For a long time, the people of Hong Kong had been regarded as interested only in the economy, since they showed relatively little interest in political activities. Apart the election held right before the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, there was virtually no attempt by the people to have a say in their political future. But their performance since July 1 has been most refreshing. Their passion for political participation has apparently come alive overnight. Why? The reason lies in the legislative implementation of Article 23 of the Basic Law, which would severely curtail people's freedoms, democracy and human rights and cause a great deal of uncertainty about the future.
The handover of Hong Kong to China was settled through direct negotiations between China and the UK. The people of Hong Kong had absolutely no say in this process. It was not until the term of the last British governor, Chris Patten, that structural reforms were made to allow for popular elections. However, China accused Britain of breaching the Sino-UK pact by enacting the reforms and promised to reverse them after the 1997 handover. But in the process of rolling back the democratic reforms, the foundations of Hong Kong's current problems were laid.
Everyone knows that in the six short years since the handover, Hong Kong's allure as the "Pearl of Orient" has dimmed. In the minds of China's leaders, it had long been decided that Shanghai was to replace Hong Kong as the country's economic powerhouse. Now the majority of Chinese capital is channeled into developing Shanghai.
The situation in Hong Kong has completely changed. Real estate prices have fallen by 60 to 70 percent since the handover. The manufacturing sector quickly moved north, causing the unemployment rate to soar to 8 percent. Against the backdrop of serious economic decline, the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government nevertheless had to follow Beijing's demands for the legislative implementation of Article 23 of the Basic Law, which seeks to strip the people of their freedoms, democracy and human rights. It isn't hard to see why this move generated resentment among the people.
The people of Hong Kong know very well that enactment of the so-called anti-subversion bill, regardless of how much the SAR government water it down, will only aggravate Hong Kong's problems, and they would have no chance to undo the damage in the future.
As a result, as many as 500,000 people turned out to demonstrate on July 1. Even the Beijing leadership was taken aback. On July 9, another 50,000 people besieged the Legislative Council, demanding popular election of the SAR government. On July 13, 20,000 people took to the streets to demand a timetable for democratic reforms, so that the third chief executive of the SAR government and the Legislative Council would be elected by popular elections in 2007 and 2008. This series of protests clearly did not occur arbitrarily or randomly.
These demands are very important in the protection of human rights. According to the current election system, the chief executive is elected by a committee of 800 members, all hand-picked by Beijing. At most, half of the members of the legislature are elected by the public. Furthermore, any amendments to the way the chief executive and the legislature are elected can only take place after 2007, and then only with the approval of at least two-thirds of the legislature, the chief executive and the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Bluntly put, how much democracy Hong Kong can enjoy in the future is entirely up to Beijing. To avoid the development of a democracy movement in China, Beijing would of course prefer democracy in Hong Kong to materialize later rather than sooner.