Thursday, February 23, 2012

Outside support for Hong Kong Internet poll is “probably not a good idea,” says Brookings expert

Richard C. Bush is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Director of its Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies. According to the Brookings web site:

“Richard Bush’s two-decade public service career spans Congress, the intelligence community and the U.S. State Department. He currently focuses on China-Taiwan relations, U.S.-China relations, the Korean peninsula and Japan’s security.”

His background and expertise makes him ideally suited to comment to Etopia News about the March 23rd Internet-based “civil referendum” poll/election that seeks to ascertain the preferences of all the millions of permanent residents of Hong Kong 18 and older for that jurisdiction’s Chief Executive two days before an unelected Selection Committee of 1,200 makes the official choice for that position.

For one thing, Mr. Bush does not think that Westerners who’d like to see more democracy in China ought to get involved in that polling process. “Because suspicious Chinese will easily believe that Washington is behind the current effort, it is probably not a good idea for outsiders to ‘actively’ support this effort,” he writes in an e-mail.

The Brookings-based China-watcher provides a useful context for this exercise in popular democracy when he writes:

“This exercise at bottom-up democracy does challenge both the authority that Beijing believes it has to set the boundaries of political activity and its assumption that the selection committee [SC] represents the interests of the community. It would be rather embarrassing for the regime if the electronic tally was the opposite of the SC result (although I’m sure there would be a propaganda offensive to discredit the citizens’ count or perhaps a hacking effort to undermine it)."

He also provides some background information on the man who heads the Public Opinion Programme at the University of Hong Kong and who is the organizer of this exercise in quasi-popular sovereignty:

“Actually, this is not the first time that Robert Chung has tested the tolerance of the regime. He recently released a poll that showed that more people in Hong Kong have a Hong Kong identity than a Chinese identity, and he was roundly criticized in China for being a ‘political player in academic disguise’ and for being a cat’s paw for the United States.”

Clearly, this civil referendum and the controversy surrounding it in China and its Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong will provide a lot of fodder for those concerned about the future of democracy in China. Mr. Bush’s considered advice to them at this point seems to be simple: look but don’t touch.

Meanwhile, the JakartaGlobe reported in its February 23rd edition that a poll already conducted by Mr. Chung shows that:

“[Beijing’s reported choice] Henry Tang was favoured by only 16 percent of the 506 respondents polled in the latest survey commissioned by English daily the South China Morning Post when respondents were asked to pick between him and main rival Leung Chun-ying. Leung is well ahead of Tang with the backing of 63.9 percent of respondents."

The JakartaGlobe went on to say that:

“’If Tang finally gets elected against landslide public opinion, there will be a governance crisis,’ pollster Robert Chung from the University of Hong Kong, who conducted the poll, told the Post.”

The article goes on to relate personal details of an unflattering nature about Mr. Tang, here.

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