An Open Letter to the CCP Concerning Universal Suffrage in HK


Dear Chinese Communist Party,

Since it seems clear that you intend to deny the will of the HK People as well as international standards for universal suffrage in the name of maintaining control over the nominating process for Chief Executive in HK, and since I promised I would do so earlier, I’d like to give you some advice about how to run free and fair elections in HK, without having to give up any of the control over HK politics you currently exercise.  In fact, if you follow my advice I’m confident you will find HK much easier to control than it is now.

People are much easier to control when they are less aware of being controlled, and having elections that meet international standards will do much to placate HK democrats, thereby making the populace easier to marginalize on other issues.   There are a few institutional tricks that can help you set up an easy-to-control two party system, instead of this messy multi-party thing going on in the Legislative Council at the moment.  Having only two parties to bribe (we call this making “campaign contributions” in my country, and it’s perfectly legal) makes controlling the political system much simpler and easier, just ask Goldman Sachs, which is regularly among the leading campaign donors to both the Republican and Democratic parties.  Once again, my advice is based on how things work in the good ‘ol US of A.  As a result, my proposal has the added benefit of making it nearly impossible for US politicians (or their loyal “pro-democracy” NGOs) to criticize you, since they would be exposing their own anti-democratic tricks in the process.

I. Duverger’s “Law” and how to create a two-party system

A one-off election, in which whoever gets the plurality of the votes becomes the Chief Executive, would be pretty easy to control, regardless of the nominating process.   (American) political scientists have this principle called “Duverger’s Law,” that demonstrates the logic of single-member district elections: voters will rationalize that minor party candidates can’t win and so they will vote for whichever of the two major parties is closest to representing their views, even if neither party is particularly close (e.g.  Americans against militarism tend to vote for the theoretically slightly less militaristic Democratic Party).  This logic then creates two-party systems.

The multi-party mess in LegCo is largely the result of the geographical constituencies being made up of multi-member districts elected by proportional representation, in which political parties are given seats in proportion to the number of votes they received.  This systems allows for much better representation of voters desires than what exists in the US Congress, obviously not something you want.  It seems the Brits pulled a fast one on y’all with those multi-member districts, since their own voting system is of the much less democratic single-member district variety.  Of course, in LegCo the functional constituencies can outvote the geographical constituencies and this gives you control of LegCo. But non-democratically elected legislators, like overt control of the Chief Executive nomination, is way too obviously undemocratic and as a result people constantly protest the constitutional basis of the political system in HK.

The US Constitution is nearly never protested, nor even questioned, and is in fact worshipped-as-if-divinely-inspired by many of the very Americans who decry domination by elites and the oligarchic US political system.  Yet it has several democracy stifling effects that are less obvious than those in HK, and therefore much more effective in placating the masses.  Single member districts are just part of a complex system that allows elites to rule while maintaining the appearance of consent by the people.

The most recent UK election, not to mention consistently multi-party Parliaments in the UK and India, have caused [non-American] political scientists to question the empirical validity of Duverger’s Law, since it only really seems to work in the USA.  Other features of US politics are likely responsible for creating the uber-controllable two party system only found in the US.  The most obvious is the fact that the President is elected in a one-off, one-day election (no run-off elections or any other democratic elements seen in more modern democracies).  The Electoral College system, a feature of the US Constitution that not even American Libertarians worship, makes each state (except Maine and Nebraska) a winner-take-all battle for electoral votes, having a multiplicative effect on Duvergerian logic.

A similar election for Chief Executive may impose some two-party discipline on Legco, perhaps allowing you to trade single member districts for the abolition of functional constituencies.  Negotiating such a compromise with democratic elements in HK would allow you to meet international standards of universal suffrage without giving up control of the outcomes…provided you learn a couple more lessons from the US and create a system with lots of veto players, and make the right laws regarding campaign finance, and spending on political speech.  More on that later…

An Open Letter to the CCP Concerning Press Freedom in HK

Dear Chinese Communist Party,

I’m not one of those Americans who thinks the way we do things in ‘Murica is always better than the way others do them, but when it comes to propagandizing and controlling its population…well…USA #1!.  Comparing the elegant sophistication of the US authorities to the brutishness of the Chinese is like comparing a samurai sword to a meat cleaver.  US propaganda is so good that many Americans don’t even think of their media as propaganda.  Not so in China, and increasingly not so in HK.  So my advice to my current masters is to be a little more like my former masters (or HK’s former masters).  Try a subtler approach when it comes to HK people.

You see, HK people are not like Mainland Chinese people.  I know, you guys like to think the difference is that they have been conditioned by the British into believing in all this civil liberties crap, but the history is a little more complicated than that.  When HK people were rioting in 1967 and China Commie sympathy was reportedly prevalent in the colony, the British behaved very much like you might have: they locked up journalists and closed down newspapers.  But they quickly realized that this did them more harm than good.  Tony Elliot, the political advisor to HK at the time, stated, “The experience of the last six months has shown that interference with the press produces more violent reactions than anything else.”  HK got freedom of the press because the people fought for it, not because the Brits wanted them to have it.  Press freedom was the lesser of two evils for the British authorities, and I believe it is the lesser of two evils for Big Beijing as well.   You know that anti-subversion law that you’ve been trying to pass for so long?  You know, the one that HK people protest every time you try to pass it?   My advice is to drop it, and control the press in ways that won’t stir up so much animosity.  The more bluntly  you exert control over the HK media, the less useful that control becomes.

The way they do things where I come from is less obvious and therefore more effective.  The rulers of my country are the financial and corporate elite; they control the politicians and they control the media, and they do it mainly by (quietly) giving gifts.  You guys could totally do the same thing; a “free press” and “democracy” make control easier, not harder (I’ll explain the democracy part in another post).  In my country, we have a “polarized political debate” because Republicans and Democrats shout at each other on Fox News and MSNBC.  We have “liberal” newspapers like the New York Times, and “conservative” ones like the Wall Street Journal, but when something is really important to the political elites, as during the lead up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, everybody falls in line.  Then they go back to shouting at each other over gay rights and abortion, while both sides support the same basic foreign policy and economic agendas.  This “polarized” political climate makes anyone who speaks outside of these bounds look like an extremist, and extremists/dissidents are better ignored than brutalized (compare Amy Goodman/Ai Weiwei).  In the US, the mainstream (note the adjective, meaning not extremist but also meaning constrained by the profit motive) media are controlled through advertising and ownership.  Nothing that’s against the interests of corporate/finance hegemony can be published by the mainstream media in the US, because nearly 100% of advertizers are corporations.  Questioning corporate hegemony is simply not profitable, no conspiracy, no corruption necessary.  I notice that you guys have gotten into this game too, and that you’re pretty good at it in fact.  Unfortunately for you, some people in Taiwan have also noticed your press control prowess.  Again, a more patient approach will get you more of what you want, in the long run.

That article I just linked to is instructive, not because it documents how the CCP influences media outlets around the world by withholding advertising, denying visas for foreign reporters, and rewarding loyal journalists in HK and Taiwan while using China’s economic might to punish disloyal media groups (of course y’all know all about that).  It’s instructive because the institution that wrote it (Freedom House, a “Non-Governmental Organization” financed largely by the US government) would never be so impolite as to turn such analysis against its sponsors.  See how that works?  The US can criticize you, and it looks like an impartial NGO is doing it.  But when you criticize the US in your state controlled newspaper, the propagandistic nature of the criticism is just too obvious to have any effect on people (like those in HK) who grew up with a “free press.”  Speaking through state-controlled media detracts from your message, completely overshadowing the legitimacy of many of your claims.  What you need is an institution with a reputation for objectivity and independence.  There are no such institutions in Mainland China.

The other thing that detracts from your message is your tone.  You see, to those of us with Western sensibilities the way  you write just sounds childish.  So let me give you some advice that I give my students.  Be judicious with your adjectives and adverbs.  Just as the use of “very” tends to weaken whatever it was intended to strengthen, when your propagandists write something like, “China on Friday responded to the United States criticism and irresponsible remarks of its human rights situation by publishing its own report on the US human rights issues,” the sentence is rendered ineffective as propaganda by the word “irresponsible.”  It just makes it too obvious that the reporter is not objectively reporting what the CCP says, but is actually a mouthpiece for the CCP.  This is why the South China Morning Post is a much more useful propaganda tool for you than is the China Daily.  The fact that the SCMP is published in HK, and is at times mildly critical of your policies is precisely what makes it more credible.  Notice that the New York Times was so much more useful to the Bush administration in making its case for the invasion of Iraq than was Fox News, which was too obviously allied with the Republican party to be taken seriously by anyone who was the least bit skeptical in the first place.  To liberal-minded Westerners, the China Daily and Fox News sound exactly equally ridiculous.

A free press in HK can be useful to you, but only if you use a softer touch.  If you want to be able to effectively influence media savvy people all over the world, the legacy of press freedom in HK is your most valuable asset.  Currently HK’s reputation for press freedom is depreciating so quickly that the credibility of its independent papers may reach the level of the China Daily or Xinhua.  Once lost, it will be nearly impossible to restore.  So use your financial muscle to encourage self-censorship, but be patient.  Use the carrot, avoid the stick.  Eventually, you’ll find that journalists have subconsciously adopted your frames to the point that they don’t even think of it as self-censoring, and the public won’t either.  But if you’re too eager to take control of HK, you risk destroying the very institutions you wish to control.

In exchange for what really is my bestest most honest advice to you, all I ask for in return is a better CCP troll.  I don’t want to sound ungrateful.  Kayo and I were flattered that our lowly blog had enticed a seemingly enthusiastic Commie troll to comment on our posts about attitudes toward Cantonese as a language!  But that guy was a bit of an amateur.  No offense.  With his emotionally charged anti-Cantonese bigotry, he did such a good job of making himself look foolish, I felt like there was nothing left for me to do!  So if we could have a slightly more culturally sensitive troll, that would be super duper awesome  (for all involved parties) 🙂 🙂 Promise we won’t censor 😉