Beijing must have been seriously embarrassed with the resounding defeat of its proposal for “political reforms” in Hong Kong on June 18. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee in Beijing made a decision on August 31, 2014 for Hong Kong to choose its next chief executive in 2017 through direct elections. The proposal eventually put before Hong Kong’s Legislative Council or LegCo was all but identical to the NPCSC decision, to the dismay of pro-democrats.
With a total of 70 members, LegCo currently contains 43 pro-Beijing members and 27 pan-democrats. Since a two-thirds majority was required for the proposal to pass, Beijing needed to gather at least another four favorable votes. Immediately before the critical voting on June 18, however, a total of 32 pro-Beijing legislators walked out of the chamber, leaving the whole matter to the hands of 37 legislators, including all 27 pan-democrats. This awkward situation showed both the failure of Beijing’s united front work to convert pro-democracy legislators and its failure to coordinate pro-Beijing legislators.
In stark contrast to the disarray by the pro-Beijing camp, all 27 pro-democracy legislators acted in unison and all voted against the proposal, which they denounced as offering “fake democracy.” It is more surprising that a pro-Beijing legislator also joined them in the unfavorable vote. Dr. Leung Ka-lau, the representative of the Hong Kong Medical Association who is supposed to be a pro-Beijing legislator, chose to stay and voted against the proposal.
The most intriguing part of the story is that eight pro-Beijing legislators remained in the chamber and voted in favor of the proposal. They could have very well walked out along with their 32 colleagues, but they decided to show their strong support for Beijing by registering their loyalty. Possibly inadvertently, they have in fact rendered support for the opponents of the proposal. According to LegCo rules, the voting would be invalid had there been less than 50 percent of legislators (i.e. 35) present.
In other words, their presence made the unfavorable vote legitimate. Had all eight of them left the chamber along with their pro-Beijing colleagues, the LegCo would have to come back for voting because of the lack of a quorum. This raises the intriguing possibility that those who stayed and voted “yes” actually sympathized with the pan-democrats – it was their strategy to legitimize negative results without actually casting a “no” vote.
By the same token, some have questioned the support of the lawmakers who left. In the aftermath of the proposal’s defeat, several pro-Beijing legislators openly expressed their regret for having missed the opportunity to cast a favorable vote for the proposal. Yet their critics have their doubts about the sincerity of these absentee Beijing supporters. In their view, these supporters are as fake as the proposal. They said “yes” publicly but voted “no” with their feet. Apparently, Beijing has lost its grip on LegCo.
It is not clear what Beijing can do to reverse the situation in Hong Kong. Enthusiastically patriotic toward the motherland merely seven years earlier, when Beijing was preparing for its first Summer Olympics, Hongkongers no longer have confidence in the national government in Beijing to do right things for them.
The question in the long run is whether Beijing will be in a danger of losing Hong Kong. Instead of making Taiwan more like Hong Kong, is it possible that Hong Kong will be made more like Taiwan? In that scenario, the policy of “one country, two systems,” which is a dream for the mainland and Taiwan, would also become merely a dream for the mainland and Hong Kong.