An Interview with Professor Sonny Lo: Political Reflections in Hong Kong
BY DR. JEAN-PAUL GAGNON | MARCH 01, 2012
Jean-Paul Gagnon: What do you see as Hong Kong’s democracy future?
Professor Sonny Lo: HK’s democratic future depends on two main factors: China’s internal democratic changes and Hong Kong’s push for democratization. At the moment, the push for internal democratization in Hong Kong has pitted the pan-democratic forces against the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). On the other hand, Beijing as the central government is reluctant to see a Western-style democratic Hong Kong which will be vulnerable to Western influences and become a means through which foreign powers like the United States seek to democratize the mainland. As such, democratization in Hong Kong is now touching upon the bottom line of the central government in Beijing, which remains a largely paternalistic regime although it has become more politically liberalized and pluralistic than ever before. It is very likely that Hong Kong’s democratic changes will proceed gradually and at a snail pace, if we use the yardstick of measurement from the viewpoint of Western-style democracies where there are rotations of parties in power and competitive struggle among political leaders for people’s votes. Yet, Hong Kong remains the most politically pluralistic society in the PRC as many of its citizens are not only pro-democracy in terms of supporting the direct elections of both the Chief Executive and the entire Legislative Council, but also assertive in making their demands known and criticisms heard. Hong Kong also enjoys a relatively high degree of civil liberties, the rule of law and by and large clean government under the supervision of a respectable anti-corruption agency. Hence, Hong Kong is having a large degree of horizontal accountability, although not vertical accountability in terms of competitive struggle among political leaders for people’s votes, not to mention the possibility of rotation of party in power. However, it must be said that democratization in Hong Kong, and the corresponding resistance from Beijing, illustrate a clash of two political cultures and civilizations, the more Western civilization held by many Hong Kong people and the more Chinese civilization in the psyche of the PRC leaders. As long as the PRC is ruled by a Leninist-style Chinese Communist Party, democratic changes in Hong Kong are bound to be seen as politically dangerous, socially unstable, economically detrimental to the interests of the coopted pro-Beijing business class, and territorially entailing cross-border impacts on mainland China.
JPG: Is organized crime a significant obstacle to realizing these democratic goals in HK?
SL: Organized crime does not constitute any obstacle to the realization of democratic goals in Hong Kong. Arguably, some elements of the organized crime even participated in the rescue operations of the student democrats in mainland China shortly after the Tiananmen incident on June 4, 1989. Hence. organized crime in Hong Kong has been displaying multiple political orientations. On the one hand, it has remained a patriotic force rescuing mainland student democrats from a humanitarian perspective. On the other hand, it has remained an economic interest group trying to enrich its own profits by both legal and illegal means. The leaders of organized crime groups in Hong Kong are also the targets of suppression and cooptation by the PRC authorities. Politically, organized crime has not yet evolved into a political interest group keen to topple any regime in power, in both the mainland and Hong Kong, unlike the triads in the Qing dynasty as they were upholding the banner of overthrowing the Qing dynasty and restoring the Ming dynasty. The PRC government sees organized crime as harmful to its national security interests, and therefore its elements have to be controlled and suppressed. Any attempt by organized crime groups to turn into political interest groups is disallowed, albeit in practice they are economic interest groups thriving in the midst of a whole range of legitimate and illegitimate businesses.
* Dr. Jean-Paul Gagnon is a social and political the-orist with a Ph.D. in political science. He completed his doctorate at the Queensland University of Tech-nology under the aegis of Australia’s prestigious En-deavour Award.
** Professor Sonny Lo is the Associate Dean (Research & Postgraduate Studies) of Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Head and Professor at the Depart-ment of Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Before joining HKIEd, he had worked at the University of Waterloo in Canada, The University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Murdoch University, Lingnan Col-lege (now Lingnan University), and the University of East Asia (Macau).