Olive branch confuses HK democrats

Having been alternately ignored and vilified by China, the leaders of the Democratic Party, Hong Kong's largest political party, are in a quandary as to how to respond to the Chinese government's first indication of a willingness to establish a dialogue.

At a meeting tonight the party's leaders are likely to ratify a decision to rebuff China's offer of a chance to participate in a Peking-run body, the Selection Committee, which will choose the head of the territory's government after next year's transfer of sovereignty, and be responsible for the appointment of members to a provisional legislature which will replace the current body after it has been dissolved by the incoming sovereign power.

The Chinese government previously favoured a policy of deploying the blunderbuss in dealing with the democrats, but it now appears to have gained the upper hand by offering an olive branch.

This was presented by the Chinese Vice-Premier, Qian Qichen, who has special responsibility for Hong Kong. He said that China was willing to work with those who "hold different opinions about the course and pace of democratic development as long as they share the common ground of support for the resumption of sovereignty". This is a far cry from the usual practice of branding the democrats' leaders as "subversives" and "stooges of the British imperialists".

The democrats quickly responded by saying they "strongly welcome" Mr Qian's remarks, describing them as "a positive and constructive step". However Martin Lee, the democrats' leader, firmly ruled out participation in the Selection Committee because "it is conditional on participating in a process which will undermine democracy in Hong Kong".

Democratic Party members fear that they will lose credibility by joining a body which is playing a role in dismantling elected bodies and replacing them with unelected provisional councils. They feel that they have secured a high degree of popular support because of an uncompromising stand of opposing China's plans for undermining democratic institutions.

This position does not appear to be well understood in Hong Kong. A recent public opinion poll showed that 60 per cent of respondents wanted the Democratic Party to join the Selection Committee.

This finding will be music to the ears of officials in Peking who may have seen their invitation as a trap to force the democrats to assume the unfamiliar role of rejecting dialogue and being unwilling to compromise.

The 400-member Selection Committee is likely to turn out to be little more than a rubber stamp for Peking's candidates. Indeed it is clear that China will only tolerate the appointment of someone it likes as head of the new administration. The front runner is the shipping magnate Tung Chee-hwa who is heavily in debt to Peking for bailing out his company when it was faced with ruin.

Meanwhile Chinese leaders, including President Jiang Zemin, have started to talk about the necessity of the territory being led by people who are "acceptable" to Hong Kongers. This may appear to be a rather unremarkable point of view but it replaces the former emphasis on loyalty to China.

The Chinese government does not wish to see the Democratic Party continuing to secure majority support. A more subtle approach, confronting the democrats with difficult choices, may well yield positive results.

Suggested Topics

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage

nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Telecoms Engineer - Telecoms Administrator - London - £26,000

£26000 per annum + 25 days holiday & further benefits: Ashdown Group: Telecomm...

Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are seeking a confident...

Senior Data Analyst - London - £38,000

£30000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Data Analyst - Lon...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London