Wednesday evening, the pan-democrats in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council resigned in response to Peking’s legally baseless disqualification of four more legislators, effectively bringing an end to this institution as anything but a rubber-stamp parliament.
What lessons can we take away from the transformation of the city’s legislature from an imperfect but at least somewhat representative institution to a completely illegitimate play toy of the occupying regime?
First, as I have said many times before, any compromise with Peking ends in tragedy.
Disqualifications, we must remember, began in 2016 by targeting such pro-independence Legislative Council candidates as Andy Chan, Edward Leung, Nakade Hitsujiko. Chan Kwok-Cheung, and Alice Lai Yee-man. After the 2016 election, these disqualifications expanded to target Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching of Youngspiration.
At that moment, in my reading, many pan-democrats did not do enough to stand up for the rights of fellow candidates who had been denied their basic political rights for what could only be considered “thought crimes.” There was a certain over-confident comfort in the fact that the disqualifications targeted only those who held heterodox perspectives on matters of sovereignty.
That was of course how this all started, but that was never how it was going to end. Once thought crimes are incorporated into the system, Peking will eventually find them everywhere. Seemingly pragmatic distancing from independence advocacy as taboo in 2016 has paved the way for today’s embarrassing demands that legislators must be “patriots,” bringing disqualification from the fringes of independence advocacy to the core of pan-democratic moderation.
The lesson to be derived from this chain of events is that if you give Peking an inch, they will take a mile: a reality that has been on constant display in Hong Kong over the past decade, yet which some still refuse to recognize.
Second, it is quickly becoming apparent that the biggest scorched earth advocates are not in the opposition, but rather in the establishment camp and in Peking.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about “scorched earth” and laam chau(mutually-assured destruction) approaches among the opposition. Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, channeling the sad old men of Peking as usual, have even in recent days cartoonishly denounced “laam chau legislators” who are supposedly not eligible to hold office.
Yet all of this talk overlooks the basic fact that the greatest supporters of laam chau are in the bureaucracy and in Peking. We can see this in the extradition amendments, the transformation of the police force into a repressive junta, the cancellation of freedom of assembly, the introduction of the National Security Law, the legally baseless harassment and detention of young activists, reporters, and a number of other people simply trying to imagine a better future for their city, the groundless delay of the Legislative Council elections by a whole year, and now the outright destruction of the Legislative Council.
Only the mentally challenged people at Wen Wei Po could think Alvin Yeung or Kenneth Leung are laam chau legislators: anyone who knows anything knows that they are moderate pan-democrats.
Yet precisely because they don’t know anything, just as Peking’s mouthpieces in Hong Kong declare the illegality of laam chau, no one in the pro-establishment camp is self-reflective enough to notice that their increasingly unhinged actions are in fact following the laam chau instruction booklet step by step.
One can only assume they have not yet read the section about how this all ends? Dictatorships, it is worth noting, do not last forever.
On this note, the third and most important lesson is that, at this point, there is no longer any use working inside Hong Kong’s system: people’s energies are best directed outside and indeed against the system.
There was a time when it was easy to know what was legal and what was not in Hong Kong. There was also a time when it was possible to represent at least some of the aspirations of some of the Hong Kong people in the Legislative Council. Unfortunately, now that the National Security Law strips people of their legally guaranteed rights and “Carrie Laam Chau” embarrassingly wavers on whether filibustering might endanger national security, that time is now long gone.
The continued presence of the pan-democratic camp in the Legislative Council would have achieved only (1) slightly delaying the passage of such idiotic bills as the National Anthem Law and (2) giving the Legislative Council, through their participation, a false veneer of legitimacy.
From China’s democratic wings in the 1950s, to its human rights lawyers of the past decade, to Hong Kong’s pan-democratic camp today, everyone who attempts to work peacefully within the CCP’s system ends up facing either assimilation or destruction. There is, at the end of the day, a fundamental irresolvable contradiction in being a “pan-democrat” in a non-democratic legislature; one cannot be a legitimate participant in a fundamentally illegitimate system.
The Legislative Council under CCP rule has transformed into a rubber-stamp Hong Kong People’s Congress, with which no self-respecting citizen should associate. The energies once directed toward slowing down the self-destructive tendencies of this system from within would now best be redirected toward accelerating these tendencies from without.
It is increasingly clear that Hong Kong’s future will be determined neither in Tamar, nor even in Sai Wan, but rather beyond both.
(Kevin Carrico is Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at Monash University)
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