China’s sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s political system have majority support in the city, according to the co-founder of Hong Kong’s newest political party who says the overhaul will benefit newcomers like his own Bauhinia Party.
Business executive Charles Wong, in an interview with HKFP, also denied his party is geared towards mainland-born residents of the city and said it aims to tackle longstanding housing and other problems facing Hongkongers.
The pro-Beijing party is the creation of three mainland-born businessmen.
Wong, who chairs the CMMB Vision Holdings investment company which is involved in the provision of media and transmission services, co-founded it along with Sichuan-born banker Li Shan and the chairperson of Bonjour Holdings Clement Chen last May.
The party’s existence came to light earlier than the founders had than planned, in media reports last December.
While the background of the founders sparked speculation that the party represents overseas returnees from the mainland, Wong rejected the idea and said it is open to people from all backgrounds across the political spectrum.
“The common thread among them [our members], essentially is they have been living in Hong Kong for a long, long time, and they all love Hong Kong, and they have made great contributions to Hong Kong,” he said.
Wong said the party was created as a response to the political turbulence and social unrest which broke out in 2019, after Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced plans for an extradition bill that would allow fugitives to be sent to mainland China.
The city saw mass protests and rallies that often turned into violent clashes between protesters and the police. While the government eventually withdrew the extradition bill, Beijing last June imposed a national security law which criminalises secession, subversion, collusion with foreign powers, and broadly defined terrorist acts.
“As stakeholders of Hong Kong, we feel that we have to stand up for Hong Kong and take some responsibility for rebuilding Hong Kong,” Wong said, adding he hopes his party can win support from “different strata in society to become a political force.”
Ultimately, Wong says he would like to secure another 50 years of the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement for Hong Kong, which is due to end in 2047. “We want to defend ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and also the core values of Hong Kong, which are freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.”
The party’s objectives and the key to Hong Kong’s stability and long term prosperity lie in ensuring the success of the city’s economy, integrating Hong Kong into the Greater Bay Area, and guaranteeing its “international role for the East and West.”
The Bauhinia Party also sought to solve longstanding housing and economic problems, which Wong said would help satisfy some Hongkongers’ calls for political reform.
“The underlying economic issues do contribute to a great deal of [the political unrest],” he said. “Solving the economic issue, I think will solve a lot of the political problems. Why? Because development, in itself, solves the problem.”
The electoral changes decreed by China’s parliament, among other things will shrink the number of directly elected seats in the Legislative Council to 20 out of a total of 90, compared to 35 out of 70 seats in the current legislature. Other changes, according to local and overseas critics, will entrench the power of Beijing’s allies and make it impossible for any pan-democrat even to secure nomination.
But Wong said it would be a “misnomer” to assert that Hong Kong does not enjoy democracy.
“We already have the universal suffrage enshrined in the “One Country, Two Systems,” in the Basic Law, so the next step is really how to figure out how we can actually achieve it for everybody,” he said. “What is already prescribed for Hong Kong is already quite democratic in any measure.”
“Democracy is a process, it’s a means, not an end,” said Wong, who is turning 56 this year, was born in neighbouring Guangdong province and had lived in the United States for 12 years. He said he measures democracy by a government’s ability to provide its people with a satisfactory life.
“At the end of the day, the deliver[y] of democracy is what you deliver to the people: the satisfaction level, the prosperity, the harmony, the stability [of] people,” he added. “I think that counts above anything else.”
Asked about the hundreds of thousands of people who took part in anti-extradition protests in 2019, and who called among other things for universal suffrage, Wong questioned their definition of democracy.
“Sure, of course they count, but don’t we count?” he asked.
“When you have a minority of people saying that ‘I want universal suffrage,’ first of all, it doesn’t represent the majority, it doesn’t represent me,” he said. “And second, it’s just [a] slogan, how do I know what they mean?”
“I think we should be more critical in analysing a lot of things that the people say, and not just simply jump on the slogan and label. ‘Universal suffrage,’ ‘democracy,’ therefore somehow they have the righteous or the moral ground? No, in most of the cases, actually it’s quite to the contrary.”
Wong said it was unfair to label the electoral changes, which have been widely criticised overseas, as an example of Beijing tightening control over Hong Kong.
“I think the label, the very word ‘China control,’ is already discriminating,” he said. “I wouldn’t say this is what China wants, I would say this is what the majority of Hong Kong people want.”
He said the changes would make room for “new kids on the block” like the Bauhinia Party and expand the democratic base. “More people representing is always better than less people.”
Rumours abound that the aim of the Bauhinia Party is to supplant, with China’s blessing, the existing pro-establishment camp. However, Wong said they have “very fluid communications with nearly all parties” in LegCo.
“We’re here because we see the dysfunction of society, we see the division in society, that’s why we come out and try to really call on people to be unified,” he said.
“Maybe I would borrow the phrase from President John Kennedy: not to ask what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country.”