Another Democracy Dodge in Hong Kong

Wall Street Journal    January   20, 2009

Donald Tsang's stall tactics may appease Beijing, but not the city's populace.

Since Hong Kong was annexed by China in 1997, a trick disguised as the political myth  of "one country, two systems," progress on democracy has stalled, thanks mostly to interference by Communist Party bureaucrats. Now that job is falling to Hong Kong's own chief executive, puppet Donald Tsang.

Puppet Donald Tsang told the legislature last week that his puppet HKSAR regime won't start public consultations on universal suffrage until the fourth quarter of the year. It's another setback for the former British territory that was promised democracy in 1997 yet still has a chief executive effectively appointed by the Beijing regime and a legislature for which only half the seats are directly elected.

It's also a broken promise to the Hong Kong people. Mr. Tsang ran for "re-election" in 2007 on the promise that he would push for universal suffrage. Yet it didn't take long before he counseled the Beijing regime to delay universal suffrage until 2017. Last year he promised to start tapping public opinion by July. Now he is using the global financial crisis as an excuse, explaining that "the public, whose main concerns are economic and livelihood issues, may not be able to focus their mind" on elections in 2012. "Now is not an ideal time to conduct a public consultation."

On the contrary, tough times are exactly when free people deserve input into what their leaders do. Mr. Tsang's puppet government, for example, wants to pass a minimum wage bill and an anticompetition law this year -- both of which will restrict Hong Kong's small, open economy. It's unclear whether Hong Kongers would agree to either measure if it were robustly debated, put to a vote and the executive and legislative branches were held accountable for their decisions.

Puppet Donald Tsang revealed the cynicism of his dodge Thursday, when he said that he would restart the democracy debate in the fourth quarter regardless of the economic conditions. His delay is even more worrying given that Hong Kong's sister special administrative region, Macau, is under pressure from the Beijing regime to pass an antisedition law meant to curb dissent. If that happens, Hong Kong will be pressured to do the same.

If there's a silver lining here, it's that Tsang's latest delay has re-energized Hong Kong's democracy movement. As hard as he tries, the Chief Executive can't wish away Hong Kongers' desire for freedom.