Beijing adopted a dual strategy prior to Tuesday’s demonstration in Hong Kong organized by the Occupy Central movement. On the one hand, the Chinese State Council released a white paper titled The Practice of the “One Country, Two Systems” Policy in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to threaten Hong Kongers. On the other hand, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said the central government would not be affected by the “illegal movement” and pledged to continue to provide preferential treatment under the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA).
Pro-China groups in Hong Kong were also active, saying the movement would hurt the territory’s stability and prosperity. Even the Hong Kong branches of the world’s four largest accounting firms released a statement showing their concern. There is no doubt Beijing made every effort to put out the fire, both visibly and behind the scenes.
What happened, then? Hong Kong is obviously paying less attention to Beijing and it is less afraid of Chinese pressure. As nearly 600,000 protesters took action to express their demand for true universal suffrage, the number of protesters exceeded the number of people participating in the large-scale demonstration on July 1, 2003. In particular, they targeted Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英), demanding that he respond to their call for universal suffrage or step down.
At an event marking the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, Leung called on the public not to harm the territory’s stability and prosperity. For the election of the chief executive by universal suffrage, he promised to work to build a consensus. The question is, how is he going to deal with calls from nearly 600,000 protesters and nearly 800,000 Hong Kongers who voted in an unofficial referendum for real freedom and democracy?
Meanwhile, Beijing’s mouthpiece, the Global Times, launched a series of attacks against the movement, condemning the territory’s pan-democracy camp and the Occupy Central organizers. However, these reports had the opposite effect, increasing Hong Kongers’ resentment of Beijing. The newspaper published an editorial on Monday titled “July 1 rally not in Hong Kong’s interest,” which claimed the opposition camp launched the “illegal” movement to create an image of political confrontation and to split the territory’s diverse society.
If Beijing’s “one country, two systems” policy truly allows democratic Hong Kong and authoritarian China to coexist, the territory should be able to embrace freedom of expression. Unfortunately, China’s white paper emphasizes that it has “overall jurisdiction” over the territory. In other words, it demands Hong Kong’s sinicization, instead of the Chinese mainland’s “Hong Kongization.” Who is hurting the territory’s diversity?
Hong Kong’s freedom, democracy and universal suffrage are defined by Beijing, not the people of Hong Kong. Why shouldn’t they take to the streets to express themselves? Why should they wait for Beijing’s arrangement for everything, including candidates for their own leader?
Beijing still has not learned how to listen to public opinion, nor has it learned what democracy is. It still fears that Hong Kong’s movement may spread, and this fear is expressed in the Global Times editorial, which warned that “some extremists are supporting Occupy Central by proposing to occupy Shenzhen in Guangdong Province or even Tiananmen Square.”
If Beijing is worried the movement could overturn Hong Kong and eliminate the Chinese Communist Party, why can’t it face the movement’s democratic significance and power?
Kung Ling-shin is an associate professor of journalism at Ming Chuan University.
Translated by Eddy Chang