For years after the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, China’s leaders surprised the world by adhering scrupulously to Hong Kong’s unusual political set-up of “one country, two systems”.
Under the terms of the handover, Hong Kong was to retain a high degree of autonomy for 50 years, an ingenious solution for reintegration of a former colony.
In recent years, however, party leaders in Beijing have become less respectful of that system, and that is stirring up resentment.
On June 22nd a protest group called Occupy Central will hold an informal referendum on Hong Kong’s politics. Since 1997 Hong Kong’s chief executive has been chosen by a hand-picked committee of 1,200 local worthies, all friends of Beijing. China has promised that in 2017 the choice will be by “universal suffrage”, but it still insists that the candidates must be chosen by the worthies. This weekend’s referendum offers voters three choices, all of which give Hong Kongers the right to choose the candidates. Occupy Central says it will promote the most popular option. China has said none is acceptable.
To add spice to all this, the regime in Beijing has issued a white paper reminding the territory that Hong Kong’s “autonomy” is entirely at the discretion of China’s leaders. It adds that the judiciary is part of the government and has a “basic political requirement” to “be patriotic”. That flies in the face of Hong Kong’s independent judiciary and its common-law, English legal system. The response of many Hong Kongers has been more angry than at anything since 1997. Occupy Central has threatened to bring the business district to a standstill.
It will come as no great surprise that many think the chief executive should be chosen democratically. The Beijing government would have done better to stick to its original promise, not least because in a free election Hong Kongers would have probably chosen a pro-China candidate anyway. Now that such an election is an impossibility, both sides should be looking for a way to climb down.
When A Panda Throws Its Weight Around
For the democracy activists, that means accepting that most Hong Kongers are pragmatists. However suspicious they are of the Communist Party, they are also disinclined to back radical street politics. Hong Kong is still freer (and richer) than the rest of China. Provoking a clampdown hardly seems wise.
But neither is China’s hardline stance. Many Hong Kongers moved towards the radicals’ camp after a senior mainland figure talked about dealing with disorder by sending in the Chinese army. Attacking the independence of the judiciary in the white paper was also barmy, even by the undemocratic regime’s own aims. The economy is still its priority, and Hong Kong is its most global financial centre. Rule of law and press freedom are the foundations of Hong Kong’s prosperity (and a reason why Shanghai still has not caught up). If China’s president, Xi Jinping, is serious about fighting corruption, then he should be working out how the legal system of the rest of the country can become more like Hong Kong’s.
China is harming itself in other ways. By breaking promises to Hong Kong, it is hardly reassuring Taiwanese voters that “one country, two systems” could be the basis for reunification. And by throwing its weight around, it is doing nothing for its image as a bully in the region. This week an attempt to patch up things with Vietnam failed noisily. A showdown in Hong Kong will not help China’s peaceful rise.Source: Business Insider – A Showdown Is Looming Between Hong Kong And China
- China threatens to remove Hong Kong’s autonomy (chinadailymail)
- Hong Kong Legislative Council Stormed (chinadailymail)
- Hong Kong recalls Tiananmen killings, China muffles dissent (chinadailymail)
- China tries to stop Hong Kong building Tiananmen Square Museum (chinadailymail)
- Ex-Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau attacked in Hong Kong; recently replaced by pro-China editor (chinadailymail)
- A showdown looms – The Economist (economist.com)
- Hong Kong and China: A showdown looms (economist.com)
- Asia’s Week: Hong Kong ‘Occupation’ and Tiananmen’s Ghost (forbes.com)
- Hackers Strike Hong Kong Democracy and Media Websites (theepochtimes.com)
- Alarm in Hong Kong at Chinese white paper affirming Beijing control (edition.cnn.com)