Sipping coffee and watching CNN in Mainland China, I would occasionally see the broadcast switch suddenly to an autumnal scene featuring a stream running through a golden, forested hillside.
Seconds later I’d go to my desk, fire up a VPN to skirt the Great Firewall of China and scan the international news sites to determine what news the Beijing censors found objectionable that morning.
Eerily, for a few seconds on Friday evening I thought that I had been transported out of Hong Kong, which maintains its own way of life and press freedoms, and back to Mainland China.
I was listening to a rather interesting but politically sensitive interview about the prospects for true universal suffrage in Hong Kong, as was promised in the handover agreement between the UK and China. The interview was with Martin Lee, founding chairman of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong and former Legislative Council member.
Near the end of the segment Mr. Lee was talking about the potential for a proposed pro-democracy protest to turn violent, but not violent because of the protestors themselves, but because of other forces. He said “But of course violence could be generated by certain people. I’d like to remind listeners what happened…” And then the interview was abruptly cut and the broadcast switched directly to another story.
Having lived in Mainland China and being a cynic, I thought he was about to reference Tiananmen Square, where a different peaceful protest for democracy turned violent due to the actions of the People’s Liberation Army at the direction of hardline Chinese leaders.
Of course, he may have been about to talk about some other event, but since the interview was abruptly cut, one can only imagine.
I can find no reference to this strange occurrence in the English Hong Kong media, but the podcast of that night’s interview is available on-line and I am able to confirm that the interview was clearly cut at a very odd moment.
The interview aired on RTHK Radio 3‘s program “Newswrap” on Friday, April 12, 2013. The entire program can be listened to here. The Martin Lee interview segment begins at minute 13:16. These quotes start from minute 14:40. Bold emphasis, of the more interesting quotes, is my own.
Q: “…do you believe there will be universal suffrage in 2017?”
Lee: “Yes, if Beijing says yes. Very simple … Hong Kong people may still be allowed one-person, one-vote in the CE [Chief Executive] election in 2017. But they could only elect one out of two or three puppets pre-selected by Beijing. And that’s not election, because the Basic Law, Article 26 says very clearly that Hong Kong permanent residents have the right to elect and be elected. But this sort of thing will rule out more than half of the people of Hong Kong so that they could never become a candidate.”
Q: “So in other words there won’t be universal suffrage then?”
Lee: “Well [small chuckle] there will be universal suffrage with [unintelligible in podcast but in live broadcast he said “Chinese”] characteristics. You have one-person, one-vote, but you can only vote for one of their pre-selected candidates. That does not accord with international laws.”
Q: [Interviewer asks question about the proposed “Occupy Central” protest which would occur in 2014 if it seems likely that universal suffrage will not be achieved in the 2017 Chief Executive election.]
Lee: “It’s a last resort according to the organizers. And it will be a sad day for Hong Kong if we have to take this step because that will mean that Hong Kong people have completely lost confidence in the future and they are prepared, they are driven, to take the future in their own hands by sacrificing their own liberty…. So that’s a respectable thing. But Hong Kong people would not be driven to take this step if the Beijing leaders were to see that so far what is happening is not right. But they could easily change course. They [unintelligible].
Q: [Interviewer asks about concerns over Occupy Central leading to violence.]
Lee: “I think he [Lau Siu-kai] is right, but the fault would not come from the Pan Democrats or the people who actually participate in such an event because the organizers insist that everybody who participates must, must promise that it will be a peaceful demonstration. But of course violence could be generated by certain people. I’d like to remind listeners what happened… [broadcast of interview stops abruptly]
At minute 17:21 the interview cuts directly to a story on the air bridge failure at Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok Airport. There is no customary closing “thank you” to mark the natural end of the interview.
Extremely unfortunate technical error? If you work for RTHK’s “Newswrap” do chime in. Regardless, the interview with Martin Lee is well-worth listening to for those interested in Hong Kong politics.