Why Hong Kong Took to the Streets
Steve Tsang (Director, Asian Studies Centre, Oxford University)
(This article originally appeared in the July 5, 2003 issue of South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and is reproduced here with permission from the publisher)
Tung Chee-hwa's administration sees Tuesday's massive demonstration as a misguided move by Hongkongers against Article 23, which they do not really understand. The government will not listen to the messages of the marchers, though it could not have failed to hear them.
Mr Tung does not listen because the undemocratic basis of Legco will enable him to steamroll his way through the procedures and to enact the anti-subversion law he so cherishes. He can even rest assured that the political tension between former president Jiang Zemin and President Hu Jintao means that the top leadership in Beijing will not move quickly to express a view over the failure of his administration.
The people of Hong Kong do not have the option of casting a confidence vote that could require Mr Tung to leave office. But that huge demonstration was as much a vote of no-confidence, registered by the feet of the marchers, as it was a reflection of revulsion felt for the planned legislation.
The people of Hong Kong made history on Tuesday by showing they were willing to march for what they believe in and for demanding a future for their children. Many of the marchers took their families, including babies. They wanted to give their children a lesson in civic responsibility as they asserted the values that made Hong Kong what it is.
Who should take credit for persuading 500,000 ordinary people of Hong Kong to march? Forget the usual suspects or the formal organisers. Those who must take credit are none other than Mr Tung and his administration.
Much as the legislation to implement Article 23 provokes negative feelings among most people of Hong Kong, I doubt many have actually read the draft legislation carefully and fully understand all the provisions. Rather, people marched because Mr Tung's administration has handled the matter in such a way that they believe this legislation will restrict their freedom and harm their rights as individuals. Why have Mr Tung and his lieutenants failed to persuade the 500,000 marchers of something as elementary as why it is in Hong Kong's interest to pass this new law by July 9? What really motivated most marchers is the steady erosion of what Hong Kong represented when it became a special administrative region in 1997. They marched because they could not resist the urge to voice their concern over how administrative mishaps piled up one after the other under Mr Tung. They have simply lost faith in the government. They took to the streets because Mr Tung consistently fails to learn from mistakes and does not listen.
Half a million marched to send one message to Mr Tung. That is, to ask him to step down or reinvent himself, for which the first step is to backtrack from trying to steamroll through the Article 23 legislation.
In sending this message, the marchers have done themselves and their fellow citizens of Hong Kong proud. What has any government to fear from a people that behaves responsibly even when it has no option but to air its anger by marching in such numbers in sweltering heat? Can Mr Tung still not see that it is his obsession with pushing through this anti-subversion law that has finally brought a usually politically apathetic people to take mass action to express its desire to change government?