Credibility gap for China's puppets

Hand-picked group choose pro-Peking stalwarts for council, writes Stephen Vines

Shenzhen - The normally unassuming left-wing trade union leader, Tam Yiu-chung, grinned broadly and waved two outstretched arms to celebrate his victory. Having been defeated by a wider electorate last year, he topped the poll of 399 hand picked "electors", approved by China to select the members of a Provisional Legislature in Hong Kong to rival the existing body. The trouble with the existing body, as far as China is concerned, is that too many people were allowed to vote.

Yesterday, the victors and the defeated were contemplating a result hailed in China's official media as guaranteeing a smooth handover of power from Britain to Peking in almost six months' time.

According to a commentary which appeared in China's leading newspapers, most of Hong Kong's people are backing the new body. But many of the defeated candidates are taking a more jaundiced view, despite the fact that the 70 who were unsuccessful went through the same vetting process as the 60 who were elected, in order to secure China's approval for their candidature.

As things turned out, three-quarters of the successful candidates came from among the ranks of the 399 voters who selected them. Candidates who were not members of the selection body were even denied access to the hotel where the selectors were staying in the Chinese border town of Shenzhen.

They are now privately offering a foretaste of the troubles which lie ahead. One put it this way: "Before Britain leaves," he said, "it is good enough for us all to be pro-Peking, but afterwards pro-Peking won't mean anything, that's when you'll see all the squabbling breaking out because the so called pro-China camp don't really agree on anything except their opposition to the British."

The new legislature has what may be regarded as a token opposition, consisting of six members previously associated with the pro-democracy camp. The overwhelming majority are old style pro-China stalwarts and recent converts who used to be bastions of the British establishment.

They will certainly not be a thorn in the side of the Chinese government. But they will have to struggle to gain credibility, not just because they were chosen by such a small group of people, but also because they are far from representing the brightest and best in Hong Kong politics.

Many of those fitting that description are in the pro-democracy camp which had majority backing in the existing legislature but will be absent from the new body.

An additional complication is that the Provisional Legislative Council will have to meet in Shenzhen because China is worried that the democrats will challenge its legitimacy in the courts if it sits in Hong Kong.China also wants to avoid the inevitable protests which would accompany sittings in the colony.

However, Shenzhen is far from an ideal choice of venue. It is a typical frontier town, hiding its wild west characteristics behind gleaming skyscrapers reaching ever closer to the sky.

The city hailed by China'sparamount leader, Deng Xiaoping, as an example of economic development also seems to be a home to uninhibited prostitution, and a place where drug dealing takes place on an alarming scale.

The hotel chosen for the selectors to stay in has a particularly notorious reputation for being populated by a large army of prostitutes.

Indeed, on the eve of the poll a number of them turned up at the hotel to find it sealed off to the public because members of the selection committee were "working".

"We're trying to work too," objected one of the women.

Meanwhile, Britain's promise to mobilise international support against the new body has produced immediate backingfrom the United States and Australia.

The Americans described the establishment of the Provisional Legislature as a "very worrisome development".

Yesterday, the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said: "The maintenance and development of democratic political institutions [are] important factors in Hong Kong's continued success as an international business centre."

However, mindful of the trading consequences, it is unlikely that any of Britain's allies - or indeed Britain itself - will follow up these protests with any form of action against China.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Consultants - OTE up to £35,000

£15000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Franchise Operations Manager - Midlands or North West

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The position will be home based...

Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent publishing and...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue