US embassy cable - 06HONGKONG1252

DRL OFFICER RANA SIU'S VISIT TO HONG KONG: CIVIL SOCIETY DEVELOPMENTS (PART 2 OF 2)

Identifier: 06HONGKONG1252
Wikileaks: View 06HONGKONG1252 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Hong Kong
Created: 2006-03-24 09:21:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL HK CH PINR PHUM ELAB
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO0370
PP RUEHCN
DE RUEHHK #1252/01 0830921
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 240921Z MAR 06
FM AMCONSUL HONG KONG
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5721
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HONG KONG 001252 
 
SIPDIS 
 
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DEPT FOR EAP AND EAP/CM 
NSC FOR DENNIS WILDER 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/24/2031 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, HK, CH, PINR, PHUM, ELAB 
SUBJECT: DRL OFFICER RANA SIU'S VISIT TO HONG KONG: CIVIL 
SOCIETY DEVELOPMENTS (PART 2 OF 2) 
 
 
Classified By: E/P Chief Simon Schuchat. Reasons: 1.4(b,d). 
 
1. (C) During a March 13-16 visit to Hong Kong, DRL Foreign 
Affairs Officer Rana Siu discussed civil society and 
political party developments with Hong Kong-based NGOs. 
According to the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the 
pro-Government parties have become more skittish about 
participating in NDI programs.  Civic Exchange, a local think 
tank, believed local sensitivity over ties to NDI was related 
to Hong Kong's election cycle.  Anthony Cheung, Executive 
Council member and Synergynet founder, said local pro-Beijing 
groups were concerned about NDI because they sometimes 
confused the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) -- which 
has a controversial reputation in China and Hong Kong -- with 
NDI.  A University of Hong Kong pollster emphasized the 
importance of improving the standards for conducting and 
reporting on polls in Hong Kong.  Separately, a Democratic 
Party (DP) member explained that the party wanted to re-shape 
its image in order to reconnect with disillusioned voters. 
Siu also met with the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, the 
Hong Kong Policy Research Institute, and the International 
Republican Institute.  This is the second of two cables 
discussing Siu's meetings in Hong Kong. 
 
NDI: "Politics is Extracurricular" 
---------------------------------- 
 
2. (C) On March 14, Christine Chung, National Democratic 
Institute's (NDI) Director of China programs said that over 
the past year, the two pro-Government parties, the Liberal 
Party (LP) and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and 
Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), had become more skittish about 
participating in NDI programs.  The local media had published 
some articles critical of NDI and had caused some parties and 
organizations to be reluctant about associating with the NGO. 
 While the Democratic Party (DP) was less concerned about 
these accusations, they also had less time than before to 
attend optional training sessions, explained Chung.  The DP 
recently required potential district council candidates to 
attend a half-day, DP-sponsored, political theory and 
campaign training workshop, held every other Saturday. 
Regarding the development of political parties in Hong Kong, 
Chung was critical, saying that for some elected officials, 
"politics is extracurricular."  With many politicians working 
full time jobs, and participating in numerous government and 
charity commissions, there was little time left for party 
development. 
 
Civic Exchange: Entering the Mainland 
------------------------------------- 
 
3. (C) On March 14, Christine Loh, Chief Executive Officer of 
Civic Exchange, said local sensitivity over ties to NDI was 
related to Hong Kong's election cycle.  She noted that in the 
run-up to the September 2004 legislative council elections, 
NDI was criticized in pro-Beijing newspapers.  In the post 
election period, however, NDI was able to co-sponsor, along 
with several pro-Beijing newspapers and organizations, a July 
2005 Civic Exchange forum entitled "The New Chief Executive's 
Platform."  While some NGOs were concerned about the negative 
publicity and hostility from the pro-Beijing media, Loh said 
that as long as Civic Exchange was transparent about its 
programs and associations, it had nothing to defend or worry 
about.  Questions over NDI's role in Hong Kong had nothing to 
do with the quality of the NDI programs, Loh added. 
 
4. (C) Hong Kong was a launch pad for civil society work on 
the mainland, contended Loh.  In partnership with Plowshares 
Institute, a Connecticut-based NGO that addresses conflict 
resolution issues, Civic Exchange has been promoting 
"alternative democracy skills" in Nanjing.  Civic Exchange 
Researcher Yan Yan Yip explained that by holding half-day 
workshops on conflict management using local case studies, 
Civic Exchange hoped that mainland participants in the 
workshops would be able to create a more respectful 
relationship between people and authority.  While it was 
important to build democracy, it was not necessary to call it 
by that label, said Loh.  In her words it was also important 
to "strengthen the pillars of democracy, not just elections." 
 
 
5. (C) In order to better understand the term "democracy," 
Civic Exchange hopes to commission Hong Kong-based mainland 
scholars to write about democracy, and particularly about 
democracy within the Chinese Communist party.  Separately, 
Loh predicted that there would be a "revival" of the debate 
over Asian values (as championed by former Singaporean Prime 
 
HONG KONG 00001252  002 OF 003 
 
 
Minister Lee Kuan Yew) versus the universal definition of 
democracy.  In preparation, Loh suggested asking scholars 
from China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Indonesia 
to write about the meaning of democracy, each from their own 
cultural perspective. 
 
Simon Lee: Democratic Party Needs Image Makeover 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
6. (C) Simon Lee, HSBC Global Markets Manager and DP member, 
told Siu on March 14 that he had participated in NDI programs 
because he was interested in politics.  Lee found the "Young 
Political Leaders Communications Training Program" to be 
useful and inspirational in thinking about his own 
participation in the Democratic Party.  While some of the 
other workshop participants criticized the lack of a more 
localized agenda, Lee said he enjoyed learning about how 
people communicated, campaigned, and so on in other political 
systems and cultures.  Lee did note that because the NDI 
program was conducted in English (with Chinese translation 
available), some party members were reluctant to participate 
due to their poor English language proficiency.  NDI should 
continue to invite other political parties "for balance," 
suggested Lee.  Overall, Lee was pleased with the NDI 
workshops, saying it was one of the "only times that all of 
the parties can get together and talk" informally. 
 
7. (C) While Lee had no short-term plans to run for office, 
he is involved in re-shaping the DP's public image.  When 
asked if the reforms were meant to distinguish the DP from 
the newly formed Civic Party, Lee responded that he hoped the 
image makeover would narrow the gap between the DP and the 
Civic Party and help the party to reconnect with voters. 
Acknowledging the DP's low approval ratings, Lee said that he 
wanted to help the party use its members' time and energy 
more effectively.  Another goal of the image makeover was to 
re-shape the perception of the DP as a one-issue party and to 
get the message out that the party also had strong economic 
policies. 
 
Synergynet: Anthony Cheung 
-------------------------- 
 
8. (C) Anthony Cheung, Executive Council member and 
Synergynet founder, stated on March 15 that local pro-Beijing 
groups were concerned about contacts with the NDI because 
they sometimes confused it with the National Endowment for 
Democracy (NED), which has a controversial reputation in 
China and Hong Kong.  However, Cheung said that as long as 
NDI's work was transparent, there would not be a problem. 
Cheung said he had advised NDI to open its workshops to all 
political parties to avoid being perceived as partisan. 
 
9. (C) The July 1, 2003 demonstration was a real turning 
point for many young people, said Cheung, and has motivated 
many to local activism.  While some young Hong Kongers were 
still cynical and distrusted the political establishment, 
they were now more willing to develop new civil society 
groups as an alternative to politics.  Cheung said he 
recently started an informal civil society dinner with 
several other NGOs and organizations, including the 
Roundtable (also known as the Hong Kong Avant-garde Policy 
Research Institute and the 30s Group, two groups for young 
professionals interested in community issues.  Cheung said 
there were tentative plans to create a website as a 
clearinghouse for information on civil society. 
 
10. (C) Cheung also discussed his role as an Executive 
Council (Exco) member.  While some democrats questioned 
whether he had compromised his democratic values by joining 
the Exco, Cheung saw his participation in the Exco as a 
positive development.  By appointing a democrat, the 
Government had proven itself to be inclusive rather than 
exclusive.  Moreover, he believed Chief Executive Donald 
Tsang must have had Beijing's tacit approval to include a 
 
SIPDIS 
democrat in the Exco.  When asked why he thought he was 
"acceptable" to Beijing, Cheung responded that he was one of 
the few people to have maintained links with Beijing both 
before and after the handover.  Separately, Cheung exhorted 
Hong Kong to not react defensively about its relationship 
with China.  "Hong Kong must have enough confidence that it 
won't be absorbed by the mainland," because the city had its 
own core values and institutional strengths. 
 
Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor: Cyd Ho 
-------------------------------------- 
 
 
HONG KONG 00001252  003 OF 003 
 
 
11. (C) On March 15, Cyd Ho, Chairperson of the Hong Kong 
Human Rights Monitor said that two of her colleagues, though 
not affiliated with any political party, had participated in 
NDI's District Council Candidate Campaign School in February 
2006.  Both were pleased with the training.  Ho had learned 
from her colleagues that Tony Liu Kit-ming, Chairman of the 
Local Inspectors' Association (a local police union) had also 
attended the workshop.  She expressed concern that the 
participation of an active-duty policeman at a campaign 
training workshop might be a possible conflict of interest. 
Ho brought Liu's participation to the attention of a "South 
China Morning Post" (SCMP) journalist.  A March 7 article in 
the SCMP pointed out that under civil service rules, officers 
serving in the government could not participate in elections. 
 However, Liu told the SCMP that he was encouraging police 
colleagues on the verge of retirement, not active-duty 
officers, to consider running in next year's district council 
elections.  Ho added that she had raised concerns about this 
issue to Emily Lau, legislator and Convenor of The Frontier. 
According to Ho, Lau agreed that there might be a possible 
conflict of interest issue and promised to raise the issue in 
the legislature. 
 
Robert Chung: Polling Standards Need to be Improved 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
12. (C) On March 15, Robert Chung, Program Director of the 
Public Opinion Program (POP) at the University of Hong Kong, 
explained that all of Hong Kong's political parties had 
internal polling units.  However, because many of the polls 
released by the parties did not include information about 
their survey methodology, he could not assess the quality of 
their survey conclusions.  According to Chung, local 
journalists were not serious or professional about polls and 
that "it pays for them to release substandard polls." 
Journalists were often under pressure by editors to report 
stories and were less interested in checking the validity of 
the polls, lamented Chung.  He noted that NDI had sponsored a 
two-hour workshop, entitled "20 Questions a Journalist Should 
Ask About Poll Results."  The workshop emphasized the 
importance of professional standards for conducting and 
reporting on polls.  While he had observed that the 
pro-Beijing political parties had become more skeptical of 
affiliating with NDI, especially around election time, the 
POP program was happy to continue to work on future projects 
together with NDI. 
 
13. (C) Chung said that since 1991, the media, government and 
political parties were forbidden by election guidelines to 
reveal exit poll results before the close of polling stations 
at 10:30 pm and added that violators faced possible censure. 
However, during the last Legco election, it was clear that 
the DAB ran their own exit polls and had a more accurate 
picture of election results than the other parties.  The DP 
acknowledged that they had not run their own exit polls, 
leading to some disappointing results among democratic 
candidates.  Former DP Chairman Martin Lee's last minute call 
for votes ultimately led to independent democrat Cyd Ho's 
loss in the Hong Kong Island geographic constituency. 
According to Chung, the DP said that from a principled 
standpoint, they had not run their own exit polls to avoid 
"election engineering."  However, the political parties are 
currently considering whether or not to imitate the DAB in 
running polls during the next election.  Previously, Chung 
said that the POP had conducted exit polls, but only released 
the results after 10:30 pm.  Chung is currently considering 
publishing this data throughout the election day so that all 
political parties would have access to this data.  Chung has 
not worked out the details with the HKG or even thought about 
funding, but he is considering approaching NDI as a possible 
sponsor for this project. 
 
14. (C) On March 14, Siu had an unaccompanied meeting with 
Amy Gadsden, International Republican Institute's Resident 
Country Director for China.  On March 16, Dr. Peter Pun, Vice 
Chairman of the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute (HKPRI) 
provided Siu with an overview of the institute's mission, 
programs, and funding sources.  Pun explained that Paul Yip, 
HKPRI Chairman provided the "seed money" for the 
establishment of the Roundtable. 
 
15. (U) DRL Foreign Affairs Officer Siu cleared this message. 
Cunningham 

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