Chinese democracy could follow economic prosperity through the port of Hong Kong.
One country, two systems, is Beijing’s official policy for Hong Kong, but Chinese authorities want to be certain the county’s doorstep to democracy is sealed. The importance of the democratic system in Hong Kong and what it means to its inhabitants has been reflected in the mass turnouts in the streets as tens of thousands joined the civil disobedience movement. Politicians, religious leaders, workers’ unions, students, and more have rallied against Beijing’s recent anti-democratic decision. It is the first time in Hong Kong’s history that so many have marched together, and also the first time that authorities have attempted to curb them with such violence.
The issue is primarily how to achieve universal suffrage in the 2017 election for Chief Executive. Many already felt their concerns were not addressed by the Hong Kong administration, which is regularly torn between big business and the central government, but displeasure mounted as Beijing enacted a new policy giving it the right of veto over eligible candidates in Hong Kong’s election. Liberal, pro-democracy leaders would have little hope of being approved.
Hong Kong has been under Chinese control since Britain’s 99-year lease ended on July 1, 1997, but the Hong Kong administrative region is supposed to enjoy a high degree of autonomy until 2047. The city has become China’s crown jewel, a bridge connecting China’s economy and culture to the rest of the world, and it was a key stepping stone at the start of China’s economic reform in the late seventies.
The city that opened Communist China to the wealth of the Western World, leading to its growth into the 2nd largest economy in the world could, however, become a source of irony for the ambitious and authoritarian nation. The politburo now fears that democratic fervor could spill over to Shanghai and Beijing just as economic openness has.
Those on the mainland who have enjoyed this increased economic achievement, been educated in greater numbers, and now congregate on social media may seek proportionate political freedoms with those enjoyed by the citizens of Hong Kong since British rule. Beijing has been forced to respond with ever greater censorship, but in this age of information technology, the authorities can no more easily block the flow of information than block the water from the Yangtze River.
Those who were born under the freedom of this political and economic island within China will not easily give in to the corrupt, opaque, and absolute rule of the CCP. Beijing seeks to stem the growth of democracy from Hong Kong, but it faces the will of a city which has not yet bowed to the one-party system.
— Probir Kumar Sarkar (Editor’s Comment, Autumn 2014)
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