Why Didn’t Britain Ever Give Democracy to Hong Kong?

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Great Britain is a democracy and a country dedicated to helping spread liberty around the world.

At least today. There used to be a time when Great Britain was not a friend to democracy. Indeed, there used to be a very undemocratic thing called the British Empire.

One of the last great British colonies was a city called Hong Kong. Hong Kong stayed under British control for far longer than its other colonies, and Hong Kong was still painted in the pink of the British Empire long after the rest of the empire was gone. Indeed, Hong Kong was still British long after the idea of empire began to be thought of as something very negative.

But there is something very strange about what the British did with Hong Kong, or rather what the British did not do. That is, for the longest time Great Britain never attempted to introduce democracy to Hong Kong. In the end, Hong Kong never did become a democracy under Great Britain. It is not a democracy today.

Now, this would be more easily explained if it happened before the Second World War. Before World War II, of course, it just wasn’t the European way to give democracy to their colonies. But Wikipedia’s page on Democratic development in Hong Kong doesn’t start until the 1980s. This was long after decolonization and the idea that empires were good. Indeed, the first elements of local autonomy in Hong Kong were introduced with the agreement to give back sovereignty of Hong Kong to China.

Why did Great Britain never make Hong Kong a democracy? Why didn’t it do this in the 1960s or 1970s? Why did it continue appointing bland British bureaucrats, who had never lived there and knew nothing about the place, to run Hong Kong? It seems that this failure has something to with the continuing British nostalgia of empire.

In America today people are not proud of America’s colonies. They’d rather forget it. You can talk to an American for a lifetime, and the subject of the Philippines will never come up. Indeed, the last time I actually talked with an American about American colonization escapes me. But talk with a British person long enough, and eventually the subject of the British Empire will always come up. Probably they’ll even speak in a half-nostalgic tone about the days of Britain’s glory. They’d do it again if they could.

Hong Kong’s political system today is a strange thing. People in Hong Kong vote in free and fair elections, they can protest and assembly, but the rules are bent so that ultimately only the Chinese government’s candidate can win. Yet, ironically, Hong Kong today is more democratic than it was during the vast majority (perhaps the totality) of its time under British rule. This is doubly ironic, because Great Britain is a democracy and China is not.

If Great Britain had had the option of ruling Hong Kong as long as it pleased, would Hong Kong today be a full democracy? Maybe not. Probably not.

Would Hong Kong even be as democratic as the not-really democracy it is today?

Probably so. But perhaps not. Even the “perhaps” is quite disturbing.

 

 

Why Didn’t Britain Ever Give Democracy to Hong Kong?

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Great Britain is a democracy and a country dedicated to helping spread liberty around the world.

At least today. There used to be a time when Great Britain was not a friend to democracy. Indeed, there used to be a very undemocratic thing called the British Empire.

One of the last great British colonies was a city called Hong Kong. Hong Kong stayed under British control for far longer than its other colonies, and Hong Kong was still painted in the pink of the British Empire long after the rest of the empire was gone. Indeed, Hong Kong was still British long after the idea of empire began to be thought of as something very negative.

But there is something very strange about what the British did with Hong Kong, or rather what the British did not do. That is, for the longest time Great Britain never attempted to introduce democracy to Hong Kong. In the end, Hong Kong never did become a democracy under Great Britain. It is not a democracy today.

Now, this would be more easily explained if it happened before the Second World War. Before World War II, of course, it just wasn’t the European way to give democracy to their colonies. But Wikipedia’s page on Democratic development in Hong Kong doesn’t start until the 1980s. This was long after decolonization and the idea that empires were good. Indeed, the first elements of local autonomy in Hong Kong were introduced with the agreement to give back sovereignty of Hong Kong to China.

Why did Great Britain never make Hong Kong a democracy? Why didn’t it do this in the 1960s or 1970s? Why did it continue appointing bland British bureaucrats, who had never lived there and knew nothing about the place, to run Hong Kong? It seems that this failure has something to with the continuing British nostalgia of empire.

In America today people are not proud of America’s colonies. They’d rather forget it. You can talk to an American for a lifetime, and the subject of the Philippines will never come up. Indeed, the last time I actually talked with an American about American colonization escapes me. But talk with a British person long enough, and eventually the subject of the British Empire will always come up. Probably they’ll even speak in a half-nostalgic tone about the days of Britain’s glory. They’d do it again if they could.

Hong Kong’s political system today is a strange thing. People in Hong Kong vote in free and fair elections, they can protest and assembly, but the rules are bent so that ultimately only the Chinese government’s candidate can win. Yet, ironically, Hong Kong today is more democratic than it was during the vast majority (perhaps the totality) of its time under British rule. This is doubly ironic, because Great Britain is a democracy and China is not.

If Great Britain had had the option of ruling Hong Kong as long as it pleased, would Hong Kong today be a full democracy? Maybe not. Probably not.

Would Hong Kong even be as democratic as the not-really democracy it is today?

Probably so. But perhaps not. Even the “perhaps” is quite disturbing.

 

 

(When) Will Assad Fall? – The Damascus Test

Like many of its brethren in the Arab world, the country of Syria has been engulfed in protests over its authoritarian leader President Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Assad has responded to these protests by offering a mixture of reforms and violent crackdowns, neither of which have assuaged the protesters.

At the moment Syria seems to be in a state of temporary equilibrium; the protests go on, with the government unable to stop them. Yet Mr. Assad still firmly holds the reigns of power. This cannot last forever, of course. Eventually the protests will topple Mr. Assad, or Mr. Assad will break his opposition.

The key seems to be the city of Damascus, the capital and most populous city in Syria. Take an analogy to the Egyptian Revolution. The massive protests in Cairo – the capital and most populous city of Eygpt – were the key to President Hosni Mubarak’s fall. Had there not been protests in Cairo (or only minor ones), it’s very likely that Mr. Mubarak would still be running Eygpt today.

Damascus holds a similar role for Syria; like Cairo, it is the capital and heart of Syria. A similar percentage of Syrians live in Damascus as Egyptians living in Cairo. The protesters desperately desire for another Tahrir Square to happen in Damascus. Mr. Assad will desperately do his best to ensure that this never happens.

If fifty thousand people gathered in Damascus to march against the government, then Mr. Assad’s rule would be shaken like nothing else. It would be a harbinger of the end.

Tens of thousands of people have indeed gathered in the streets of Damascus. But these have been rallies and marches in support of the government (such as the image shown at the top). The protests in Damascus so far have been small and easily dispersed.

The major protests seem to have occurred in more provincial, poorer, and more religious areas of Syria; the areas that have not benefited from Mr. Assad’s rule. Syria’s two largest cities, on the other hand, have done relatively well economically; there is support for Mr. Assad amongst the middle class. Indeed, the perception of the protesters as more provincial may be hurting them greatly in Damascus and Aleppo (the second-largest city in Syria). The New York Times has written a fascinating article about the opposition’s relative lack of success there.

So far major protests numbering thousands or (what is really necessary) tens of thousands of people have not occurred in Damascus. They may never occur. Damascus may remain in Mr. Assad’s camp, and so enable him to stay in power. Or perhaps one day the people of Damascus will decide to cast their lot with the opposition, and an end will come to the rule of Mr. Assad.

--inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

GOP to Workers: "Why Should They Get What We Took Away From You?"

Was recently listening to the journalists on Slate's Political Gabfest pondering why union density is so much higher amongst public sector workers than the private sector. None of them mentioned the most important difference: It's harder for a government to get away with running a terror campaign against the union. There's more oversight and accountability to restrain public sector management from threatening workers for union activity, implying benefits to keeping out the union or danger with it, holding captive audience meetings against the union, or just firing union leaders. Only some of these tactics are even illegal. And bosses get away with those all the time. (Check out this reportfrom Human Rights Watch, or this one from Prof. Kate Bronfenbrenner). Consultants get very wealthy guiding companies on how to run fear campaigns against employees trying to organize. It's a lot harder for the TSA to cut anti-union consultants a check than it is for Wal-Mart. When it comes to organizing, the fundamental difference between public sector and private sector workers is that public sector workers have a better chance at organizing free from fear. So lots and lots of public sector workers do.

Right-wingers' desire to crush workers' freedom to organize and bargain collectively, whether public sector or private, is old news. But the zeal with which newly elected right-wing politicians are going after public employees is based in a sense of opportunity - one that comes not just from high unemployment or the media's deficit hysteria or GOP electoral gains but from the continuing decline in private sector union density. Republicans are emboldened to go after public sector workers organizing rights because so few private sector workers are organized.

(Resentment towards public sector workers can take on a gendered angle as well, as in some European countries where the public sector is significantly more female than the private sector, giving politicians an easy subtext to wield against public workers.)

If more private sector workers had the right to bargain for pensions, affordable healthcare, and a living wage, conservatives would see less purchase in high-profile fights to shred their rights and benefits for the janitors, firefighters, and teachers who work for us.

You see this in anecdotes like the one in a recent NYT piece where a woman says "I don’t get to bargain in my job, either." This is the chutzpah of the Right: They erode the right for private sector workers to organize for a voice in the conditions of their work and their benefits on the job. They go after all the programs that help people to get jobs or provide protections that don't depend on a job. They attack public education, deny us public healthcare, and deride public infrastructure. They push corporate-dominated "globalization" that privileges the flexibility of capital and further denies people around the world a voice in the conditions of their lives. They throw up barriers to the political participation of the non-rich. They enshrine the rights of bosses to fire without cause, outsource with impunity, escape taxes without consequence, punish pregnancy and lock workers inside buildings. Then, looking out across the wreckage they've created, they tell workers: "Why should that janitor be above the poverty line when your job sucks? Who do you know that has a pension these days?"

In other words, the push on those of us who reject the right-wing future, besides exposing their shell game, is to organize. We need to defend the human right to organize across industries, sectors and countries. And we need to strengthen it and exercise it. Goes without saying that Republican politicians have shown far more zeal about being part of the problem than Democratic ones have shown about being part of the solution.

There's not much future for the American labor movement without turning around the decline in private sector union density. And there's not much democracy if you spend half your waking life under dictatorship.

The American Dilemma in Egypt

Should the people of a given country be allowed to vote in free and fair elections, even if the people they elect are fundamentally hostile to the United States?

That is the great question which is facing America today, as protests have toppled the leader of Tunisia and now threaten the presidency of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Almost everybody agrees that Mr. Mubarak is a dictator who does not respect human rights or promote democracy. He is a typical example of the authoritarian leader, whose values are fundamentally at odds with those of the United States. It is quite conceivable that the current protests will end in bloodshed, with the military firing upon civilians in a Bloody Sunday-style massacre.

In a perfect world, a peaceful revolution would topple Mr. Mubarak and install a new democratic government.  Said government would be moderate, friendly to the West, and firmly against Islamic extremism.

Unfortunately, the truth is that Mr. Mubarak’s strongest political opponents are the Muslim Brotherhood, a proudly Islamist movement with broad popular support. If the protests in Egypt succeed in toppling the dictator, the most likely situation is the formation (through free and fair elections) of an Islamist government hostile to the United States.

Therein lies America’s dilemma – betray its ideals and support an “ally,” or keep its ideals and allow an anti-American government to take power.

Historically, the United States has chosen the former option. During the Cold War, dictators were always perceived as better than popularly elected Communist governments. Today replace Communism with Islamism, and one gets the same idea.

Yet think about this: why do the people of Egypt so dislike the United States? Why would they most likely elect, if given a choice, an anti-American government?

The answer, of course, is because the United States keeps on supporting dictators like Mr. Mubarak! In fact, that is why Osama bin Laden attacked the United States – because it continues allying with dictators in the Middle East, in direct contradiction of its democratic values.

Why does the United States support these dictators? Because it knows free democratic elections will result in anti-American governments. Why would elections result in anti-American governments? Because the United States keeps on supporting dictators who oppress the people. And on and on the cycle goes.

The problem is that dictators may not stay in power forever. A U.S.-supported dictator, if unpopular enough, may fall. Iran and Vietnam are just two examples in which this happened. Today Iran is a determined foe of the United States. On the other hand, the communist government in Vietnam is quite friendly to America.

In the short term supporting friendly dictators might benefit American interests. In the long run, however, supporting those who oppress their people probably does more harm than good to America – and more importantly, to the cause of freedom and democracy.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

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