The confrontation in Hong Kong between pro-democracy demonstrators and the Beijing-backed authorities has implications reaching beyond the protesters camped on the streets of the city’s business district or the administration in the official buildings beholden to the central government in Beijing. It epitomises the wider challenge facing China as it seeks economic modernisation while retaining monopolistic Communist Party political rule. Nothing could be more modern in China than the former British colony with its advanced financial system, its freedoms and its full integration into the global economy. Nor could anything be more threatening to the rulers in Beijing than the spiralling call for open direct elections, spearheaded by student protesters defying the police. The clash between the authorities and those calling for uncontrolled democracy in their “umbrella revolution” has intensified this year, as a result of Beijing’s stronger assertion of its right to control developments in the former colony and the emergence of a new, younger pro-democracy movement, which has adopted a more radical approach than the campaigners for a liberal political system in the first decade after sovereignty passed from Britain to China in 1997. The offer of talks by the chief executive on Thursday night, a striking recognition of the power of street protest, would be impossible elsewhere in China.
The presence of tens of thousands of demonstrators in the city’s central business district this week, calling for the open election of the territory’s next chief executive in 2017, is a realisation of Beijing’s worst fears concerning popular protest—and it inevitably conjures up images of the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989. All the more so since the White Paper issued by the State Council in June had made it plain that Beijing did not consider that the “high degree of autonomy” enjoyed by the Special Administrative Region (SAR) under the 1997 handover guarantees meant “full autonomy nor decentralised power”. Instead it stressed the power of the central leadership to run local affairs.
Beijing further turned the screw on the pro-democratic camp by laying down conditions for the 2017 election, which, despite opening the poll to universal franchise, will enable the central government to determine who is eligible to run. It thus made plain that it prioritises the first two words over the last two in the “one country, two systems” formulation, which many in Hong Kong had believed would guarantee them freedom from mainland interference.
Full Article: Hong Kong: the stakes are high | openDemocracy.