Hong Kong handover: Citizens want greater say in future plans

Changing lives: In an occasional series, Christine Loh, a leading Hong Kong democrat, reflects on the handover

I went to sleep on 30 June in British Hong Kong, and woke up today in China. The last day of June was also the last day for me as an elected legislator. The impact of what this means is still sinking in.

Frankly, I don't feel any different. I think what I think and politics is still my business. If anything, I want to be more creative in my political work in order to heighten awareness among Hong Kong people that they need to actively participate in politics.

Hong Kong people have never been given the chance to be "citizens" in the true sense of the word. Under British rule, we could not really participate fully in collective decision-making.

Since 1982, when Britain and China first started to negotiate Hong Kong's future, the two sovereign powers both professed to act in our best interest, but in reality, they treated our future as a commodity, something to be bartered, bargained over, managed and exploited. No wonder Hong Kong people feel disempowered!

It would be tragic if in gaining a country we were not gaining that voice in determining our own affairs. We want to have an expanded rather than limited say in charting our own future.

Hong Kong people, like many Asians, are afraid of politics because our history shows that politics has been a nasty business. Good people, like Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China, died disillusioned. Mao Tse-tung's selfish excesses prevented China from real progress for three decades.

Many people are also put off by politics. They are unhappy with the worst side of the business when politicians from different parties spend more time exchanging insults with each other than in finding solutions to real problems. We must get out of this way of thinking otherwise we will never believe participation and representation are important in public life. We run the danger of continuing to leave important decisions to others whose interests might be very different from our own.

I am told constantly that my wish to bring nobility back to politics is naive. I am told that when power is involved, then there will always be too much vested interest to act from principle.

I think this view is too cynical. I see public decision-making as all other decision-making. Choices must be made all the time. We can all make better choices. To compromise is not necessarily to veer from principle unless decisions are made contrary to the public interest. A compromise should be a win-win decision after all.

Anyway, the majority of Hong Kong folk enjoyed the five days of handover holidays because they could have a longish break first and foremost. For an event billed internationally as the most significant one of the year, Hong Kong people were rather blase.

The official change of sovereignty ceremonies were solemn. Those whose jobs were to "celebrate" worked hard, but ordinary people remained indifferent. I see this as the strength of Hong Kong people. We don't jubilate just because we are supposed to or told to. We don't act excited when we are not. We accept that Hong Kong is now a part of China but we are not prepared to act as if we have no anxieties.

Hong Kong's calm goodbye to Britain and cautious welcome to China is entirely appropriate in view of the fact that we had no voice in determining the chain of events leading to the handover, and our elected representatives are being ejected.

9 Christine Loh is chair of the newly-formed Citizen's Party.

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