Since the National People’s Congress decided in 2007 to allow Hong Kong’s chief executive to be elected via universal suffrage in 2017, pro-democracy camps in the SAR have been excitedly debating how the process will work.
“Supporting the strengthening of democratic institutions is at the core of Britain’s foreign policy”, he stated in a South China Morning Post article, professing his belief in democracy as a “universal right”.
Despite ruling Hong Kong from 1840 to 1997, the British never opted to introduce universal suffrage to the colony. Although it was seriously debated after world war two, the city’s governor at the time (1947-1958), Alexander Grantham, pushed the British Cabinet to abandon the plan. Steve Tsang, of Nottingham University (UK), describes this period in history as “democracy shelved”.
“Universal suffrage” was not guaranteed until the Sino-British 1997 handover was formalised, with it being stated as an “ultimate aim” in Article 45 of The Basic Law.
With the recent adoption of the old British colonial flag as a symbol of protest at marches and rallies in the city, Swire may well feel that Britain still has a role to play in Hong Kong’s political development. Indeed, as a cousin of the Swire Hong Kong trading dynasty, Swire should know the SAR’s colonial history better than most.
However, this should not be interpreted as a desire to return to colonial rule. As Avery Ng of the League of Social Democrats party recalls, “during colonial times, there was no freedom and our rights were denied”
Ultimately, while Swire will feel that the UK is in some way obliged by the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984 to support political reform “in any way”, he should also bear in mind the UK’s historical legacy. Without this, he and others will be at constant risk of being accused of taking an unjustified moral high ground.
- Politics, cost of living push Hong Kong residents overseas (chinadailymail.com)
- British minister says democracy “vital to Hong Kong stability” (channelnewsasia.com)
- Cruse and Associates, Democracy ‘vital to Hong Kong stability’, says British minister (jenniferlewis05.wordpress.com)
- British minister says democracy ‘vital to Hong Kong’s stability’ (straitstimes.com)
- Hong Kong Leader Rejects Foreign Help for 2017 Election Reform – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Britain ‘not relevant’ in political reform: Hong Kong chief (nst.com.my)
- Speech: Voting, democracy and the future of Hong Kong (gov.uk)
- Britain “not relevant” in political reform: Hong Kong chief (straitstimes.com)
- Beijing backs off letting H.K. choose next leader (japantimes.co.jp)
- In English Video. Taiwan and Hong Kong. Occupy Central with Love and Peace, True Democracy, universal suffrage (humanrightchild.wordpress.com)