Some time ago, China and the UK signed a joint declaration to return Hong Kong to China in the year 1977 under the so-called “one country, two systems” formula.
It was agreed that the territory would retain its capitalist economy but would become part of communist China.
“Hong Kong has always been part of China,” said Lord Powell recently. Powell served as a key foreign policy advisor to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s. He said political rights in Hong Kong were always going to be limited.
“We rented it for a while and we didn’t introduce democracy… and one reason we didn’t is because we knew it was eventually going back to China and it would have been far worse to introduce full democracy and then taken it away from them.”
Lord Powell also said pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong are “unrealistic” and should enjoy the freedoms they already have.
Why did Lord Powell say what he said?
Well, Hong Kong did not have a democratic system for 150 years under British rule. London picked the governors. Hong Kong people had no say. Each governor came complete with that ridiculous huge white plume helmet that has been part of the ceremonial garb of Hong Kong’s British governors since the 19th century. (Well, the last governor George Patten was sensible enough to abandon that absurd outfit.)
The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 made no mention of universal suffrage, (the right of all adults to vote in political elections) and because China promised universal suffrage, today, the people in Hong Kong have more than what they ever had under the British. This is the point of view of people like Lord Powell.
So if there’s going to be universal suffrage, what drove protestors into the streets then?
A bit of explanatory background is in order: Hong Kong was handed back to China on July 1st, 1997. Under China’s principle of “one country, two systems” Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defense affairs, for 50 years. Its leader, the chief executive, is elected by a 1,200-member pro-Beijing election committee. However, China has guaranteed that ultimately the chief executive will be elected “by universal suffrage” – something the British never countenanced. (Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, China has promised direct elections for the chief executive in 2017.)
Now China says that this will NOT happen. On Aug 31st, 2014, China’s top legislative body – the National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee – unanimously passed a resolution stating that Hong Kong residents will have to choose only candidates who must first be vetted by the government in Beijing. These candidates must be those deemed by Beijing to be suitably “patriotic” and must “love China.” This resolution effectively gives Beijing the ability to screen out candidates and accepts only those puppets it approves of.
It all sounds like a sham alright. China’s own version of universal suffrage.
In response, demonstrators took to the streets. They are dead against China vetting the candidates.
I don’t intend to debate Lord Powell or to discuss if the protestors are being foolish or are wasting their time.
My focus is on China’s change of mind.
China – and any organization for that matter – has to do a better job of explaining its position each time it decides to make a change.
How change is being “sold” to those impacted is critical.
Change not only will impact people’s lives; people’s perception of the change can alter their views about things.
Their views about things can result in their decision to take action.
No government, especially those claiming to be democratic or have the people’s best interest at heart can just arbitrarily change tune and expect people to just suck it up without question.
Last time I checked, China’s official name is “People’s Republic of China.”
(And Hong Kong’s official status is that it is a SAR – Self Administrative Region.”)
China cannot claim to be a people’s republic if a bunch of buffoon-like, uncouth, phlegm-clearing, loud-spitting octogenarians tittering on the brink of death, yet vain enough to dye their hair black, acts like bullies and just shove things down people’s throats.
All too often I’ve see leaders making the same mistake – they think they have every right to just make a change and expect those under them to just swallow the change, hook, line and sinker.
No consultation. No discussion. “My way or the highway” mentality.
In my grandfather’s time, they were resigned to say “Ours is not to question why, ours is to do and die” ala Tennyson.
How do you sell change?
If you don’t consult and don’t believe in discussions, and don’t manage perceptions and expectations, you’ll end up with a mutiny or a riot.
Which is exactly what’s happening in Hong Kong now.
A word to the protestors: I admire your courage and lack of political apathy. I look at the politically-lethargic youth in my own country and I can’t help but take my hat off to you. You are the world’s most disciplined and well-behaved protestors. You’ve made your point, now please move on. You may not have gotten the outcomes you’ve wanted but the reality of having to put food on the table can turn your sympathizers against you if continuous blockages threaten their livelihoods or access to medical care. You are not the things that happen to you. Experiencing a loss doesn’t make you a loser. You are already a winner beyond measure and the world salutes you. You have made those thick-headed old men in Beijing wake up from their slumber. Sure, it could always be better, but it could always be worse.
Remember Tiananmen! If you die your dream dies with you without being realized. If you live, you can always come back to fight another day, to create a desired future.