High Stakes

Killing off the democratic dream in Hong Kong

Beijing plays a dangerous game of political roulette with red the only color

Sinister soundbites illustrate China’s paranoia when it comes to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party has claimed there is a “separatist” plot working towards “independence” without a shred of evidence.

Beijing officials and state media have also peppered their comments with the Party line about Hong Kong’s “democratic development” and the need for “patriots” to govern the city.

But it is becoming increasingly clear that “patriots” mean Communist Party supporters. How that dovetails with the Basic Law in what is regarded as a Special Administrative Region is open to debate. It might in the end be settled in court. But where? Hong Kong or Beijing?

“There is no so-called international standard of democracy,” Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a media briefing today ahead of plans by the National People’s Congress in Beijing to radically overhaul the city’s electoral system, parroting the CCP view.

The facts:

  • China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the NCP, is expected to approve on Thursday a resolution that will reduce democratic representation in Hong Kong institutions.
  • Chinese authorities are likely to reduce the number of legislative politicians elected by the people.
  • The powerful Election Committee is also likely to be handed new powers.
  • They would include nominating candidates to stand in the legislative elections.
  • There will also be no consultation period with the people of Hong Kong over the electoral changes.
  • That would rule out pro-democracy candidates, resulting in a pro-Party and pro-Beijing legislative.

What was said: “Many people in Hong Kong are politically immature. They think ‘one man one vote’ is the best thing,” Martin Liao, a pro-Beijing Hong Kong politician, said as reported by the Reuters news agency last week.

Dispelling the myth: “It used to be said that Hongkongers were too politically immature to handle democracy. The British said it to delay democracy in colonial Hong Kong. The Chinese said it to derail democracy in post-handover Hong Kong. And the rich said it throughout to preserve power in their hands. No one is saying it now, except for a few diehards,” Michael Chugani, a Hong Kong journalist and television show host, wrote in a commentary for the South China Morning Post back in 2011.

Separatists, damn separatists: “We are not another Singapore. In Hong Kong, by pushing on the democracy envelope too far, and by attempting to chip away the authority of Beijing in, for example, appointing the chief executive, many of the so-called democrats have become, in practice, separatists,” Former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying told the National People’s Congress last week.

Hong Kong, our Hong Kong: “I support both democracy and Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong. They are not mutually exclusive. Beijing, obsessed with the false belief that an independence movement has taken root, doesn’t seem to grasp that. Its tightening grip is choking off hope of real democracy. A headline in the [South China MorningPost said Beijing should let Hong Kong be Hong Kong. It encapsulated the soul of Hong Kong people. Letting us be who we are doesn’t mean subversion, secession, colluding with foreign forces, or being unpatriotic,” Chugani wrote in an opinion piece last week.

China Factor comment: At least one million Hong Kong people took to the streets during the summer of discontent in 2019. They were mainly protesting against a proposed law that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. The bill was eventually scrapped. But by then, the demonstrations had morphed into a wider pro-democracy movement. At times, the protests became violent with Beijing eventually imposing a new national security law on the city. What followed was a crackdown on activists calling for greater democracy with up to 100 people being arrested and countless charged. Now, Beijing plans to sweep away the last vestiges of dissent and pack the legislative with pro-Beijing sympathizers. In the end, this is like a game of political roulette with red the only color.

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