CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Addressing issues more helpful
 than vague threats of disaster

HONG KONG (SE): Government representatives at the National People’s Congress of China, which ran in Beijing from March 5 to 12, have warned that full democracy in Hong Kong could spell some sort of unspecified disaster for the special administrative region.

The comment comes amid widespread debate in the territory over how the next chief executive should be installed in 2017.

AsiaNews reported a Hong Kong delegate to the congress, Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, as quoting the chairperson of the congress, Zhang Dejiang, as saying that the Occupy Central Movement, which aims at achieving full democracy by 2017, is the mainland’s greatest enemy.

She reported Zhang as saying, “Some people were waving the banner of universal suffrage to undermine stability in Hong Kong. This won’t help the cause of universal suffrage.”

Although the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, made a last ditch effort to introduce some level of democracy during the dying years of British sovereignty, he told the Sunday Examiner that he knew it was too little too late and he was critical of his country’s tardiness on the matter.

However, to China, universal suffrage seems to be a complete no no. It seems to see it as being synonymous with loss of political control.

The Occupy Central Movement aims at putting pressure on the Hong Kong government through peaceful protest and civil disobedience to implement full democracy in the territory.

In addition, civil society groups, the Catholic Church and other religious denominations have long been calling for the adoption of universal suffrage.

A statement published by the diocese of Hong Kong on July 25 and 28 last year, An Urgent Call for Earnest Dialogue and Responsible Action, says that it fears that what is being promoted is a restrictive interpretation of the Basic Law, which could be used to set up a nominating committee for the chief executive that is broadly representative, as required by Article 45, in name only, but in fact is narrowing participation.

The statement adds that the diocese believes that the Occupy Central Movement has come about as a consequence of this and, rather than treating it as the enemy, governments should responsibly address the concerns it expresses.

Contrary to the prediction of the congress in Beijing that democracy would be a total disaster for Hong Kong, the diocese states, “Since a democratic form of government is essential to the wellbeing of Hong Kong, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong calls upon the government to begin formal consultations on the appropriate electoral reform model.”

Put bluntly, the diocese is accusing some elements of government and vested interest of trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the people by pretending to introduce democratic procedures, while in fact, doing the opposite.

The statement from the diocese is just nine months old, but it has said nothing since to indicate that it has changed its opinion on the need for true democratic procedures for the good of the people of the special administrative region.

The statement goes on to quote the United Nations, Vatican II and Pope John Paul II to back up its call for a speedy transition to true democracy.

It then cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church in defence of civil disobedience. While not going as far as to judge the validity of the position Occupy Central takes, it does state that civil disobedience cannot simply be ruled out as something that can never be morally justifiable on the simplistic basis that it is breaking a law.

This statement challenges what has become an oft-repeated accusation from various sectors of society that civil disobedience is by its very nature wrong or can never be justified in any circumstance.

However, bold as the statement may have been, a vicar general of the diocese, Father Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, told a press conference on July 30 last year, “The Church has no intention of making an intervention into the political affairs of Hong Kong.”

He clarified the diocese’s position as simply calling on the government to come clean and enter into genuine dialogue with those who propose democracy and universal suffrage.

He further explained that because of constant government dithering, livelihood issues in the territory are not being addressed and people’s wellbeing is being threatened.

He called it a constitutional issue and explained that the diocese is simply trying to facilitate a political process, which he defined as the interaction between the people and the administration of public affairs.

He also defended civil disobedience, saying, “It is not a sin, so long as it is carried out as an act of conscience directed at preventing or removing a grave injustice or violation of human rights.”

However, Father Yeung stressed that the diocese would neither encourage nor discourage its members from joining Occupy Central, but would probably offer assistance if any of them are arrested.

However, this is pastoral care, which is non-judgmental, as it addresses the welfare of the person without condoning or condemning the act.

The lines have been clearly drawn between pro- and anti-democracy forces.

 

The posturing at the Beijing congress does not contribute to the debate in a constructive manner but, as the diocese suggests, a dialogue addressing the root causes of the current impasse definitely would.

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