(Bloomberg) – Chinese lawmakers are expected to approve a review of Hong Kong’s electoral system during the annual session of the National People’s Congress this week in Beijing.
The Communist Party has repeatedly called on “patriots” to rule the territory after the sometimes violent pro-democracy protests that began in 2019. The imposition of a new national security law last year raised questions about what activists can say without throwing them in jail.
Herman Hu, a delegate representing Hong Kong, whose father was born in Shanghai and once founded a political party, spoke to Bloomberg News about the proposed changes. He is the head of Ryoden Development Ltd., which develops and invests in real estate, and is also the vice president of the Hong Kong chapter of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce.
The interview is arranged for brevity and clarity:
Q: Why do you think Beijing feels the need to change the election in Hong Kong?
A: It is mainly due to the social unrest and turmoil in Hong Kong last year. There is a high degree of social unrest. Many people have evidence that foreign forces are funding them to try to influence policy-making in Hong Kong, and some people have even tried to have Hong Kong independence. So this is a very serious matter.
Although the central government passed a national security law for Hong Kong last July, but we must make sure that policymakers in Hong Kong are completely patriotic and loyal to the country and race of the Chinese.
Q: What do you mean by “real people”?
A: Number one is that there is a global recognition of patriotism. But of course on the other hand, we can also determine whether a person is patriotic or not by his previous, you know, actions or statements he made publicly.
Q: Is there a specific document or organization to refer to in this regard?
A: I think most countries – whatever it is United States, Great Britain, France, Germany – they have it all written in their constitutions, specifying that the people who run the country must be patriots. I think there is some kind of global norm that does not harm the benefits of one’s own country or act against interests [one’s] their country.
Q: But these countries have universal suffrage or are democracies. Hong Kong does not have universal suffrage. Is it a comparison between apples and apples?
A: Universal suffrage is an appropriate phrase. But not all the countries I mentioned earlier have the right to a universal suffrage. For example, the U.S. is an indirect election and many people are debating whether it is really a universal suffrage.
Universal suffrage has many criteria and, depending on the heritage, culture, as well as the level of education of the voters of their constituents – that they are capable of making the right choice.
‘Both sides of the coin’
Q: Do you think the people of Hong Kong are not capable of making the right choice?
A. Not the people of Hong Kong. But I believe that the entire system in Hong Kong does not give Hong Kong people the right amount of information to make objective decisions.
Q: What element of the media environment in Hong Kong that you think doesn’t give people the right information?
A: Unbalanced views are expressed. Or balanced enough. Sometimes you have to talk about both sides of the coin.
Q: Do you think it is or will be illegal for Hong Kongers to criticize the Communist Party. Will it be tolerated?
A: The answer is yes, it is bearable. This is in Article 27 of the Basic Law. It guarantees nine types of freedom for the people of Hong Kong, including freedom of speech, without any qualifications, freedom of demonstration, freedom of strike, freedom of prayer and the like. And that will not change.
Q: And yet, many demonstrators were arrested. How do you reconcile these two things: There is freedom of protest, but we have a lot of young people and protesters facing charges?
A: As far as I understand, these people were not arrested on the basis of protests or demonstrations. But they showed a clear sense that, as one, they were attacking Hong Kong’s independence, which is not allowed. And number two, the struggle to control the Legislative Council – and the control of the Legislative Council aims to deter the work of the Hong Kong government. This is not in Hong Kong’s interest.
Q: So, just to clarify: Is it not illegal, then, to criticize the Communist Party for Hong Kong?
A: No problem. No problem.
Q: If it is not illegal, can that person run for an office in Hong Kong? If that person expressed criticism of the Communist Party, will that person still be able to run or will it be considered unpatriotic?
A: I cannot answer this question because I am not a lawyer. You know, there’s a fine line around that. In the Chinese constitution, the People’s Republic of China is governed by the Communist Party, CCP. So, it is legal to criticize it, but whether it would be unpatriotic or unconstitutional – I think you have to have a lawyer who will explain it to you.
Q: Should that lawyer be a land lawyer or a Hong Kong lawyer?
A: I would say that even a Hong Kong lawyer can do that because this is the Basic Law.
Q: What do electoral changes mean especially to the Hong Kong business community?
A: This is a good thing for Hong Kong because we I hope so to know that through this exercise he can establish order and order number one in Hong Kong, and number two is the stability of livelihoods of the people of Hong Kong. And that would create a better business environment – fewer arguments, less turmoil.
As for the business community, I think I can speak on their behalf and welcome this idea. Stability is what we want.