So-called Consultation

The Hong Kong government’s upcoming “consultation” exercise to me is reminiscent of some so-called consultations conducted by the British government.  From Stephen Vines’ “Hong Kong: China’s New Colony” (1998):

When I arrived in Hong Kong at the beginning of 1987 debate about the creation of representative government was very much a live issue. China had made it clear that even the modest reforms implemented in 1985 were a bit much, and the Foreign Office in London was busy applying the brakes to any further development. Meanwhile, public opinion, as expressed in every single opinion poll, in numerous radio phone-ins and practically everywhere else, was overwhelmingly in favour of reform.

As a newcomer to the colony I was hustled into briefings where senior civil servants patronisingly told me that I understood nothing about Hong Kong if I seriously believed that the man in the street cared a fig about politics. All Hong Kong people wanted, I was assured, was firm and clean government. They were scared of getting involved in a political process which would take them to the abyss of uncertainty.

The chief propagandist of this line was Sir David Ford, the Chief Secretary, who had served in Northern Ireland during the ‘Troubles’ as one of the architects of the black propaganda campaign against the nationalist community. He was a master of the subtle hint, the planted story and the orchestration of a viewpoint. In 1987 the line pushed by Sir David was that there was everything to play for in the democracy stakes and no one should rush to judgement on the outcome because a review of the development of representative government was to be undertaken at the end of the year. As promised, another Green Paper was published. This time all mention of greater democracy had disappeared.

What followed the publication of the Green Paper was breathtaking in its audacity. Once again, as for the Joint Declaration, an office was established to collect public views. This time professionals were called in: AGB McNair, a market research and polling company. On government instructions, the polling company drew up a horrendously complex questionnaire giving the public four main options and six sub-options. None of these gave those questioned an opportunity to answer the straightforward question: Are you in favour of direct elections for the legislature in 1988? Every other polling organisation in the territory managed to do this and found that the majority was in the affirmative.

Sir David, who had devised this strategy of obfuscating, was delighted with the outcome. AGB McNair reported that the bulk of the public were confused and that only 12-15 percent of those surveyed could be said to be in favour of direct elections.

The new SAR government would, in 2007, issue a Green Paper of its own.  Obviously, whatever consultation was done then once again hasn’t really brought any true reform.

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