China

Hong Kong’s democracy struggle continues

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists suffered a big blow at the beginning of this month when the central government not only refused to grant open candidacies for the 2017 chief executive election, but tightened the nomination process to run, in effect restricting the electoral process rather than granting any freedoms.

What this means is that to run for the chief executive post (HK’s top official), a candidate must first obtain approval from half of an electoral committee, which is higher than previous elections, albeit this election will be the first one regular Hong Kongers can vote in. In effect, this means all candidates will likely only be those who support Beijing and big business as more independent and activist types will find it hard to gain approval.
This has caused leading figures including leaders of Occupy Central, a movement that threatens civil action such as occupying the Central business district, to ponder their next move, such as if they’ll be able to take the next step and really carry out their occupation. Beijing was rather bold about its uncompromising decision, even making some wacky claims that limiting democracy is essential to protect the wealthy.

Hong Kong now faces some hard questions because Beijing has made its stance clear. Hong Kong has some stark issues, including on the economic end though this might seem very dire – a report that claims Hong Kong might become a “second-tier” city by 2022 as it becomes overtaken by multiple mainland cities in terms of GDP. As it is, there is much, much more to a city than just GDP and that same article lists them- “The city boasts superb infrastructure, a well-established legal system, and a cosmopolitan culture that no mainland city, including Beijing or Shanghai, has yet been able to replicate.

Sinofile has a discussion about this that brings up several good points.
One is that Hong Kong has little leverage in negotiations or disputes with China. Not only is it a small SAR of just 7 million compared to a goliath of 1.3 billion, but it is growing increasingly dependent on China for business and tourists. Internally, Hong Kong is facing problems like rising inequality, poverty and weak industries other than finance and services. This is largely due to a local government that seems to favor business magnates, such as property tycoons, and approving large, expensive projects rather than less-flashy social projects like affordable housing. Personally, I feel that Hong Kong democracy activists should focus more on criticizing and protesting local tycoons and corporations as well as agitating for electoral reform rather than directly taking on Beijing and making ultimatums.

Second, as the first speaker says, “Hong Kong went through 150 years of relatively benign colonial rule by Britain without London ever creating true democratic consciousness or institutions and without Hong Kong ever truly demanding more of a say in its administration. Hong Kong’s business elites vied for British favor and awards, from business monopolies to the sovereign’s bestowed knighthoods.” During British colonialism, Hong Kongers generally did not agitate or demand democracy, especially the generation of my father and uncles. The younger generation are appearing to be much more politically active and radical, and in a way this is a good thing though their goals and tactics may not be. While the democracy activists have gotten a lot of sympathy from Western media, it doesn’t help them ensure they’ll achieve their goals, as can be seen with Beijing’s rejection of open nominations for the 2017 election.

I’ve written an article about this issue so I hope to put it up next week if it’s run.

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