Britain gave reins of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, during which the Beijing gave certain assurances, under what was termed as ‘One country two systems’, Hong Kong was allowed to keep its common law system and assured of greater rights than those prevalent in mainland China, as China would not interfere for at least 50 years in the affairs of Hong Kong except for the decision of the leader of the region (Chief Executive). Residents of Hong Kong hoped that by 2017, they would be able to elect their own Chief Executive to run Hong Kong. China says that there will be no open nominations for the job and only those cleared by the Communist Party would be allowed to contest. This has fueled demonstrations that have turned up to be the biggest public protests in Hong Kong since Chinese rule, also known as the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ (Thousands have deployed umbrellas to protect themselves from the tear gas attack of the police. It had lead some of them to call it ‘umbrella revolution’).
The tension in Hong Kong is after the revision of the recent Beijing’s stand contradicting the original 1997 position (adoption of universal suffrage). The process now has been reduced merely to the vetting of the candidates for the post of Chief Executive of Hong Kong (SAR). In the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, more than half are nominated members, and only handful are directly elected by the constituents of Hong Kong.
Extent of autonomy that Hong Kong enjoys –
Political control is vested with the Communist Party of China. Administrative, financial, economic, legislative, social autonomy has been protected under the basic law or what people call the semi constitution of Hong Kong. The crucial point is the election of Chief Executive of Hong Kong and the political regulations guiding his firm control by the Beijing.
Why Hong Kong wants more autonomy?
This is a revision of the promises that Deng Xiaoping made in the 1980s and following its inscription in the basic law of Hong Kong SAR. The original promise that Deng Xiaoping made when he started negotiating with the British under Margaret Thatcher was that ‘One country two systems’ would include ‘universal suffrage’ for the people of Hong Kong and the deadline for that was given as 2017. Recently the National People’s Congress, which is the Chinese Parliament, has passed a resolution stating that the 2017 elections will be controlled by nominations and there will be a vetting process of the candidate of Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR.
Therefore, there is a kind of frustration in Hong Kong people which is generated with a lot of factors –
- Growing social inequality – Hong Kong has crony capitalism much like Russia (Hong Kong topped ‘The Economist’ list of Crony Capitalist Index, beating Russia), where huge wealth is dominating and the people of Hong Kong are not having basic economic rights. For example – Buying even a small house is a dream for majority of the Hong Kong people.
- Successive migration from mainland China (Hong Kong people find them inferior).
- Faith in the Government is at all time low (after the Chief Executive’s stand on Hong Kong’s autonomy).
This is in the nature of democratization to demand not just the political reforms but breaking up the structures of domination like we have seen in Taiwan (Reduction of Kuomitang Party’s economic control) and all the new countries that came up post Soviet disintegration, especially Eastern Europe.
Major groups taking the lead –
Hong Kong Students Federation, Young school students, Group of democrats (Occupy Central with peace and love) are some of the independent groups yearning for a common cause of greater transparency and autonomy in the internal affairs of Hong Kong. There are differences between these groups and the movement is largely ‘leaderless’ and there is no one point of target that can be said about the protests in contrast to the ‘Sunflower protest’ that took place in Taiwan few months ago. The younger protesters have pushed the matters to the forefront and they have sort of forestalled the old style of democrats like Martin Lee and party (although he is also active). The new style has been adopted because the tear gas and pepper sprays were used against the protesters which forced the ordinary Hong Kong people to come at the protest site. The new protesters may compromise on certain cases while continuing their protests to achieve the ultimate goal of real autonomy in the near future.
How China justifies this movement as illegal and unconstitutional?
Beijing is ready to follow the letters of the ‘basic law’ of Hong Kong, but not the spirit of it. Beijing proclaims that the demands of the protesters did not accord with what the basic law or the semi constitution (Hong Kong’s constitution) stipulates. The demand of universal suffrage has been accepted by China but the protesters are asking for the transparency and rationality in the selection of candidates via the process of direct elections, which is neither the part of basic law/constitution nor what the leaders have said anytime during negotiations with the British.
History of Hong Kong Protests –
In 2003, Hong Kong protested against Article 23 which was a security related law that impinged on their freedom and pressured the government to shelve it.
In 2012, they protested against the education plan, which made certain text books compulsory that censored out Tiananmen Square like incidents completely and it was seen as the communist brainwashing.
People’s Republic of China has not declined the promise of ‘Universal Suffrage’ and they have not taken a hard line despite the nature of the government in Beijing. Protesters are asking for the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying that could happen later but not immediately as it would mean a loss of face and de-legitimatize the process of elected officials.
When Hong Kong was handed over to China, it was seen by the British as a gateway to China on economic grounds but contemporarily the relevance of Hong Kong has declined with the emergence of Shanghai as the new economic hub. This had given a certain level of angst to the ordinary people of Hong Kong that their specialness seems to be eroding and the interests of the international community especially the British is declining with regards to Hong Kong's cause.
Why majority of HONG KONGERS oppose these demonstrations?
According to a poll, 46% of Hong Kong people do not support the pro-democracy movement, while only 31% supported the same. 47% of the youngsters (Below 24 yrs of age), 21% of people in the age group of 40-59 years support the cause too. This all depends on how the protesters, majorly the youngsters identify the core issue which is the demand of ‘direct elections’. The young protesters are influenced by the Occupy Wall Street, Tehrir Square, Jasmine Revolution (start of Arab Spring), Sunflower movement etc.
Irony is that the business community also does not support the pro-democracy movements as they feel that democracy would not be suitable for the elite class who share a good reputation with Beijing on administrative affairs of Hong Kong. President Xi Jinping met Hong Kong tycoons on September 26th to discuss the Hong Kong state of affairs.
How China will deal with these protests?
China has backed the decision of the Hong Kong police to use tear gas and pepper sprays against the protesters which show a shadow of China’s aggressive stand during the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989. One is the factor of Chinese nationalism and the emphasis of Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping’s policy of ‘One country’ rather than ‘Two systems’. Before becoming the President, Xi Jinping was the chairman of the leading small group on Hong Kong and Macau affairs, so as Vice President he has handled Hong Kong and Macau for five years and he is quite aware of the situations of these two SARs. Through Hong Kong, China will give a strong message to the West to back off from their internal matters (as Hong Kong has been the key spying port of West throughout the Hong Kong’s history) with the policy of iron hand and velvet glove.
China, rather the world community would never desire for any instability in Hong Kong because of it being a ‘tax haven’ i.e. a financial holiday spot for oligarchs of the West as well as China. They would never want to disturb their hard earned money by risking their investments in Hong Kong through violent revolutions, so it is absurd to believe that CIA is directly funding 500,000 protesters on the roads of Hong Kong through its various NGOs.
Worries of China –
China is worried that the Hong Kong protests will embolden the protests in the mainland like in Xinjiang (Uighurs community as Rebbiya Kadeer criticized Hong Kong situation and asked Uighurs to buckle up for the future war of independence) and Tibet. Also the future of Taiwan’s annexation also depends upon how China handles the Hong Kong situation with the idea of ‘One country and Two systems’ deal originally proposed by Taiwan in 1978. Taiwan’s proposal actually materialized with Hong Kong through the negotiations with British but China’s actual target was Taiwan for the reunification of China and Taiwan. But now Taiwan is not interested in the idea proposed by them in 1978 as they have nothing much to gain but have substantial things to lose if they reunify with China. Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-Jeou is also critical of the idea of reunification now especially after the response of China to the recent Hong Kong situation.
Future of China –
Amid growing bourgeoisie in China (150 million out of 1.4 billion population), they are demanding larger share of power structure. Communist Party introduced the elections at the village level even though the communist party’s base is at the county level (Tehsil level). China has to pacify the growing middle class and the voices of dissent through US President Franklin Roosevelt’s policy – “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
The best thing about future is its nature of uncertainty. Therefore we have to see if Communist Party of China is willing to share power with the people or would it repeat the horrifying episodes of Tiananmen Square like incidents in all the conspiring parts like Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia.