One country, two systems. This was the political and legal framework created to govern Hong Kong when the territory was returned to China after 150 years of British rule in 1997. Under this model, Hong Kong was given a special status which allowed the city autonomy, free speech and a free flow of information, all of which do not exist on the Chinese mainland. Over the two decades since the sovereign handover, Beijing chipped away to Hong Kong’s independence. Each time, Hong Kong was pushed back, very similar to events leading up to the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989. They also demanded an end to the similar repressive authority of the Communist Party of China while expecting greater accountability, constitutional due process, democracy, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. The demand of Universal Suffrage also is in sync with the demands of protesters of thirty years ago.
More than three months of dramatic public protests throughout the summer of 2019, have shaken Hong Kong, bringing huge demonstrations onto the streets, on occasion numbering well over a million people. The protests began in June in response to the government’s plan to amend Hong Kong’s extradition law amid widespread fears that, if the legislation were enacted, anyone suspected of breaking the law in the territory could be sent to mainland China to face trial.
But they soon took on a broader pro-democracy theme in the line with decade’s long Chinese mainland reverie with the same verve as was in 1989 at Tiananmen.
Chinese Communist Party are using propaganda methods they used during Tiananmen, to discredit the democracy movements in Hong Kong as well they are also exporting current military tactics being used inside the Mainland to Hong Kong as well. Things that Beijing is doing are very similar to what they did back in 1989. One is to change the PR to have a PR war. When we saw Hong Kong, the 2 million people in Hong Kong peacefully protest back in June, there was no coverage about the peaceful protest in China. State-controlled it, the media did not report about a peaceful protest at all. As soon as some of the young protesters vandalized the Hong Kong legislature office, once they have some images about violence, the Chinese media open the floodgates, to broadcast those images everywhere. They labeled those protesters as rioters, violent, the hooligans. Those are very similar language the Chinese government used to describe pro-democracy students back in 1989.
Anxiety for Freedom and Democracy in China
Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China from a podium overlooking Tiananmen Square half and a quarter-century ago. Chinese authorities have since then, shown no interest in instituting electoral democracy, for top leaders, albeit village-level elections (each candidate is chosen or approved by the Communist Party) are a token image of the democratic process, with little to no real say in the administration. In China, such change, over the past three decades has been effected in two layers: the lower the level of elected representatives and the higher the level of government, the more meritocratic political system. The idea that high-level officials should be selected and promoted on the basis of ability and virtue defined by an obtuse internally decided process. Aspiring government officials normally must pass public-service examinations, IQ-like tests with some ideological content, with thousands of applicants competing for each entry-level spot. They must perform well at lower levels of government, with more rigorous evaluations at every step, to move further up the chain of political command.. Collective leadership, in the form of the Politburo’s seven-member Standing Committee, ensures that no one leader with democratic, reformist and informed views can set free will policies as the course of China.
There remains a large gap between the China model as an ideal and political reality. Even when village-level elections are free and fair, access to policymaking and change is non-existing and the authority of elected representatives is tartan by the Communist Party of China.
What all this means is that independence of ideas are depressed, whereas any refinement that is to be, is in the perimeter of the communist modular dogmatic political thinking. Hence flaws in China’s political system are obvious. The government doesn’t even make a pretense of holding national elections and punishes those who openly call for a multiparty rule. The press is heavily censored and the Internet is blocked. Top leaders are unconstrained by the rule of law. Political repression has been ramped up since Xi Jinping took power in 2012. Like Russia, the hazard in the heart of the China model is corruption, since, in practice, dynastic/corrupt practices often dominate: several of China’s leaders, including the president, are the descendants of prominent and influential Communist officials. This model, suiting few, shall always be threatened by democracy.
The origin of the Chinese democracy movement started in 1978 when the Beijing Spring occurred after the Cultural Revolution. The founding document of the movement is considered to be The Fifth Modernization manifesto by Wei Jingsheng, who was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for authoring the document. Throughout the 1980s, these ideas increased in popularity among college-educated Chinese. In response to growing corruption, economic dislocation and lack of free thinking and human rights, in the spring of 1989, student leaders of the Chinese Democracy Movement expressed demands for democracy. This deliberately recalled the demands of the 1919 anti-imperialistic May Fourth Movement, which led to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and subsequent massacre.
A Repressive State
The Communist Party continues a decades-long crackdown on independent civil society, carrying out arrests and criminal prosecutions of bloggers, activists, and human rights lawyers.
Internet censorship and surveillance reached new heights as the implementation of the 2017 Cyber Security Law continued to be rolled out. Various new measures restricting online and mobile communications came into effect, and advancements in artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies were incorporated into the regime’s information control and public surveillance apparatus.
Decades of the purge on freedom of thinking and pursuing free will is well highlighted by the fact that persecution of predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang intensified dramatically, with an estimated one million or more individuals subjected to extralegal detention in “political reeducation” centers. Reports of torture and other abuse at the camps emerged. Authorities also increased repression of Christians and Muslims elsewhere in China following new regulations on religious affairs that took effect nationwide in February, and persecution of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong continued unabated.
Societal groups such as women, ethnic and religious minorities, and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people have no opportunity to gain meaningful political representation and are barred from advancing their interests outside the formal structures of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Nominal representatives of ethnic minority groups such as Tibetans, Uighurs, and Mongolians participate in party and state bodies like the NPC, but their role is largely symbolic. Women are severely underrepresented in top CCP and government positions, and the situation has grown worse in recent years.
73 journalists were jailed in China as of October 2019, although the actual number of people held for uncovering or sharing newsworthy information is much greater. Foreign journalists continued to face various forms of harassment during the year, including physical abuse, short-term detention to prevent meetings with certain individuals, intimidation of Chinese sources and staff, the withholding of or threats to withhold visas, and surveillance.
The Chinese government and CCP are notoriously opaque. It can be effectively concluded that China, despite economic forays, its political growth is abated and is divergent to the direction the world has taken for the betterment of humankind.
Economic remuneration vs Ideological Grip: Xi Jinping
China’s government has decades of experience in how to crush popular movements. It’s an administrative skill set they’ve perfected since June 4, 1989, when they sent in the People’s Liberation Army to open fire on multitudes of pro-democracy protesters gathered at Tiananmen with official figures placing the number of dead at 300, though estimates range as high as 10,000. But China’s single-minded obsession with stability through repression is counterproductive in a well functioning region that has lived freedom. It has been Beijing’s numerous attempts over the past two decades to “mainland-ise” Hong Kong that led to such.
Much of it has essence in the development of Chinese industrial districts and their indifference to Hong Kong. Chinese ports are closer to the country’s factories, and over the past decade, they have expanded and upped their game, while Hong Kong’s container throughput has tailed off significantly since 2010. A 2018 report forecasting the port’s business predict it shall further shrink by 50 percent in the next 10 years. Though that is years down the line, for Hong Kong to be rendered irrelevant.
Hence there are no blooming prospects that Hong Kong has to offer to Xi Jinping, except a unique playfield to showcase his grip and further his ideological reach. This shall presently serve to strengthen his image in his own country and he also wants the internal audience and world to see that given elections in Taiwan are around the corner.
Since 2003, China has attempted to push through legal changes that would allow authorities to crack down on political freedom in Hong Kong when desired. That year, Communist Party officials in Beijing pushed Hong Kong’s leaders to introduce a sedition act that would have allowed city officials to ban speech, outlaw organizations, and conduct searches without warrants if there were suspicions of “treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Government.”
But the proposed bill was shelved after Hong Kong erupted in massive protests that filled the streets, the first sign that people were not going to simply surrender to the same fate as mainland China. China’s attempts to subdue Hong Kong through legalized repression have gained momentum. An unprecedented cascade of prosecutions followed, with the pro-democracy movement’s top leaders arrested and jailed on dubious charges ranging from contempt of court to conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. Come September 2018, Hong Kong government banned a small pro-independence party, citing national security reasons, the first time a political party had ever been forbidden there.
However, economically still other cities of China at this point do not compete with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the International Financial Center; over 75% of Yuan dominated the transactions still are settled in Hong Kong. If something happened, with international sanctions, as already there has been the unanimous passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act by the US House of Representatives, China is going to lose that access to the international financial market and a settled Yuan-based transaction. This will be not only hurt China economically but also hurt their ambition because of the Chinese government really wants to turn the Chinese Yuan into a US dollar style international reserve currency.
This movement has morphed into a struggle for democracy. Beijing will continue to narrow Hong Kong’s political autonomy and step up its control in Hong Kong. What happened in Tiananmen was a clear example that Chinese people love freedom, and they’re willing to sacrifice for it. 30 years ago, the Communist Party seemed invincible. With the Hong Kong protests assuming similar fervor, there is every chance, the spirit may rekindle what mainland Chinese people have been waiting-wanting since then. If this could evolve into another wildfire in support of a Democratic China, it is a remote however a not to be dismissed possibility, however, till then it is wait and watch. While here we are, sure that people of Hong Kong are in no mood to become Just another Chinese city.
21 Nov 19/Thursday Written by Fayaz