Good morning, everyone. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we'll resume our study of the situation in Hong Kong.
I want to thank all our witnesses for being patient. We had some voting in the House, which is why we were a bit late starting. What I want to do is to introduce all of our witnesses first. We'll get you to read us your opening statements in the order in which I introduce you.
First of all, joining us as an individual, we have Yves Tiberghien, director of the Institute of Asian Research and assistant professor of political science at the University of British Columbia. He's is here in Ottawa. Welcome, sir. We are glad to have you here.
Also, joining us via video conference, we have Dalena Wright, senior fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School. I want to welcome you, Ms. Wright. Thank you for being with us today.
Also joining us via video conference, from Hong Kong, we have Alan Ka-lun Lung, chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation.
Also joining us from Hong Kong via video conference, we have Simon Young, a professor and associate dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong.
Gentlemen, we want to welcome you as well. We understand that it is late at night where you are, so thank you for adjusting your schedules to fit the timeframe of our committee. That's all the talking I'm going to do.
I'm going to start here in Ottawa with Mr. Tiberghien who's going to give us his opening comments, and then we'll move around the floor, as such.
Mr. Tiberghien, the floor is yours, sir.
Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, it is indeed a pleasure and an honour for me to appear before you today. I will give you the essentials of my comments in English, but I will be delighted to answer your questions in French if required.
Just to make a happy little correction, my title is actually associate professor and director, not assistant professor.
For background, I could also add that I did a lot of research on Hong Kong politics in the past. I was there in 1996 and 1997 as a Stanford fellow in law and negotiations. At the time, I had the pleasure of meeting all the party leaders, such as Martin Lee and others, who were there during the handover. Then I nurtured relationships over a long time. I've been watching the agonizingly slow pace of democracy in Hong Kong over many years.
I want to start by expressing my admiration for the students of the umbrella movement, as well as the professors and leaders behind the Occupy side of the movement. It's a remarkable mobilization that surprised many of us, in a traditionally non-politicized city. It's remarkable to have that many young people paying a big cost in their lives to devote themselves to the future of the political system in their city. When you think about it, the third-largest financial centre in the world and the key interface between China and the world economy was grinding to a halt because of the wrath of young people, which is remarkable. It was a grassroots youth-led movement, which initially was full of creativity, recycling and humour. There was civic order within the surrounding chaos. There was a sense of compassion, and suddenly, even an absence of pollution, birds singing. It was something quite historic and remarkable, and eventually it was disbanded relatively peacefully after 81 days. Nobody was killed despite the tensions and confrontations that appeared later in the movement. It's also remarkable that early on, after being pepper-sprayed and facing violence from the police, the students decided not to escalate and not to take over government buildings. They showed restraint. They showed maturity. It was something quite remarkable. So I wanted to start by giving them credit and expressing my true admiration toward them.
I'll just focus on a few points from the big picture as an analyst and scholar working on these issues.
First, one question I thought would be important to raise is why democratization has been so slow in Hong Kong. Why have we seen such a harsh position from the Chinese, in this case with the NPC ruling?
I want to give full pointers here and I'd be happy to do more later in questions.
The first—and we often forget it—is that there's a lot of internal politics within China around Hong Kong. It's the NPC, the National People's Congress, that has authority over the Basic Law and over the constitutional future of Hong Kong. The NPC is in the hands of one of the more conservative leaders in the Chinese collective leadership, Zhang Dejiang, who is ranked number three in the standing committee. He's the one who studied in North Korea and is known to be conservative. In general, he is an opponent of the more reformist figures in the Chinese system.
During some discussions I had in Beijing, there were hints that it could even have been a trap laid by this conservative leader for the more reformist figures, including Xi Jinping. I note this because once the ruling was issued on August 31, and the white paper in June before that, it put Xi Jinping in a very difficult position. If he recused it, he would be criticized for not protecting Chinese nationalism and Chinese patriotic interests, but if he stood by the ruling he would be behind something that was very harsh and that would hurt Hong Kong's standing in the global community and China's standing. It was a sort of impossible situation. We have to remember the battle between conservatives and reformists behind this.
Second, the NPC ruling is harsh and stretched the limits of the Basic Law, but it remained within the Basic Law. In fact, the ruling in August goes a long way in trying to justify how this still fits within article 45. We have to remember that this Basic Law from 1990 was the result of a compromise between the British and the Chinese and that the final version of it, which was a little tougher on article 45—we had article 23—was the result of a lot of ebb and flow after the Tiananmen incident in June, 1989.
Third, what are China's bottom lines? What really are the red buttons for China?
Number one, of course, is sovereignty—the fact that Hong Kong is part of China.
Number two, there is this long second line of resistance to foreign intrusion; there tends to be a reaction to any sense of foreign intrusion, as we have seen in this process, even if it was a wrong step here. We see strategic action-reaction cycles, and that's behind all of this.
Third, the top priority is really supporting the reform of Xi Jinping and, therefore, the standing of Xi Jinping within his own national system. Anything that helps, they support, and anything that hurts, they tend to oppose.
Fourth and ranking below that, China then would rather have quality, autonomous leadership in Hong Kong, but subject to those first three conditions.
It's actually been a long interest of China to try to hand over leadership of Hong Kong to competent Hong Kong people, but it has had this dilemma ever since Deng Xiaoping, because it wants competent Hong Kong people to take over, while being patriotic and trustworthy with respect to the Chinese leadership, and it can't solve that equation. Actually I don't think it's pretty happy with the leadership it has now, just as the Hong Kong people are not happy with CY Leung. They haven't found how to square their own problem, which is to solve two things at the same time.
The next point, in terms of what's behind all this, is that in this context there is a deep mistrust currently among the democratic leaders of all stripes and even the reformists in Beijing, so that gap is partly what is behind the cycle of action and reaction and the difficulty on the Chinese side of coming up with something that's more progressive for Hong Kong.
The next question I want to address is what really happened with this umbrella movement/Occupy Hong Kong. I'm arguing that actually there were several crises that were building on top of each other, and I just want to make a few points on this.
At the first level when the planning for Occupy Hong Kong took place, led by Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Chan Kin-man, it was inspired by Occupy Wall Street. There is a strong economic component behind it. Talking to Hong Kong people and students, I could see that the issues are of rising inequality, including a lower sense of opportunity for the younger generation; a sense of an economy that is now more captured by the older generation, and the fact it's tougher for the younger generation to fit in; and prices going crazy and being inaccessible to younger people. A lot of that frustration was a big part of the planning. There was also frustration with environmental issues. That is number one.
Number two, there is a crisis of identity with respect to the mainlandization that has happened over the last 10 years, with a large influx of Chinese tourists with lots of money, buying real estate, and buying all the luxury goods, with more and more confrontations in the streets and confrontation in hospitals where there are lots of babies being delivered. So there is a sense that the old Hong Kong polity is being diluted and taken over by this. That's a separate issue that has been a big part of motivating the young people that it is a crisis.
Third is a true crisis of governance, but it's in a bigger context. Essentially the old model of governing Hong Kong through the economic elite, tycoons, and selected professionals, which was inherited from the British—that's how the British ruled Hong Kong initially—is not accelerating democratization in the handing over to the Chinese. The Chinese we knew from the negotiations with Percy Cradock, and all this, were happy to take over that model and then still work through the economic elite. That is not acceptable anymore by the young people and, in general, by the majority of the Hong Kong people. They want more open governance with more access to larger sets of players.
There is also a crisis of leadership because of the 2012 selection of the chief executive, the fact that the current chief executive has low support and is not seen as having the calibre of what Hong Kong needs, as a modern metropolis of the 21st century. He is not of the right calibre.
The fourth level, then, is that democracy becomes the rallying call to solve all of those other problems. So there are a lot of policy problems that are bundled into a hope that changing the selection of leadership will allow a trickling down and solving of all the other problems.
Fifth, there are steep internal divisions within Hong Kong, and so today, when we face this new April 22 package, we still see a city that's divided between yellow and blue. The package today has 45% support, if we trust opinion polls, and 32% opposition, with the others not taking a stance. Essentially we have a city now divided into two halves, as we saw at the end of the Occupy movement.
At the end of the Occupy movement in November and early December, support for the continuation of the movement was down to 20%. By the way, a lot of that division is age-based. The young people are still fully behind a much more aggressive approach to pursuing democracy, whereas the people above 40 years in age are less supportive.
Finally, the democracy movement is really multi-layered now, a very diverse, pluralistic movement with at least four groups.
We have the old Democratic Party base with Martin Lee, whom I've followed for many years, and a very close friend of mine, Kevin Lau Chun-to, the former editor of Ming Pao, a former assistant. He is the one who was attacked by the triads last year. I met him again this year; he's recovering. So we have this old guard, and we know Martin Lee has been trying and trying and has faced a difficult time.
Then there are what I call “the new brooms”: Benny Tai, Chan Kin-Man, and the Reverend behind the Occupy planning. They planned it for over a year. It was wonderfully planned, as inspired by Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Occupy Wall Street.
Then they were themselves in a way caught off guard by the younger generations. There we have two groups: the university students, the Hong Kong Federation of Students led by Alex Chow; and then the high school-based students, Scholarism with Joshua Wong. They're the ones who then really delivered the people on the street, because it was mostly young people.
So it's all these multiple layers, which also made it difficult to manage in the streets. Joshua Wong wanted to go further—be more radical, institute a hunger strike, and the like—whereas the Occupy leaders, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-Man, wanted to stop whenever there was a threat of violence.
I'm happy to answer questions. I just want to conclude by thinking aloud about what Canada can do in this complex context. What I really care about is how to improve the situation: how we can improve the lives and hopes of the young people and improve the model of governance.
Here are a few thoughts.
Number one, we want to avoid empowering the conservatives in Beijing, the Zhang Dejiangs. I think we have to be aware of that dispute within Beijing and of how we can empower the more reformist people who understand. There are people around Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang who understand that the model is not working, that governance has to be improved, and that they have to have a pathway to handing over to competent Hong Kong people. They are opposed by those more radical types.
Second, I think a key thing is to foster linkages between all the generations of democratic leaders in Hong Kong and at least the reformists in China to defuse the mutual cycle of grandstanding and create more support in Beijing for the democrats.
Third would be to maybe sponsor events and venues for dialogue between democratic and student leaders and economic and policy players in Hong Kong. A big part of the fight is actually between the tycoons and economic elites of Hong Kong and the young generation and students and democrats. That can probably be mediated by some deliberative and innovative dialogues, which have not been good enough. Also, the Hong Kong government is not trusted by the democrats and the students.
Fourth may be to urge the Hong Kong government and China to use maximum leniency within the 8-31 package, the package handed down by the NPC. The NPC will not change it, not for a few years, so we're stuck with it. But there is still room for a lot of leniency within it, such as the selection of the 1,200 members, or the instructions given to the 1,200 members of the selection committee, to allow maybe three people to go through for the election. If there were that understanding very quickly, then maybe the democrats could not veto the package in the Legislative Council.
Well, it's easy to do, because I think the previous witness did a marvellous job of framing the issues.
I thank the chairman very much for inviting me today. May I also parenthetically thank the staff, who did an amazing job of dealing with all the logistics.
My own research is largely focused on the Sino-British negotiations arriving at the joint declaration in 1984 and the implementation prior to the British making their exit. Much of that story lies outside the scope of today's hearing, but not entirely. There are problems today that have their origins in decisions taken decades ago, and that makes them much more difficult to resolve today.
Let me quickly raise three issues.
When Britain left Hong Kong, in many ways it left a very admirable legacy. There were the obvious rights and freedoms— freedoms of speech, of assembly, of the press—and there was a bill of rights latterly enacted, and Hong Kong had an excellent judiciary. I think my colleagues on the panel in Hong Kong can speak to this more eloquently than I could.
Despite having a famously freewheeling economic system, there was at the time an effective regulatory system and an expectation that corruption, once detected, would be rooted out. And the city had an exemplary civil service.
In sum, these were the attributes left behind by a liberal democracy. But I think everyone who's here today understands profoundly that for these rights and these freedoms and expectations to endure and be refined over time, there has to be a governing body that believes in these freedoms and that guarantees and sustains them.
This is what Britain was unable to leave behind. They were unable to leave democratic institutions that might accomplish this. Constitutional development before handover was very tentative and was very shallowly rooted, and it has been difficult for such institutions as had been developed to flourish and deepen ever since the handover.
The reasons for this are complex, but essentially Britain started very late, the people of Hong Kong who were interested in governance at the time were divided, and China was the recalcitrant partner. China in those days accepted Hong Kong as it was, not as it might be, and they resisted democratic development. There hadn't been democratic development before, and they resisted its development later.
The solution, as a result, was to go slow, to maintain something of a hybrid that allowed for appointed legislators, indirectly elected legislators, and directly elected legislators, with the ratio of each changing over time in favour of directly elected legislators. In British times, this was referred to as convergence, as the through train, as the low solution, but in effect democracy would come. But when it might come was never fully stipulated, and that leads us to the problem today. Gradualism was the solution arrived at between China and Britain.
The problem with gradualism is that the end game must arrive, at some point. The people of Hong Kong have been waiting for a satisfactory, permanent, and truly representative form of government not just since handover, but indeed since 1984, when the first indirect elections were held in Hong Kong. The idea of attenuating the democratic process of slowly doling out reforms and waiting for China to accept and acknowledge Hong Kong's loyalty to China, albeit in Hong Kong's own fashion, has been going on for more than 30 years.
Even now the iterative process goes on. Whatever is decided in 2017 will not put Hong Kong's aspirations to preserve and protect its autonomy to rest. Time and again you see parties and organizations and think tanks, such as the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation, wrestling with this iterative process, offering compromise and fresh ideas and notions, but the process is very slow and very dispiriting. This is why you end up having, as a previous witness said, the frustrations, the Occupy movement, this restiveness.
And what you have is a legislature that is only partly democratic. In fact, the people are electing the opposition rather than the government. The legislature, as a result, cannot effectively debate and influence policies put before them by the government.
Furthermore, with the chief executive selected by indirect means and vetted by China, there remains the sense in Hong Kong that there is no one protecting the city's autonomy, no advocate for the city's interest, and no opportunity to influence their own destiny. How, then, are the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the joint declaration to be sustained? And how does Hong Kong maintain its special character apart from China but within China without that advocacy and wisdom coming from within Hong Kong? This is the real dilemma that is faced in Hong Kong today.
This brings me to my second point, which is one on which the previous witness gave a beautiful explanation. The China of today is not the China that negotiated the joint declaration. I'm not here to burnish Deng Xiaoping's image. He was certainly no democrat, but he did not want to inherit a truculent population. He did not want to see the city's resources and sophistication dissipated, so he accepted considerable risks. Most important, he was unafraid of Hong Kong's separateness. It was enough that he had reunited an errant territory to the motherland, and he did not seek to make Hong Kong like any other Chinese city, and that's what's different today. The China of today does not see Hong Kong as Deng saw it. Often it is said that Hong Kong cannot have further democratic development because, first, it might spin out of China's control, and, second, because it would be a vanguard and further the interest in the rest of China for democratic development.
China doesn't have to favour Hong Kong's tycoons any more because it has tycoons of its own. China doesn't have to respect Hong Kong's educational system. It can blend into that system as in the university system. They have Shanghai to rival Hong Kong now, though in many ways Shanghai is not like Hong Kong.
In essence, the China of today, unlike the 1980s and 1990s and immediately after the handover, does want Hong Kong to be more like any other Chinese city, and it is not enthralled with Hong Kong's special character. This is new and it is especially dispiriting to all Hong Kong, not just to democratic activists.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I would make the point that very recently a Chinese official in London argued that the joint declaration is an anachronism that has no utility, and it was relevant to the period prior to handover and has no meaning now.
Allowing that times change, this position is nonetheless untrue and it is sad to hear. It is sadder still that Britain had such a muted reaction to it. The joint declaration is a treaty, signed and ratified by the British Parliament and by the National People's Congress. It is registered as a formal treaty at the United Nations. The sun does not set on the treaty until 2047, and as Deng said, its relevance carries on thereafter.
More to the point, it is a document that affirms China's commitment to Hong Kong's way of life, its values, and its freedoms, and it stipulates Hong Kong's autonomy. If China can vitiate the treaty unilaterally because it is inconvenient or because it wishes to reinterpret its commitments, then what value have treaties and agreements negotiated henceforth? What meaning would a treaty have for the South China Sea or the East China Sea should it ever materialize? What certainty would a trade agreement consummated under the WTO guidelines have if such agreements could be undone when the terms seem onerous or inconvenient to China?
I close by saying I'm pleased that you were here today and the other day exploring these issues, even if they are left over from history. Also, I appreciate that Hong Kong's special consideration, special situation, is considered by all countries like Canada and the United States, which, when asked by Britain and China in 1984, easily and comfortably celebrated the terms of the joint declaration.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for inviting the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation.
I'm a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, so I am particularly pleased to update the standing committee on the latest situation in Hong Kong.
The first point is on the current situation. There's really no good news to report. The proposed 2017 election reform is widely expected to fail. The bill is unlikely to get the two-thirds majority needed. It's really unfortunate that Hong Kong and Beijing cannot come to an agreement. It is unclear, if this proposal is rejected, how long we will have to wait before further reform for universal suffrage can be restarted under the basic law.
This disagreement is not good for Hong Kong. The consequences are that the political uncertainty that has been troubling Hong Kong for more than 30 years will remain unresolved, Occupy Central or street protest in one form or another will continue, and business confidence in Hong Kong will drop. This is not a good outcome for Hong Kong, for China, or for international interests, particularly business interests, in Hong Kong, and the worst case scenario could even be a script for the beginning of the end of Hong Kong.
What the pan-democrats want is fairly simple, straightforward, and easy to explain to a Western mind. They want genuine universal suffrage with no unreasonable restrictions on the nomination and election process, with a particular focus on no unreasonable screening on the nomination. What's being offered with this bill that has been tabled by the government falls short of this expectation. The government's proposal is a big step forward on the election process—one man, one vote—but a big step backward on the nomination process.
There'll be no TV debate for the pan-democrats this time. They wouldn't be nominated under the current proposal. It is widely expected that, once the bill is passed, there will be little room for reform in the future.
The pan-democrats, however, were not very good at communicating their objection. The advocacy of a total rejection of the 8.31, August 31, decision of the Standing Committee of the NPC is perceived as venomous attack and a rejection of China's sovereignty over Hong Kong—this is the perception coming from Beijing. The pan-democrats also made the mistake of not taking the “national security” of Beijing into consideration in their counter-argument.
From my assessment, what the central government in Beijing wants is that they genuinely—but in an ambiguous way—want the chief executive election proposal to pass. But, as the previous speakers mentioned, they will not give up national security concern as framed by the 8.31 NPC SC decision.
From the experience of the 2012 election by an election committee that will become the nomination committee, conservative forces in Beijing also felt that the chief executive candidates, once nominated, could not be controlled, not even in 2012, by Beijing. So the current one person, one vote proposal, which is sort of promoted as universal suffrage, is indeed a big step forward already and ought to be welcomed by people like me with open arms. Such thinking leads to a conclusion that allowing approved candidates to run in a "universal suffrage" election, almost like the Iranian presidential election system, is the maximum risk that the central government seems to be willing to take for now.
As for the strategy used by the pro-establishment camp to get the bill passed, the pro-establishment camp is prepared to influence or even twist public opinion to pocket the proposal. This is the so-called “pocket it first” strategy. The current strategy is to try to steal four or five votes to get it passed in the current form.
Trying to twist public opinion in this way is really an impossible task. The free press in Hong Kong is already publishing public opinion polls that are more intellectually honest.
In private meetings with foreign consul staff, senior constitutional reform officials in Hong Kong also expressed pessimism about getting the bill passed.
If the bill is passed in its current form by a margin of one vote, the result is not going to be any better. Hong Kong will still be in a very bad mood in July. Approximately 40% of the population, particularly the younger generation, will still feel disenfranchised and betrayed. This is why Occupy Central will keep coming back in one form or another.
As for the influence of the Canadian government, unfortunately, the Canadian government can't really help us because any open criticism of the Chinese government will be regarded as bad foreign influence and meddling in the internal affairs of China. Such meddling could even trigger tighter restrictions on the chief executive election nomination process.
At this moment, the only answer is for Hong Kong to come to an agreement with Beijing on its own about building a wide community consensus on a proposal that allows as close to universal suffrage as possible under the 8.31 NPC-SC decision, such as a joint nomination by the nomination committee and the Legislative Council. It makes it 50% approval of the entire list, but such a proposal is not considered by either side.
There is an optimistic note after painting a gloomy picture. I was told by a Canadian once posted in Hong Kong that the Canadian embassy in Beijing sometimes helps the Chinese government interpret what the Americans say to them. I suppose this is happening because the Chinese government finds it useful to get help to interpret the subtle language or cultural difference between the American and the Chinese. I imagine these things happen behind closed doors, and what was said would never be disclosed to the South China Morning Post.
A senior U.S. diplomat who once spoke at the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation—I think Dalena knows this person well—said to us that if Mikhail Gorbachev had a little piece of Hong Kong, the reform and opening of the Soviet Union could have been more successful.
On the situation in Hong Kong, it is still possible—we don't know yet, because nothing is happening yet—that Beijing may be willing to take a little bit more risk and turn the current “one person, one vote” proposal into genuine universal suffrage that conforms to the 8.31 NPC-SC decision. The outcome would be very different for Hong Kong in July, and for China's reform and opening journey just a little bit down the road.
Thank you, Chairman and honourable members.
Let me begin by saying it's a real honour to be giving evidence today.
A quick word about my background. I'm sure many of you have already detected the North American accent. I'm sure some of the more perceptive of you will have detected the southwestern Ontario accent. So yes, I was raised, not born, in Canada. I went to law school there and qualified. My first job was with the Ministry of the Attorney General in the Crown Law Office-Criminal.
I came back to Hong Kong in 2001 and have been an academic at the university for the past 14 years. Although I teach criminal law in evidence, I do most of my research in Hong Kong—the legal system and the political system. I co-authored a book entitled Electing Hong Kong's Chief Executive.
In these next few minutes I want to focus on and talk about the political reform issue in the proper constitutional context. I think that's very important to appreciate because there are very significant differences from other constitutional regimes—Canada's or others'. I think it's very easy to make certain assumptions about our constitutional regime that may be wrong. So I want to try to highlight what those first principles are in our constitutional regime.
As Ms. Wright has mentioned already, the history of democracy in Hong Kong has been very slow and late, but I wanted to focus this time on the executive leader. Because, of course, before 1997 the executive leader was the governor and there was never any opportunity for Hong Kong people to have any kind of input on the selection of the governor. The governor was chosen by the Queen on the recommendation of her ministers, and, hence, when we come to 1997—the 1984 joint declaration and 1990 Basic Law—you see a major change in this respect because for the first time the idea that the Hong Kong people would have some say in the selection of the chief executive became a reality.
Now, it's important to look at the words of the joint declaration. It doesn't refer to universal suffrage, it does refer to the power of the central government to appoint the chief executive of Hong Kong on the basis of either elections or consultations done locally. Then when it talks about the legislature, it talks about it being constituted by elections, and that's it. It doesn't say anything else about what form or shape those elections will take.
Then we come to the Basic Law, which is our constitutional instrument, so that's six years after the joint declaration. It has 160 articles; it's a fairly long document. It implements the joint declaration and does many other things as well in fleshing out the details. Now, here is where we find the first references to universal suffrage, and in this case we're talking about article 45 for the chief executive.
The most important thing to keep in mind is the idea that however Hong Kong selects the chief executive, it's ultimately for the central government to appoint, and the central government has repeatedly said that's a substantive power, that it's not just a rubber stamp. That is a fundamental feature of our constitutional regime. It's not like Canada where people in provinces vote and elect a premier, and there's no confirmation that has to come from the federal government. Here, there is such a confirmation process.
You have to get the central government to appoint that person who has been selected through elections. I think that is a very important reality we're dealing with, because this is how Beijing looks at it: what if you select someone that we don't approve of or we don't trust? There's going to be a problem, so they're not going to appoint that person. Do it again.
That can't just go on forever. It creates instability, and if you look at the terms of the Basic Law, it promises stability, right? That's very important to the Chinese government. Frankly, it's important to anyone. Hence, that's how they are looking at the situation: “We want someone that you elect that we don't have to turn away. How can we ensure that?” So they focus their attention on the nomination process.
Before I come to the current debate, let's just look at the history of the selection of the chief executive. The Basic Law provides for a system of electing the chief executive through a committee. First it was known as a selection committee, consisting of 400 people. That was the committee that put in place the first chief executive. There was a mini-election amongst those 400 people. It's the so-called small circle election that's often criticized about our system.
That committee grew to 800 people next time around in 2002, but there was no election because no one ran against Mr. C.H. Tung. Again it highlighted the problems of that system, but there was a committee made up of 800 people that had a base of maybe about 200,000, so for the first time you had some public involvement in the choice of that person.
Then there was an opportunity to reform that and to make the committee bigger in 2005, but to do that you had to amend the Basic Law. The amendment formula involves a three-step process. You have to get two-thirds of the legislators, consent of the chief executive, and finally the approval of the central government.
In 2005 when the democrats were given a proposal to try to make that committee a bit bigger, a little bit more “democratic”, the democrats rejected it because they had that veto. That was their first sort of attempt to try to amend the Basic Law.
What was surprising was that people thought that was the end of democracy. What was surprising was that in December 2007 it was Beijing pretty much on their own, but probably with some impetus from the then chief executive Donald Tsang, Beijing in a decision said that they could have democracy of the chief executive in 2017. They also said that they had to do that first before the legislature was going to be democratic.
That takes us then to 2007, the first time we had an election. Then 2012 was when we had the second election. Before 2012 there was another opportunity to amend the Basic Law. Of course, circumstances were different because we now know that in 2017 we may have universal suffrage, so democrats were a bit more willing to compromise. Hence, the election committee was expanded to 1,200.
That takes us to now, because the August 31st decision is a decision that sets down three restrictions. It speaks to Beijing's aim to ensure that whoever ultimately is selected is someone who's not going to confront Beijing. They feel the way to do that is to have very a controlled process over nominations. That's where we come into the fundamental problems we see with society and society's expectation to have a much more democratic system, one that adheres to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which, of course, has been implemented in Hong Kong through our bill of rights, and at the same time perhaps not fully understanding the dynamics of what Beijing feels is important when it comes to governance.
That's where we're at. Occupy Central happened and now we're at this, as I think Alan has already explained very clearly, very tragic situation. Both sides are not even talking, not even trying to explore ways in which you can have a more democratic system within the August 31 framework. I'm one of the scholars who have tried many times to propose different ways of maybe having a better balanced system that, on this first attempt, would certainly be an improvement to our existing system and would allow us to move forward. But unfortunately it doesn't look like the two sides have sufficient trust to achieve any kind of progress. That I think is quite unfortunate.
I'll just stop here.
That's a great question.
I'm an optimist on this because already I've seen good quality dialogues happen at UBC, for example. We have students from both, Hong Kong and the mainland, and we have all kinds of diasporas, alumni, and all this. Clearly what Simon and Alan described is that there is even room within the 8.31 agreement. I think everyone here will agree that it's not realistic to expect the NPC to withdraw the 8.31 ruling until at least, I would say, the next party congress in fall 2017, in part because it would put Xi Jinping in a very, very hard position within the party in all this. After 2018, there is maybe hope for a nudge process, but for now that's the constraint. Clearly, there is room, as especially Simon's work has shown, for pushing the boundary of that 8.31 agreement. There's a lack of trust. There is a gap. The two sides in Hong Kong are not getting there.
Yes, I'm an optimist on this. Holding some public forums or nudging local partners and others in Hong Kong, anything that could incubate.... It looks like a place for mediation in the absolute term; then we have to do it the right way. But there must be a better way, as mentioned by Simon, for pushing the boundary.
The other aspect of it, which is something that's in the cart on the Chinese side and the Hong Kong government's side, would be to be very lenient in implementing or running that selection committee. But, of course, on the democrats' side, there's no way to take that as a credible commitment. How can you trust that they will actually...? On the actual selection of the members, yes, there will be 38 constituencies and all that. There is still room for nudging that to make it much more representative, closer to the public. There is room to nudge it, but I think the democrats cannot trust the government to do it. But that's still within the framework as well. Anything that could lead to quality dialogue, to lower a bit the temperature, and really explore all the possibilities to at least make it more comfortable for the 40% of the public and the democrats to support, or to find a way to change that bill and make it supportable....
The alternative, by the way, if we go as we are now, with two trains facing each other, and the bill fails, then in 2017 we would run the old system, which will probably lead to protests in the street and a lot of instability. But China will not budge either. So this is what we're looking at. I still think if we could nudge it a bit, the 2017 package, no matter what—having the one one-man, one-woman vote, having the election actually happen, even if there are only two or three candidates who go through the gauntlet—it would still have a massive impact, a spillover effect, I will call it. It's like when the French did privatization way back when. They did it partially initially, keeping control, right? But even partial privatization changed everything because it brought a whole momentum behind it. So I think that moving with an actual election would still have an enormous positive impact, but it's a matter of finding a way to make it more acceptable.
Thank you. You raise a lot of tricky questions.
Let me just add a few words about the previous question. A book entitled Experiences of China by Percy Cradock explains a great deal about that. Percy Cradock was one of the British advisors in 1984. In his book, he explains that the British agreed that they would not implement a democratic process before 1997. There was an entire secret agreement behind it that was made public when Chris Patten became governor because he broke the promises revealed in Percy Cradock’s book.
In terms of these difficult issues, it is true that it is a dance of a kind. A democratic country like Canada, which sees a lot of issues and human relations at stake, must be able to reaffirm all its values, principles and so on.
For instance, on September 28 of last year, we saw that the police response was not appropriate. That was definitely a baptism of fire for them. The police officers were not properly trained for a situation like that and they made mistakes. In such cases, it is true that a country like Canada can still take a strong stand and reaffirm its values, which still has an impact. It is not a direct intervention, since no one is dictating any course of action, but it does make a difference.
I think that one of Canada’s great qualities is its ability to have a multicultural dialogue and debate. These are very strong qualities, multicultural mediation skills and so on. Canada needs to try to bring those forward. For the impact to be more far-reaching, perhaps we need to promote the win-win aspects all the time. We are aware of the challenges facing Chinese leaders but we are not trying to intervene. On the one hand, we want the reforms, but on the other hand, we want our values. So we continue to believe that it is possible to achieve both by encouraging dialogue.
Furthermore, we need to decide the issue of finding competent, legitimate people supported by the public and also trusted by Beijing. Beijing is not able to square the circle. One of the problems is that Beijing does not have good relations with all the democratic leaders and the new young ones. This is true not only for the more reactionary members, but also for the reformers.
How can these ties be encouraged? Significantly more dialogue is needed, from both sides. As a professor, I see that fewer young people from Hong Kong are now graduating with two degrees, one from China and one from Hong Kong, or trying to be trained in China while still being in Hong Kong. It is important to attempt to build those human relations because, today, the issue is one of trust. Competent people from Hong Kong are not able to reassure Beijing that, despite that competence, they have no desire to be the cause of secession or security problems. At the same time, Beijing cannot bring itself to trust them although the gap is actually very small.
As Simon and Alan said, it is very unlikely that a lawyer or a professional from Hong Kong who is close to the Democratic Party will be a secessionist or will want to threaten the integrity of China. However, he is not able to demonstrate that to China. So China is shutting out people who are not actually a real threat. That is the tragedy of mistrust.