EDITORIAL

Bottom line of Hong Kong election

There is a surreal air about the growing agitation in Hong Kong over the 2017 election for the territory's chief executive. Beijing's requirement that candidates be pre-qualified to its satisfaction is undoubtedly a truncated form of suffrage, but is not a disavowal of the Basic Law. All registered voters will get to choose their leader directly, for the first time. Compare this with the Hong Kong of old, which had no say when appointed governors dispatched from London ruled the territory for over a century.

Dissidents could spare themselves apoplexy if they would acknowledge that a measured approach is consistent with the Beijing leadership's threshold for liberalisation in the national whole. This essentially is a local government election within China's massive fold, but which the pro-democracy lobby is elevating to the status of an exercise in sovereign choice. It is setting itself up for aggravation and creating governing gridlock in the city.

That said, Beijing could have shown a measure of self-confidence in accelerating the pace of electoral change in the city. China has grown immensely in the 17 years after Hong Kong again became part of its sovereign whole. Why would the central leadership presume that the dissenters will prevail over the pragmatists, who are far and away the majority among the five million eligible voters? When all is said and done, Hong Kong is and always has been about money and the sweet life - for which stability and a good working relationship with Beijing are necessary.

In a completely free chief executive election, it would not be a surprise if a pro-Beijing candidate won. It is wrong of the centre to imagine that Hong Kongers in general will consider any such candidate put up for election is inimical to their interests. This is one country, and Hong Kong is still its window to the world, although Shanghai is looking glitzier. Away from the noisy protests and the Occupy Central stunt, most Hong Kongers are level-headed people who just want to get ahead.

This is why democracy activists should avoid a confrontation they cannot win. Hong Kong and the mainland should be collaborating more deeply to reinforce the city's global standing in finance, commerce and logistics. A Guangdong research unit's report that Hong Kong's share of national GDP has fallen from 16 per cent to 3 per cent after 1997 should act as a jolt to rabble rousers.

If Hong Kong is losing its business lustre despite mainland tourist and market-opening input, there are serious implications for its workforce and the real estate market. As the territory's business is business, whatever political deal being constructed should support its raison d'etre and not undermine it.