Hong Kong protests and demonstrations

HK’s way forward ‘tied to one country, two systems’

I refer to the 19 Sept 2014 Straits Times report of PM Lee’s comments on Hong Kong demonstrations.

Singapore of all nations should be the first and foremost to empathize and approve of Hong Kong demonstrations. Singapore’s road to independence was similarly paved with protests and demonstrations. Like the present Hong Kong demonstrations, students played an important role in our drive towards greater self-determination. The fact that Singapore pioneers were under British rule didn’t prevent them from wanting more say in how their country was being run. Similarly, the fact that Hong Kong people are under Chinese rule or one-country-two-systems should not prevent Hong Kong people from wanting more say in how their country is being run. Without the pain and struggles of our Singapore pioneers, Singapore would not have achieved the self-determination it enjoys today. Similarly, without the pain and struggles of the Hong Kong people today, Hong Kong will not enjoy the greater self-determination that it seeks.

To defuse hostile sentiments against colonial rule, the colonial government in Singapore had agreed to accept the reformation of the local constitutions in 1954, granting Singapore greater internal self-government. Elections held under this constitution in 1955 eventually paved the way for a local government to be formed.
[Singapore in Global History, Derek Thiam Soon Heng and Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, page 220]

… history has played a tragic joke on the Chinese-educated. They had fought against the discriminating policies of the British colonial rulers and yet their sufferings had deepened considerably after the attainment of independence because the status of the Chinese language had sunk even lower and there were greater obstructions in career advancement under the PAP regime.
[The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts, Lysa Hong and Huang Jianli, page 153]

• Singapore’s anti-colonial movement was largely organised by Chinese-educated leaders from the Chinese middle schools [page 173]
• This (anti-colonial) movement was led largely by Chinese-educated leaders enjoying popular Chinese support [page 248]
• The citizenship-language campaign … had whipped up considerable Chinese interest in politics by 1954 [page 259 – 260]
[Political Development in Singapore, 1945-55, Yeo Kim Wah]

The left wing, strongly supported by the Chinese-educated working class, was probably the more passionately anticolonial entity [page 157]
[Fates of Political Liberalism in the British Post-Colony: The Politics of the Legal Complex, Terence C. Halliday and Lucien Karpik and Malcolm M. Feeley]

Chinese theatre played a part in the rising political consciousness which led towards independence. In the turbulent post-war years of the anti-colonial struggle, cultural vigour manifested itself in the modern Chinese-language theatre …
[Singapore in the New Millennium: Challenges Facing the City-state, Derek Da Cunha, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, page 223]

Chinese education proved to be the spark for the politicisation of Singapore society. To the China-born immigrants of Singapore, the issue of Chinese education tied together culture, identity and politics in a manner that Singapore had not witnessed before. A number of incidents concerning this issue were to become defining events in the political development of the territory. As their class consciousness was awakened, the issue of Chinese education became a symbol of the struggle of the Chinese-speaking working class against the English-speaking colonial and local elites.
[Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-war Singapore, Michael D. Barr and Carl A. Trocki, page 81]

For Lee, the Western-educated elite too prone to kowtow to the British were pathetically ‘irrelevant’ in the anti-colonial struggle; labour unions and the Chinese-educated world were something else altogether [page 38]
[Singapore: The State and the Culture of Excess], [Yao Souchou]

A growing chasm between the Chinese-educated and English-educated population was clearly developing. This chasm was marked by the general allegiance of the English-educated to the British. This was in clear contrast with the vehemently anti-colonial and anti-imperial Chinese-educated Chinese [page 53]
[Negotiating Multiculturalism: Disciplining Difference in Singapore], [Nirmala Purushotam]

Lessons from HK protests

I refer to the 4 Oct 2014 Straits Times letter “Lessons from HK protests”.

Like Hong Kong today, Singapore was once a vibrant and thriving city ruled by an external power. Hong Kong’s ongoing mass protests should remind Singaporeans of the value and importance of protests and demonstrations in securing greater self-rule and self-determination. Singaporeans must value, appreciate and uphold these fundamental rights.

But unlike Hong Kong, Singapore’s “one man, one vote” doesn’t prevent Singapore from sliding to close to rock bottom in press freedom. It doesn’t prevent Singapore falling behind Hong Kong nearly 20 places in the Economist’s Democracy Index 2012:

• Hong Kong, rank 63, score 6.41
• Singapore, rank 81, score 5.88

The fact that tens of thousands in Hong Kong took to the streets to demand genuine universal suffrage should remind us of how Singaporean pioneers similarly took to the streets to demand greater self-rule, self-determination and independence. Let us not forget that it is our basic right to demonstrate and to protest. Many countries have this basic right, including China. We alone, perhaps together with North Korea, do not.

The fact is that it is even more convenient and more far reaching to spread disinformation through printed and television media. Without genuine press freedom, how does one learn to not believe everything one hears or reads from newspapers and televisions or to sift out lies from news?

We have seen in recent times how elected leaders add to print media disinformation through Facebook and Twitter. In difficult times, they come out and add fuel to fire and muddy issues with the masses.

Straits Times, HK’s way forward ‘tied to one country, two systems’, 19 Sep 2014

THERE is no other way forward for Hong Kong but on the basis of its Basic Law, which binds its sovereignty to China, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Speaking to reporters in the city, which has been divided over China’s proposed rules for the 2017 chief executive election, Mr Lee noted that the political starting point in Hong Kong is the “one country, two systems” principle, a unique arrangement that Beijing and Hong Kong “must make work”.

Whatever solution emerges from the stand-off between Beijing – which allows only very controlled elections in Hong Kong – and political activists who want a direct nomination process for candidates, Mr Lee said, “it has to be on the basis of ‘one country, two systems’ as the Basic Law says”. The Basic Law is often seen as Hong Kong’s mini-Constitution.

Beijing’s stringent rules announced last month essentially rule out candidates from Hong Kong’s pan-democracy parties.

“There’s really no other way forward. I think if you understand that, then you know what are the possible ways forward, and which ways don’t really lead to any practical, sensible outcome,” said Mr Lee.

He added that the current disquiet cannot fundamentally change the basic structure of Hong Kong’s system, which is that it is not an independent country.

Asked what lessons there are for Singapore, Mr Lee said countries must evolve, adapt and have a good sense of the overall geo- strategic circumstances they face.

While Hong Kong has one very large neighbour with whom its sovereignty is bound, Singapore is an independent country surrounded by several larger neighbours.

“We have to make our way forward and be able to prosper in friendship and in cooperation with our neighbours,” Mr Lee said. Hong Kong was the final stop of his week-long visit to southern China.

STForum, Lessons from HK protests, 4 Oct 2014

LIKE Singapore, Hong Kong is a modern, thriving and vibrant city, except that it operates on the “one country, two systems” concept.

The ongoing mass protests in the territory offer several learning points on modern society and democratic governance.

The first lesson is the importance of the “one man, one vote” democratic process. As Singaporeans, we must value, appreciate and uphold this process.

The fact that tens of thousands in Hong Kong took to the streets to demand “genuine” universal suffrage reminds us of how easy it is to forget that we have had this right for almost 50 years.

Let us not take our freedom to vote and decide our future for granted. In many countries, being able to vote is not a right at all.

The second lesson is the importance of establishing meaningful dialogue with protesters, and how tear gas and pepper spray are not “magic bullets”.

Unfortunately, in most mass protests, behind-the-scenes negotiations often fail and the authorities would resort to force to bring about an end to the situation.

Dealing with young and eager student protesters calls for tempered solutions that do not harden their resolve and encourage sympathy from the masses.

The third lesson is on harnessing social media, which has become the most convenient means of communication in times of social unrest

The fact that it is so convenient and widespread could also give rise to disinformation, which could stir up trouble.

So how then does one learn to not believe everything one hears or reads, and to sift out truth from lies?

We have seen in recent times how elected leaders are engaging the public through Facebook and Twitter. In difficult times, they can come out on social media to counter untruths and clarify issues with the masses.

Chow Meng Yoon

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