Joseph Lian Yi-zheng, a veteran commentator whose long-term column at a prominent newspaper was cancelled recently, said any further political reform the government proposes will be a “fraud,” and politicians should focus on securing Hong Kong’s freedom under China’s tightening grip.

“There is the August 31 decision – [reform] is wasting your time and resources on something that will not bear any result,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. The August 31 decision in 2014 stated that Chief Executive candidates must be vetted by a nomination committee which is largely controlled by Beijing.

“Political reform is dead. From today until 2047, activists should not urge political reform, but democracy in other aspects,” he added.

Joseph Lian Yi-zheng
Joseph Lian Yi-zheng. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

CPC infiltration

Lian said one way for the Chinese government to stall Hong Kong’s democratic process, other than through political reform, is to place “red figures” into all sectors.

“Universities, secondary schools, financial institutions, the business sector, the work is watertight… who would challenge that [infiltration]?” If political parties waste their time on useless political reform, then infiltration by the Communist Party could easily be done, Lian said.

Lian’s column at the Hong Kong Economic Journal (HKEJ) was suddenly cancelled at the end of July, with the Journal citing page restructuring. His column, often discussing Hong Kong’s political and economic status, was one of the paper’s flagship columns and was highly praised by readers.

He said that the reason for the cut was likely due to his second last column, which discussed the “jurisprudential independence of Hong Kong.”

“Chinese leaders might be a bit worried hearing the word independence, so they did not want me to continue to write about it,” he said.

He added that the pressure may not have come from the Hong Kong government, as his column was replaced by one written by former Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing, who reportedly did not have a good relationship with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal. Photo: Stand News
The Hong Kong Economic Journal. Photo: Stand News

The “jurisprudential independence of Hong Kong,” according to Lian, means advocating independence under the current legal framework. In other words, it means that independence could be achieved by amending the Basic Law, and that it is not illegal to do so. The concept references an idea originating from Taiwan.

‘Choose violence or back down’

Lian also proposed another idea borrowed from Taiwan in his column – forcing the regime to use violence on protesters.

But Lian said he was not encouraging the public to use violence, only that protesters should pressure those in power by forcing them to either choose violence or back down from suppression.

“If they use violence, then they lose their legitimacy, planting the seeds for their destruction,” he said.

Lian was the editor-in-chief of the HKEJ between 1996 and 1998, and chief editorial writer between 2007 and 2010. He said that during those periods, the Chinese Foreign Ministry commissioner office in Hong Kong and the China Liaison Office tried to influence him, but they were not successful.

Lian was a full time consultant for the government’s Central Policy Unit between 1998 and 2004, a body responsible for advising the Chief Executive. He was dismissed from his post after reportedly falling out with the administration and participating in street demonstrations against then-leader Tung Chee-hwa.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.