Hong Kong Told ‘Perfect Democracy’ Risks Hurting Business

Hong Kong’s first popular election must safeguard the interests of business groups to protect the city’s economic future, a Chinese legal scholar said, defending a China plan to vet candidates that has spurred protest threats.

A nomination committee, where business groups have representatives, to screen candidates is needed for the “continued development of capitalism,” said Wang Zhenmin, who sat on a Chinese committee that oversees Hong Kong’s constitution. Wang spoke to journalists yesterday at an event facilitated by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ahead of a ruling this Sunday on electoral reforms.

China’s desire to control the election has divided Hong Kong, with opposition lawmakers and activists vowing protests while tycoons, business groups and officials have said rallies will tarnish the city’s reputation as a global financial center. Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man, said this month that the city needs to reconcile its differences and move forward.

“The business community is a reality,” said Wang, who is the dean of Tsinghua University’s law school.“Even it’s a small group of people, but they control the destiny of the economy of Hong Kong. If we just ignore their interest, Hong Kong capitalism will stop.”

Chinese lawmakers meeting in Beijing will vote Aug. 31 on the conduct of the 2017 election. The plan will cap the number of candidates to two or three, require each to have the support of 50 percent of a nominating committee that will be 1,200 strong, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday, citing two people it didn’t identify.

A failure to agree on the election method will mean Hong Kong continues to pick its leader through a committee.

Occupy Central

If the proposal is approved as reported, activist group Occupy Central With Love and Peace will start its protest and escalate step by step, co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting said in a phone interview yesterday. A demonstration will be held at 7 p.m. on Aug. 31 outside the office of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, though the movement won’t start its mass sit-ins at the financial district yet, he said.

The movement has pledged to rally at least 10,000 people to stage sit-ins at the business district if international standards for universal suffrage aren’t met, while more radical student groups have threatened to boycott classes and also take to the streets.

“The electorate should have real choices,” said Emily Lau, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party which plans to join Occupy Central. “Now Beijing selects people for you to choose. This is not meaningful.”

ICAC Probe

Tension among pro-democracy activists was also ratcheted up yesterday when anti-corruption investigators visited the home of Next Media Ltd. Chairman Jimmy Lai, whose donations to opposition lawmakers have become the focus of legislative scrutiny. The Independent Commission Against Corruption also visited the home of Lai’s aide and Labor Party Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan.

The ICAC said it started an investigation after getting complaints that some Legislative Council members took bribes, without identifying anybody. The agency said its probe was undertaken without any political consideration.

Once the ruling from China is announced, the Hong Kong government will hold a public consultation and then submit the final proposal to the city’s legislature. The bill will require two-thirds of the 70-member Legislative Council to support it, meaning the legislation could be vetoed by the 27 members of the pan-democratic camp.

‘Perfect Democracy’

Hong Kong citizens shouldn’t expect to have “perfect democracy in the beginning,” Wang said. “Less perfect universal suffrage is better than no universal suffrage. Leave some room for future growth.”

Wang was speaking yesterday in an attempt by China to allay city-wide concerns over a policy paper issued in June. The white paper said Hong Kong’s autonomy isn’t an inherent power and its leader and court judges must be patriots, prompting an angry reaction from pro-democracy parties, former officials and lawyers.

Wang said in his talk that he was taken aback by the response, saying the white paper was a policy document and not a law.

The English version of the document was translated by language experts rather than legal experts, which has contributed to confusion and led to interpretations that it was a threat to judicial independence, Wang said. The Chinese version is final, he said.

In 2006, Wang sat on the committee that interprets Hong Kong’s Basic Law -- the mini-constitution that was adopted when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The committee reports to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

Wang spoke at an event entitled “Beijing Experts’ View: The White Paper and Elections in Hong Kong,” hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. The FCC said that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made possible the event, at which Mo Jihong, deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Law, also spoke.