Parents, students, hunger strikers, pop stars and other public figures camped out around Hong Kong government offices last week demanding that the government scrap a requirement that state-funded schools teach children to love the motherland and respect the Communist Party. The confrontation took on a nastier tone, and the crowds swelled, after pro-Beijing media suggested that the protesters were pawns of the American and British governments. This showdown put the current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in an awkward position, since Beijing’s local representatives insisted that the education plan go ahead. He capitulated on the eve of the weekend election of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and announced instead that the classes would no longer be mandatory. (Legco will soon negotiate the system under which the next chief executive will be elected by universal suffrage in 2017). That probably saved pro-Beijing candidates from a disastrous showing, but the controversy still helped pro-democracy candidates win 27 out of 70 seats in the legislature. That’s not as many as they hoped for, but then the convoluted electoral system is rigged against pro-democracy candidates. They garnered almost 60% of the popular vote, up from 57% in 2008, and won 39% of the seats. Most importantly, they have enough votes to block any plans from Beijing to curtail civil liberties. Many of the new lawmakers are more radical than their predecessors.
The question now is whether Xi Jinping, the Politburo member responsible for Hong Kong and the man expected to take over as China’s top leader next month, will draw the right lesson. His predecessors failed to understand the sea change in 2003, when more than half a million protesters marched against legislation that could have been used to criminalize free speech. Beijing made some conciliatory gestures and removed the shipping tycoon Tung Chee Hwa as chief executive, replacing him with former civil servant Donald Tsang. But rather than grant local people more say in government, Beijing turned the Central Government Liaison Office into a second governing team.
This is a violation of Hong Kong’s constitution, the Basic Law, which guarantees autonomy in all areas of government other than foreign affairs and defense. It also angered Hong Kong’s people, who increasingly fear that a political culture of one-party rule is being imposed on them. Last year the Liaison Office and Beijing-owned media embarked on an attack campaign against academics and political figures that was reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.
Full Article: Review & Outlook: Hong Kong Votes for Autonomy – WSJ.com.