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.