Hong Kong people can't just wait around for democracy; they must act

By Martin Lee

My story begins with the appearance of the pro-democracy legislators on the balcony of the former Legislative Council building at midnight on June 30, 1997. We said something very simple: "We shall return." We knew we would be thrown out of the Legislative Council by what was called the
Martin Lee
Provisional Legislative Council. As it was a provisional council, members did not have to be elected.
Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law say that the ultimate aim is the election of the chief executive and all members of Legco by universal suffrage. The Law's annex effectively said that, by the 10th year, Hong Kong could - unfortunately, not must - have genuine democracy.

I was very angry that night, but we did return. I asked why we had to wait 10 years; are we not ready? Doubters should look at any nation or territory with democratic institutions to compare their conditions when they started out with those of Hong Kong in 1997. Hong Kong was more ready, so why should we have to wait?
But, as I look towards the future, I can't even tell you when we will have democracy. I don't think anyone in Hong Kong knows. Maybe the leaders in Beijing know. I believe they may have a date in mind.
One person, one vote, according to international standards, will come when leaders in Beijing are assured that Hong Kong people will elect whomever Beijing wants to be the chief executive and Hong Kong people vote for the pro-Beijing parties to form the majority in Legco. When they are assured that Hong Kong people are ready to elect their "puppets", they will let Hong Kong people have "genuine democracy".
That day may never come because Hong Kong people treasure their core values and the pillars that keep our systems going. The core values are obstacles to Beijing, as it wants to control Hong Kong just as they control the mainland. It wants to see the core values - press freedom, for example - go. Without press freedom, the government will have better support. People won't know the "funny things" the government has been doing.
Getting rid of the core values will be a problem. I have always said that unless we can export our rule of law to mainland China, they will export their corruption to Hong Kong. This is happening. There are allegations that our last ICAC commissioner used government money to fund his own dinners with friends from Beijing or provincial governments of China. The legislator who reported it to the Independent Commission Against Corruption should have reported it to the police.
What are we going to do? In the past, Hong Kong people, including me, had been happy to wait. Ten years after 1997 came and went. Nothing happened because Beijing was worried about July 1, 2003, when half a million took to the streets to protest against Article 23. If the bill had been passed in its original form, it would have impinged on our freedom of religion, of the press and of association.
In June that year, I received a letter from Condoleezza Rice, then the US national security adviser, who thanked me for bringing to her attention the debate in Hong Kong. The letter said the US government was against the passage of the law and called on the SAR government to establish democracy as soon as possible. A few days later, a press release from the White House contained word for word what was said to me in the letter.
A number of foreign governments followed suit, calling on the SAR government to introduce democracy. But it was the US government and not the British government, the contractual party of the Joint Declaration, that made the first move. Why should other governments get involved? In 1984, many governments supported the Joint Declaration as they saw the possibility that Hong Kong could function under the principle of "one country, two systems", and Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy. If these governments still support the Joint Declaration, can they really sit quietly and watch Beijing break its promise towards Hong Kong?
Ten years after 1997 have gone by, and now the promise of 2017 is being postponed again. Promises were not just made to the people of Hong Kong, but to the international community as well. If a government were allowed to break an international obligation in relation to Britain, one would be encouraging the same country to break other treaties.
I say to all governments who supported and still support "one country, two systems", they owe Hong Kong people a moral obligation to support Hong Kong's fight for democracy.
We are not asking for anything that has not been promised. We are not asking for new things. We are asking for promises to be kept. If the free world were to allow the Chinese government to break those promises, the Joint Declaration would become a litany of broken promises. And then it may become a big lie.
The people of Hong Kong now realise that the days of waiting for democracy to descend upon us are over. They must do something about it, otherwise that day will never come. Will it come in my lifetime? Why must I see democracy before I close my eyes and go to heaven? I want to make sure democracy will arrive.
In the short term, I am pessimistic as democracy is being redefined. One person, one vote may be allowed, but the nomination process will be controlled through a committee that will only nominate two or three "puppets" selected by Beijing. More than half of the population, who have voted for pro-democracy candidates [in the past], will be shut out. That is equal to disenfranchising the majority of the people of Hong Kong.
In the longer term, I am optimistic as the whole world is marching towards democracy and the rule of law. Even if China were to be the last to get there, it will still get there. I also hope that the international community will at least honour their moral obligation to Hong Kong.

NOTE— Martin Lee is the founding chairman of the Democratic Party. This is an edited version of a speech he made at a luncheon organised by the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation on March 25


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