Thursday, June 25, 2015

HK, China, Democracy Vote

Jun 23, 2015

[An editorial on the aftermath of the HK vote on their constitution, and the reactions of Asia's richest man in HK.]


Hong Kong after the vote

A BUNGLED walkout by China loyalists contributed to a vote in Hong Kong's Legislative Council that many would see as a resounding defeat of Beijing's blueprint for the 2017 chief executive election. The constitutional reform package, which required a two-thirds majority to pass, was likely to have been rejected in any case given the strength of democrats in the 70-strong legislature who had vowed to block it. However, the walkout by 31 loyalist lawmakers, in an attempt to delay a vote, resulted in a 28-8 defeat for the government that would suggest that the reform proposals enjoyed absolutely no popular salience in Hong Kong.

That conclusion would convey the wrong impression. The reforms would have given all residents the right to vote for the chief executive for the first time, but restricted the exercise of the franchise to choosing among candidates vetted by a loyalist committee. It was the second half of the deal that incensed democrats, who believe that free elections must mean not just the right to vote but also the right to choose among contending hopefuls free to present themselves for election in the first place. However, many Hong Kongers might have decided to go with even incremental electoral advances. Their presence was not reflected in the "no" vote because of the walkout.

It might appear bewildering that the democrats of Hong Kong, which as a British colony enjoyed no democracy, should be consumed about safeguarding residents from what they regard as China's attempt to foist "fake democracy" on the territory. Arguably, however, the economic freedoms and civil liberties of Hong Kong were preserved by ultimate default under Westminster Britain, whereas the Leninist political structures of China make it necessary for Hong Kong to protect its freedoms itself. Be that as it may, the first consequence of the historic Hong Kong vote is that China might adopt a more interventionist line on the city's affairs, confounding the attempts of those seeking to reverse Beijing's management of local politics.

Going too far in the direction of control would not be good for Hong Kong, any more than moving to an era of adversarial politics would. Since its handover by Britain to China in 1997, the city's prospects have rested on a fine and evolving balance struck among the demands of economic vitality, political stability and receptivity to popular sentiment. Without any of these ingredients, Hong Kong would not be the Chinese global city that it is today. Its administration would contribute to upholding that balance by addressing the economic disparities that have fuelled popular discontent, particularly over rising property prices.


Asia's richest man "disappointed" by Hong Kong democracy veto, but business as usual

June 23

HONG KONG - Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, said on Tuesday he was "very disappointed" by Hong Kong's failure to pass a China-backed electoral blueprint that would have granted a one-man one-vote in the city but only for candidates pre-screened by Beijing.

However he also said he wouldn't be withdrawing any investment from the free-wheeling business hub.

Hong Kong's legislature on Thursday vetoed the electoral reform package criticized by opposition pro-democracy lawmakers and activists as undemocratic, easing the prospect of fresh protests in the financial hub after last year's massive "Occupy Central" pro-democracy civil disobedience campaign.

"I'm very disappointed. This is all I can say," Li, chairman of developer Cheung Kong Property Holdings and ports-to-telecoms conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings, told reporters after an annual shareholder meeting.

Li - one of Hong Kong's most influential men whose opinions on business and politics are closely followed -- said, however, that he wouldn't withdraw investment and would continue to buy land in the city this year.

In recent weeks, other business leaders, including tycoon Lee Shau-kee, the head of Henderson Land, said a failure to back the package would hurt Hong Kong at a vulnerable time given its reliance on a slowing Chinese economy.

Li has come under fire from democracy activists and blue collar workers in recent years for his control of many sectors of the Hong Kong economy amid one of Asia's most gaping wealth gaps.

The electoral package was rejected in a landslide vote by the city's pro-democracy lawmakers who rejected it as a "fake" democratic model for how the Chinese-controlled territory chooses its next leader in 2017.

But it was a setback for Beijing's Communist leaders, who said they remained committed to universal suffrage for Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, but signaled no further democratic concessions.

Li's comments came hours before Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying reiterated that he would continue to push for a series of economic and social initiatives after the no-vote, and called for support from the city's legislature.

Leung told reporters he hopes to launch the Hong Kong-Shenzhen stock market link by November, and to increase private housing supply to a 10-year high next year to tackle one of the world's most expensive property markets, which has surged more than 170 percent since 2008.

Hong Kong returned to China under a "one country, two systems" formula that gives it a separate legal system and greater freedoms than the party-ruled mainland - and the promise of eventual universal suffrage.


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