As everyone braces for China’s response to the Occupy Central protests occurring in Hong Kong at present, most keen observers of both China and Hong Kong will be stifling yawns.
Will China send drones? Will the tanks roll down the Kowloon Peninsula towards the city? Will the existing PLA barracks in Hong Kong, whose soldiers are rarely seen or heard, suddenly be activated? Or will it all conclude with a whimper?
The ill-judged activism for democracy illustrates just why democracy would never work in Hong Kong and certainly not in China.
As an Australian expatriate in his 22nd year in Hong Kong, I am totally convinced that democracy would never work in either place. In fact, one of the first things which caught my attention here in Hong Kong was a piece in the local English newspaper, the South China Morning Post circa 1994, where the writer argued that China had exactly the type of government it needed and that democracy would never work in that huge country with such a diverse population.
Having arrived from Australia believing that democracy was the only way, I was stunned by the fact I had to agree with the points made. I could also say that, being involved in horse racing, I had also arrived believing Australia had the best jockeys in the world – an opinion which was quickly shattered when I watched the array of talent, from all around the world, plying their trade in the world’s best racing jurisdiction.
In Hong Kong there are many factions and groups who would all be parties if full scale democracy was implemented. Hong Kong democracy would resemble Italian or Pakistani democracy with government changes occurring regularly and not much getting done. (Hopefully without the assassinations.) Hong Kong bureaucrats are well experienced in the policy of “don’t do anything in case you make a mistake”. Imagine if that inertia was further enforced by the possibility of being voted out. I am also sure we would share with Taiwan that elevating sight of regular fisticuffs in the chamber.
Democracy is a theory of government which, at face value, seems to be the fairest option. Communism also has at its core, a fairness around sharing of resources. Both fall down in the face of human nature which ensures abuses. China has a totalitarian government which seems to work very well. And people who shout about human rights abuses should first look at the number of innocent people in US jails who were railroaded by corrupt policemen – some to be executed, some to spend a lifetime incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. (Unlike Hurricane Carter, they don’t all get a song by Bob Dylan and a movie about their plight.) The facts emerging in this area about the Chicago police excesses would rival and probably better anything that happens in China.
The Chinese politburo must surely smile as the United States preaches democracy and, horror of all horrors, attempts to export it to places like Iraq. They realise that democracy in the US is only a parody of the Greeks’ ancient theory of government, which Winston Churchill assessed as the best of a bad lot of options.
Democracy is based on more than one man or woman, one vote; one vote one value – it also assumes that the people voting understand the issues they are voting on and make a reasoned assessment before voting. How does that theory align with the influence of Rupert Murdoch’s abhorrent Fox News or the Koch Brothers Tea Party – both designed to keep the truth well away from the voters?
Would the Chinese leadership be impressed with the US Congress and its gridlock where one party has decided that no business should be done in case the person who was voted in as president might actually get to do some of the things he promised.
You could equally look at The United Kingdom and Australia and find that often it is not the voters who decide who will govern, rather the ubiquitous Murdoch. It was the Murdoch press which ensured both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair (ironically from different ends of the political spectrum) enjoyed long reigns, and it was Murdoch who orchestrated most of the changes in government in Australia over the past four or five decades. Of course, individuals and parties made their own messes but, in most cases, no one could get elected without the support of the Murdoch press. Is that democracy?
China is a country which has been trying to bring over 1.3 billion people into the modern age. By any measure they have done very well – without the vote. China will no doubt lead the world within two of three decades and the implosion of Russia and the United States will only help if it continues. Hong Kong is part of China, taken over briefly by Britain in the most disgusting of ways – through a war over the drug pushing by the British on Chinese citizens. The British colony of Hong Kong had classy provenance.
There was never going to be full democracy in Hong Kong and many missteps by people who should know better have probably put the brakes on whatever limited democracy might have emerged. The ridiculous visit to the United States by former British colonial government Chief Secretary Anson Chan and long-term Chairman of the Democratic Party Martin Lee would have been like biting on a bad tooth for your average politburo member. The dynamic duo managed to arrive one day after the United States Supreme Court ruled that electoral donations could not be capped, leading to the Super Pacs which now dominate the scene and sway votes with huge advertising spending – democracy in action.
No, they won’t be panicking in Beijing because a few people and a lot of students have been coaxed into making some noise in Hong Kong. They are playing a long game and you won’t see tanks in Central Hong Kong nor will you see much democracy – possibly a good thing.
Bruce Stinson is an Australian who has lived in Hong Kong for more than two decades.