Hong Kong told ‘perfect democracy’ risks hurting business elite

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HONG KONG — On the eve of a de­ci­sion by Bei­jing on rules for elec­tions in Hong Kong, a top Chi­nese scholar pre­sented a se­ries of jus­ti­fi­ca­tions Thurs­day for why the ter­ri­tory’s more than 7 mil­lion peo­ple should tem­per de­mands for Western-style de­moc­racy, in­sist­ing that a “less per­fect” ver­sion of de­moc­racy is bet­ter than none at all.

Hong Kong is set to pick its top of­fi­cial, the chief ex­ec­u­tive, by a pop­u­lar vote start­ing in 2017. China’s leg­is­la­ture, the Na­tional People’s Con­gress, is ex­pected to give guid­ance in com­ing days on how it should im­ple­ment the elec­tions. Bei­jing has taken the po­si­tion that can­di­dates must be vet­ted by a nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tee, which de­moc­racy ac­tiv­ists and pro-es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures alike say will screen out any­one seen as un­ac­cept­able by Bei­jing.

Speak­ing Thurs­day in Hong Kong, Wang Zhen­min, dean of the law school at Tsing­hua Univer­sity in Bei­jing, who ad­vises the cen­tral gov­ern­ment on Hong Kong is­sues, said “no de­moc­racy in the world” was per­fect. “The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple in Hong Kong and the cen­tral au­thor­i­ties would like to see uni­ver­sal suf­frage in 2017,” he said. “We should not let the peo­ple down. More is less, less is more. Less-per­fect uni­ver­sal suf­frage is bet­ter than no uni­ver­sal suf­frage. Leave some room for fu­ture growth.”

Mr. Wang, who vis­ited Hong Kong un­der the aus­pices of the Min­is­try of For­eign Af­fairs to make its case for the new rules, also as­sured Hong Kong res­i­dents that con­trary to pub­lished re­ports, the ter­ri­tory’s in­de­pen­dent courts would be re­spected and flour­ish, as China it­self moved to­ward a rules-based sys­tem. He said re­ports that judges would be sub­ject to a po­lit­i­cal re­quire­ment of “lov­ing the coun­try” were the re­sult of mis­trans­la­tions of a Chi­nese white pa­per.

But the meat of his pre­sen­ta­tion fo­cused on the elec­tion rules in the for­mer Brit­ish col­ony. One per­son fa­mil­iar with the de­lib­er­a­tions in Bei­jing, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause of the sen­si­tive na­ture of the dis­cus­sions, said the Con­gress would al­most cer­tainly in­sist that can­di­dates be vet­ted by a nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tee that would re­strict the pub­lic from put­ting forth can­di­dates.

Dem­o­crats in the Hong Kong leg­is­la­ture have vowed to block any mea­sure that does not al­low for free and fair elec­tions, and a broad co­a­li­tion of cit­i­zens, in­clud­ing re­li­gious lead­ers, stu­dents and even mem­bers of the city’s fi­nan­cial com­mu­nity, have vowed to stage large pro­tests that may dis­rupt busi­ness in Asia’s top fi­nan­cial cen­ter if the gov­ern­ment’s plan lim­its who can be on the bal­lot.

Mr. Wang ac­knowl­edged that there was mis­trust over Bei­jing’s in­ten­tions in Hong Kong, which is run sep­a­rately from the rest of China un­der an agree­ment with Brit­ain that paved the way for the re­turn of Chi­nese sov­er­eignty in 1997. Hong Kong cit­i­zens en­joy civil lib­er­ties — in­clud­ing free­doms of as­sem­bly, speech and re­li­gion — that are not avail­able else­where in China.

Many Hong Kong res­i­dents fear that such au­ton­omy is be­ing eroded, cit­ing re­cent pres­sure on the me­dia and a con­tro­ver­sial pol­icy doc­u­ment is­sued by Bei­jing ear­lier this year. “Since the han­dover in 1997, we have not made good prog­ress on con­fi­dence-build­ing be­tween Hong Kong and the main­land,” Mr. Wang said. He likened the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Bei­jing to a mother, who would never do any­thing to harm her chil­dren. “The mother al­ways acts in the best in­ter­ests of her chil­dren. Her in­ten­tions are pure.”

In an un­usual the­o­ret­i­cal leap for a state still at least nom­i­nally so­cial­ist, Mr. Wang saidt one rea­son to keep con­trol of the nom­i­na­tion pro­cess was to pro­tect its cap­i­tal­ist class. “We have to take care of ev­ery class,” he said. “Every group of peo­ple. Every per­son, rich or poor. No one should be ig­nored. No one should be left be­hind. Espe­cially those whose slice of pie will be shared by oth­ers upon the im­ple­men­ta­tion of uni­ver­sal suf­frage.”

Many of Hong Kong’s ty­coons — at the top of the hi­er­ar­chy in a city that has for de­cades been ranked as one of the world’s most free-mar­ket econ­o­mies — have long feared that de­moc­racy would lead to in­tro­duc­tion of a Euro­pean-style wel­fare state, with much higher taxes on their for­tunes to pay for it. Since Hong Kong’s re­turn to Chi­nese sov­er­eignty in 1997, a com­mit­tee of about 1,200 elec­tors who choose the top leader has been stacked with ty­coons, and the first chief ex­ec­u­tive, Tung Chee-hwa, was drawn from their ranks.


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