Every July first in Hong Kong is demonstration day, essentially, for a more democratic and accountable system and that translates, on the ground, as everybody and their uncle Chan flowering into protests of all stamps and hues. It’s great. It’s a institution.
It is recalled that Sunday’s demonstration was the largest since that of 2003, which was touted as indirectly causing Beijing to replace the first Beijing-backed chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa.
There was an overriding theme this year, or better put overriding issue, the new chief executive. Poor chap – in all except money that is as he is yet another millionaire on a fab salary extolling the mantra, “For whoever hath, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not hath, even what he hath shall be taken away” – no one seems to have a good word for him!
However, he’s the man; Leung Chun-ying, for better or for worse. The fact he gave his acceptance speech before president Hu Jintao in Mandarin and not the first language of Hong Kong, Cantonese, became another mark down. It would have meant so much to so many if the fellow had used the vernacular. It would have also showed a practical wisdom on the part of Beijing to have expected and even suggested that linguistic stance.
Hearing the views of the standard pro-democracy activists as aired in the media post- or during the demo, any observer would imagine this place was falling apart and being mis-managed. That’s far from how it is. Really, Hong Kong is in very good shape, with money leaping out the windows, a low unemployment rate, accessible healthcare and a majority of the people more than getting by.
The dissent in Hong Kong is almost an industry. There is a entertainingly excessive band of legislative councillors that on a daily basis bring a lot of excitement to the news. Their concerns are valid and it’s their job to highlight the problems but one might think there would be some let up. No. At every turn it’s into the fray my friends… once again into the fray.
Mr. Leung’s swearing-in ceremony was disrupted as one of the 2,300 guests began shouting during Mr. Hu’s speech, demanding the end to one-party rule in mainland China and to remember June 4, referring to the military crackdown in 1989 at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The general wish of many Hong Kongers is a re-classification of that incident out of its present treasonable status.
Maybe it’s an Asian thing because Taiwan parliament has people diving off desks into battling throngs of legislators; and very recently, the South Korean parliamentarians were slinging uppercuts and showing how long a good head-hold can last. Television loves all this.
These are scenes not originating in places like Beijing or Pyongyang to date but maybe it will be a telling sign when they are – an indicator of ‘democracy rules’. The staid formal proceedings of the government-level ceremony with the China president and Hong Kong’s line up of chief executives past and present was remarkably sober by comparison. No joy and spontaneity there. And my, didn’t Hu Jintao make a quick exit after the ceremonials, and before the demos started… it was like the appearance of the oranges at a Chinese wedding – zoom, out the door!
The happiness on the street though was palpable and there was abundant comradeship and mutual cheer at that level, just that a television camera seemed to trigger some auto-response that demanded the protester display a livid rage, which dissipated when the shutter clicked back into passive mode.
Are there serious problems? Yes. Are they being tackled? No. But everywhere is like that, except maybe Bolivia.
There is a widening rich-poor gap – so government gave a universal handout of $6,000 and everyone loved it.
Despite the much talked about environmental interest the brand new legislative council building had not one single environmentally friendly feature – it’s a tall glass-encased block of steel and concrete that has to be cooled with air-cons because of the intensity of the sun on its windows.
Regarding security, it is not within the democratic mandate of police to use industrial strength pepper spray against demonstrators. It’s re-inventor, Kamran Loghman, says this chemical agent was never intended for that purpose and he thinks police everywhere are abusing the invention.
Something new that will discomfit Beijing officials was the participation of hundreds of mainland Chinese who carried banners denouncing the confiscation of their farms for government-backed real estate projects in communities near Hong Kong!
But, there is at least one essential difference today from 15 years ago – people want to stay here, Hong Kong is no longer a transit lounge. This is a recent phenomenon. This brings a different quality to the demands from street level. Our activists mean it. The people mean it. And of all the places on this little planet today Hong Kong can likely meet the demands.
It has a well stacked coffer, the infrastructure is working, it enjoys a central placement in Asia for the China trade, it has well established trading mechanisms, there are flocks of business types all dead keen of making a million and a lively populace as evident on the streets of this past Sunday.
So, onlookers abroad, don’t fret at the plight-apparent as shown on your screens and bear in mind television is an adjunct to life and not a point of direct access. At dim sum – yam cha this morning of the day after, it was the usual noise and banter in the boisterous style of the Cantonese. Life goes on in Hong Kong. Welcome to the helm Mr Leung, and fair weather for the voyage.