Former colonial official and now pro-Beijing lawmaker Regina Ip is one of the few establishment figures seeking to meet with leaders of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement to find a way to end the protests that have caught the world’s attention, Michael Forstythe reports for the New York Times.
More than a decade ago, as Hong Kong’s top security official, she led the government’s push to pass a law on subversion and treason, despite widespread concern that it would erode the city’s civil liberties, he writes:
She was also hobbled by her public statements, at one point remarking that democracy helped Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in the 1930s and led to the subsequent Holocaust, and that it was not “a panacea for all problems.” She later said she regretted making that comparison, but maintained.
It was an unusual remark coming from someone who in the 1980s as a civil servant under the British helped set up some of Hong Kong’s first democratic institutions — elections for local councils. She then went to Stanford University and took a seminar on democracy taught by two prominent scholars on the subject, Seymour Martin Lipset and Larry Diamond [the founding coeditor of the Journal of Democracy and the co-chair of the Research Council of the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy.]
And after her resignation in 2003 she went to Stanford again, that time to study under Mr. Diamond for a master’s degree. Her thesis was on how to build democracy in Hong Kong.
“She came here very burned and kind of wanting to withdraw and contemplate, and kind of recovered some political creativity and energy,” Mr. Diamond said in an interview. “And as a result of her thinking, began to develop what she thought was some kind of middle way or independent path that could navigate this difficult contradiction between hopes for greater popular sovereignty in Hong Kong and a pace and level of reform that Beijing could be comfortable with.”
In her master’s thesis, Ms. Ip argued for a stronger political party system in Hong Kong and a chief executive, much like in the United States, who was also a party leader, giving him or her more authority, Forsythe adds:
She viewed democracy as more of a tool than anything — a mechanism to help Hong Kong’s leader govern more effectively. She concluded in the thesis that “if this opportunity is seized to good effect, the spinoffs for the future democratization of China are immeasurable.”
Now, though, she makes it clear that democracy has to be more than something nice to have in principle — it has to deliver. “While I fully support and understand the normative justifications for a democratic system, having seen Hong Kong’s democratic transformation, the big question in my mind is in what way more democracy added value,” Ms. Ip said in the interview.