiate a solution. In any case, he says he is expecting a very low turnout …  maybe the lowest ever because society has now been “harmonized.”  The term was popularized a few years ago by mainland netizens intent on evading censors’ eyes while discussing official repression.

The special urgency this year derives from the strengthening rules of patriotic political correctness that Beijing has begun to enforce. The official aim is to discipline the unruly unpatriotic defiance that has taken root among Hong Kong democracy activists since their 2014-15 failure to achieve the promised universal suffrage elections (May 11, 2018 post). 

Officials have obviously calculated that if Hong Kongers can’t be made to “love the Motherland,” as the exhortations are constantly reminding them to do, then they must at least appear as if they do … under a strict regimen of rewards for correct behavior and punishments for everything else.

The new cost of being seen/heard in public advocating the slogan was introduced by Hong Kong delegates to the National People’s Congress (NPC) meeting last March. They returned from Beijing with the message that probably anyone who adhered to the slogan could be barred from participating in future Hong Kong elections.

This message was first conveyed by the ranking member of Hong Kong’s NPC delegation, Tam Yiu-chung (SCMP, Mar. 18; Ta Kung Pao, Mar. 20). Tam is a long-time leader of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing community, past chairman of its main political party, and Hong Kong’s representative on the NPC’s highest-level decision-making Standing Committee.

Official explanations were placed in the context of the NPC itself. The meeting had, under President Xi Jin-ping’s ascendancy, just eliminated presidential term limits and passed other amendments to China’s national constitution as well … all aimed at strengthening and legitimizing the Communist Party’s dominant role in China’s governance. Most significant was the revised Article One, which for the first time formally acknowledged the Communist Party’s leading role and called its leadership “the most fundamental feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Hong Kong’s own Basic Law mini-constitution derives its authority from the national parent. So little wonder that one of Hong Kong’s favorite protest slogans was singled out for so much attention in the wake of the March Congress meeting.

Tam later explained that Hong Kongers had been shouting the slogan for years and some might even believe it. They might actually have the intention of overthrowing the Communist Party’s leadership. Everyone should therefore be advised: “Since the revision of the Constitution, it is wrong if they shout this again; it may be a problem for those who wish to run in elections.” (China Daily, April 10).

For sure, a lot of Hong Kongers will take the dare and shout the slogan. The dates to watch are June Fourth and July First … lead slogans, marching banners, and who’s who among the participants.

In fact, one banner has already gone up … in a provocative spot reserved by a provocative person: Au Nok-hin. The slogan was part of a display featuring two red and yellow banners hung on sidewalk railings outside the main headquarters of Beijing’s representative Liaison Office here. The banners are cleverly designed, by friends of Au, to try and evade immediate censure since both carry quotations from Mao Zedong himself … but dating from his years “in opposition,” as a dissident revolutionary fighting against the reactionary power-holders. Published in 1941, the words resonate for Hong Kongers today: “abolish one-party dictatorship” and “establish a democratic government” (HK Free Press, May 14).


In the midst of this controversy, the new official focus on self-determination as a disqualifier for the District Councils election seemed strange. The election is more than a year away and the District Councils rarely generate much interest one way or the other. So why the sudden concern in official circles? On closer consideration, the answer is simple: Benny Tai.

No sooner do the critics think they’ve dealt his reputation a final mortal blow than he bounces back with another plan for them to attack. The most recent blow followed his talk in Taiwan only a few weeks ago where he spoke about democracy and independence (April 16, 2018 post).   But Professor Tai Yiu-ting is anticipating a lengthy prison sentence to follow his trial later this year on charges related to his role as the chief inspiration behind Hong Kong’s 2014 Occupy Movement. So he is promoting his latest bright idea well in advance.

He calls this one Project Storm 【風轀計劃】and introduced the idea a year ago.* He argues that if Hong Kong’s democratic ideals have any real hope of surviving under Communist Party rule and the strengthening force of mainlandization, those ideals need a grassroots base of dedicated political workers.

Since the District Councils are already established in Hong Kong as its basic-level grassroots bodies and since, unlike LegCo, all are now wholly elected on the basis of one-person-one-vote universal suffrage, the councils are as good a place to make a democratic stand as any. He points out that activists living under authoritarian regimes elsewhere have achieved some success in this way, via whatever limited democratic channels were open to them. It follows that local activists should not ignore the opportunity afforded by Hong Kong’s District Councils.

This argument seems to have made a far greater impression on the pro-Beijing critics than on his target audience. Democracy activists have not been overly enthusiastic. They say Professor Tai is thinking creatively, not realistically. This is because conservatives, pro-establishment neighborhood leaders, have always dominated at the district level. The trend dates back to colonial days when electoral reforms began, in the 1980s, with new bodies called District Boards. But Hong Kong’s first-generation democracy campaigners in those days  had their eyes fixed on the Legislative Council, where they thought their struggle would have the greatest impact.

Then, after 1997, pro-Beijing forces moved in with resources … funding and personnel … that district-level democracy campaigners could not match, even if fractious infighting had not begun consuming too much of their political imaginations and energy. As a result, today there are pro-establishment majorities on all 18 District Councils, with councilors’ offices conveniently located all over Hong Kong. Many have full-time staffers, always on call, ready and willing to help constituents with all kinds of local-level neighborhood problems from traffic lights to leaking water pipes.

Tai’s idealistic professorial view is that pro-democracy activists should nevertheless dedicate themselves to service at the neighborhood level … and they should have already begun since they must make themselves known in the neighborhoods and create good will ahead of the 2019 election.

He also said democrats should set their sights on winning maybe as many as half of all the District Council seats. They total 431 now, due to be increased to 452 ahead of the 2019 election. In that way, argues Tai, democrats could also make their presence felt more forcefully on the Election Committee that formally endorses Hong Kong’s Chief Executives … and hopefully pressure Beijing into reopening the Chief Executive electoral reform debate that had ultimately sparked the 2014 Occupy protest movement.

Over a hundred seats are reserved for District Councilors on the Election Committee and democrats have worked hard to increase their representation on that 1,200-member indirectly-elected body.

The challenge is obvious. In the last, 2015, District Councils election, pro-democracy candidates, especially those conveying the “Occupy spirit,” did better than expected. But even so, all democrats combined won only 120 council seats. Pro-establishment candidates won 298; 13 went to independents whose inclinations couldn’t be identified. Democrats’ greatest success was in the Sham Shui Po district of Kowloon West where they were just one seat short of a majority (Nov. 26, 2015 post).

Pro-Beijing critics nevertheless seem positively terrified. They say Benny Tai is trying to foment a “color revolution” in Hong Kong, just like those that toppled the authoritarian, nominally autonomous, ethnic republics all across the old Soviet Union after its communist government collapsed (Wen Wei Po, May 8, 9).

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing papers are devoting whole pages to his latest plot to create chaos in Hong Kong, “occupy” the District Councils, link up with foreign forces, and dupe innocent youth into falling for his latest scheme that aims to perpetrate a political take-over from below (Ta Kung Pao, May 7, 13, 23; Wen Wei Po, May 2, 5, 11, 13).

As for the man at the center of this storm, Benny Tai is carrying on as usual.  He’s out and about promoting his District Councils idea and some democrats are responding. They’ve also been meeting and organizing, and who are the most recognizable faces among them? Why Au Nok-hin, Joshua Wong, and his Demosisto friends, of course. Au is also a district councilor.

In addition, the democratic camp as a whole has begun preparing for the 2019 election and has put together a preliminary roster of potential candidates numbering about 300. They’re aiming to have one candidate contesting the election in each of the 400+ precincts, a goal they could not achieve in 2015 (Ming Pao, April 23; Sing Tao Daily, May 15).

Candidate coordination for the overall camp effort is again being overseen by Power for Democracy 【民主動力】, Joseph Cheng’s old group now under successor generation management.

And to reinforce the democratic camp’s 300+ roster, Benny Tai wants to work with maybe a hundred hopefuls (Sing Tao Daily, May 9). Among those interested in helping out with this training project is Eddie Chu, “king of votes” from the 2016 LegCo election. Chu advocates building a mass base at the district level where he feels the greatest political impact can be registered if only it is actively developed (Oct. 19, 2016 post).

The professor says never give up.   The powers-that-be pursue him everywhere. They are also pursuing Demosisto’s founder, Joshua Wong, who was thinking about joining the District Councils contest next year.

It was at this juncture that unnamed authoritative “sources” began referencing self-determination as a disqualifier for District Council candidates. The Hong Kong government’s legal advisors have reportedly concluded that the same rules should henceforth apply to District Council and LegCo candidates alike, meaning self-determination advocates would automatically be out of the running (Sing Tao Daily, May 9, 10; Apple, May 10; Ta Kung Pao, May 15).

Since the Basic Law, Article 97, says District Councils are consultative bodies only and not “organs of political power,” and since councilors don’t have to give up their foreign passports, Joshua Wong and others say the government’s legal advisers got it wrong. The new strictures should not apply to District Councilors (HK Econ. Journal, May 10). Benny Tai’s critics say that since he’s trying to build the councils into organs of real political power, therefore the new rules must apply.

Joshua Wong and Democsisto aren’t waiting around for the inevitable judicial reviews and court rulings to render a verdict on this latest controversy. They’re making new plans. The idea of dissolving Demosisto seems to have come and gone, along with suggestions about drafting a more politically correct platform. But either way, since they really do not advocate independence for Hong Kong, they might be able to help Beijing ideologues … frozen in political time as they are … adapt their mindset to the modern world and learn to think more creatively about the possible distinctions between independence and self-determination.

Demosisto leaders are now saying that they’ve decided to give up on LegCo elections, although they haven’t announced what to do about the District Councils. Meanwhile, Au Nok-hin, whose political views are much the same as those of his Demosisto friends, is providing his experience from the March 11 by-election as a model for vulnerable democratic candidates (HKEJ, May 11; EJInsight, May 17).

They, too, need to keep thinking creatively and prepare back-up plans for every candidate … as Hong Kong Island democrats did ahead of the by-election. So that if, like Agnes Chow, the first candidate runs into trouble and is disqualified, the understudy will be ready to step forward, as Au Nok-hin did, without the kind of fractious infighting that was probably the real reason for democrats’ demoralizing by-election defeat in Kowloon West (Mar. 27, 2018 post).

HK Free Press, April 18, 2017; South China Morning Press, April 30, 2017; Apple, 2018: Jan. 23, April 17.

Posted by Suzanne Pepper on May 23, 2018.

The post BLOCKING EVERY PATH: Now It’s the July First March and the District Councils appeared first on Hong Kong Focus.