As hundreds of protesters continue to occupy the streets of Hong Kong, challenging China’s Communist Party leaders with calls for greater democracy, much of the world anxiously awaits signs of how Beijing will react to their demands. But the anticipation is perhaps most keenly felt along the periphery of China’s far-flung territory, both inside the country and beyond, where the Chinese government’s authoritarian ways have been most apparent. Among Tibetans and Uighurs, beleaguered ethnic minorities in China’s far west, there is hope that the protests will draw international scrutiny to what they say are Beijing’s broken promises for greater autonomy. The central government’s refusal to even talk with pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, exiled activists add, also highlights a longstanding complaint among many ethnic minority groups in China: the party’s reliance on force over dialogue when dealing with politically delicate matters.
“We’ve seen this movie before, but when people stand up to the Chinese government in places like Lhasa or Urumqi and meet brutal resistance, there is no foreign media to show the world what’s happening,” said Nury Turkel, a Uighur-American lawyer and activist, referring to the regional capitals of Tibet and Xinjiang. “The difference here is what’s happening in Hong Kong is taking place in real time, for all the world to see.”
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Map: Areas of Skirmishes and Protests in Hong Kong
Few places are watching the protests as closely as Taiwan, the self-governed island that China claims as part of its territory.
Beijing’s refusal to grant Hong Kong the unfettered elections that were promised when the former British colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 — a move that prompted the protests — has sharpened opposition to President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan and his efforts to forge closer economic ties with the mainland.