By Mick Krever, CNN
By disrupting life in Hong Kong and rejecting Beijing’s ruling on how Hong Kong should be governed, pro-democracy demonstrators there may actually be scuttling progress on democracy, pro-Beijing Hong Kong legislator Regina Ip told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
“In terms of guarantee of personal freedoms and rights, we were free before we became democratic,” Ip said. “The democratic process only started getting under way in the 1980s, very late in the colonial era. And we've made a lot more progress since 1997.”
“I fully understand and sympathize with [the protesters’] aspirations. But they also need to recognize that our democratic model is laid down in the basic law.”
“We are not an independent country. We are part of one country.”
Students and pro-democracy activists clogged Hong Kong’s central business district through the end of last week, protesting a ruling by China that Hong Kong residents would be able to directly elect their chief executive, but only from a list of Beijing-approved candidates.
Many protesters left the streets over the weekend after their leaders agreed to negotiations with the office of the chief executive, C.Y. Leung. They have promised, however, to return to the streets if they believe their demands are not being met.
“I think the government is trying very hard to resolve the disputes as peacefully as possible,” Ip, who is the former security chief of Hong Kong, said.
A fellow Hong Kong legislator, Claudia Mo, told Amanpour last month that China is “essentially very insecure and paranoid,” and is therefore playing tough with Hong Kong.
“The message,” Mo said, is “‘We don't care about Hong Kong anymore. Hong Kong is disposable.’”
“I totally disagree with her,” Ip said. “Hong Kong is the most international city of China; it is a very important southern gateway, and very important showcase to Taiwan.”
“I think China is becoming modern through territories like Taiwan and Hong Kong, learning about the democratic process. So I disagree with Claudia. I think if we could make the democratic model and let the basic law work in Hong Kong, we will be contributing to China's modernization.”
Ip has a somewhat controversial past with issues of democracy.
She has previously told The New York Times that while she supports and understands the “normative justifications for a democratic system … the big question in my mind is in what way more democracy added value.”
“We are within reaching distance of voting for our chief executive by universal suffrage,” she told Amanpour. “But efficiency and effectiveness have suffered.”
“Our legislature can be described as dysfunctional. The pro-democratic camp is practically declaring warfare on the government. So nothing is getting done.”
“I believe all systems of government must be able to deliver in terms of improving the livelihood and the welfare of the people.”
In an interview with Amanpour last month, Anson Chan – a former chief secretary of Hong Kong, who ran and won against Ip in a legislative election in 2007 – said that China was not living up to its commitments under the Basic Law, the document that underpinned Hong Kong’s transfer from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
“The basic law in black-and-white says universal suffrage means the right not only to vote but the right of every permanent Hong Kong resident to vote,” Chan said. “It says that the nominating committee for the election of the chief executive have to be broadly representative and the nomination process has to be democratic.”
Ip said that Chan was “largely correct,” but said that China is in fact living up to this commitment.
“The nominating committee, which should be discussed in the next few months, is broadly representative.”
“And we could broaden it if stage two of the consultation to discuss the details to be set out in local legislation, if that could get under way. But we can't do that until the demonstrations have come to an end.”
Ip told Amanpour that while she is “very impressed by the passion of the students,” and the fact that they have remained peaceful, that did not justify their actions.
“It is also a fact that they are unlawful, and they have obstructed traffic to a large extent, disrupting the life of many, causing many to lose business and even to lose jobs.”
“And as some members of the public have said, they can exercise their freedom, but they cannot interfere with other people's freedom to get to work in a convenient manner.”
“So I think they should also bear that in mind.”