Growing antagonism between Hong Kong and Beijing in recent months has led to intense debates over political autonomy and universal suffrage for Hong Kong’s 2017 election of a chief executive. Many Hong Kong residents consider autonomy and universal suffrage critical to preserving the city-state’s democratic values. Beijing’s unease over its authority in the city-state and concerns over Hong Kong’s growing hostility have increasingly dampened these aspirations.
There are still chances for compromise on the electoral arrangement, but the animosity that has paralyzed relations between Hong Kong and the mainland cannot be mitigated without a broader adjustment of Beijing’s perceived “mainlandization” policies. Beijing’s hard-line rhetoric, combined with growing signs of nativism and political radicalism in Hong Kong, will only diminish chances for a peaceful transition leading up to the 2017 chief executive election and beyond. Anything other than a peaceful transition could jeopardize not only Hong Kong’s already declining competitive edge but also Beijing’s commitment to a “one country, two system” arrangement and hopes for eventual unification with Taiwan.
Over the years, growing antagonism between the mainland and Hong Kong has greatly polarized the city-state’s indigenous political balance and society. Cultural clashes and concerns about mainland China’s economic influx straining Hong Kong’s already limited space and resources have promoted a strong desire to preserve the city-state’s political autonomy, democratic values and resources. Hong Kong’s growing struggle to keep its competitive edge, lower its widening wealth gap and stop rising property prices in the face of what is characterized as the mainland’s mismanagement has also increased anti-mainland sentiment.
The exacerbated tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing culminated in a series of demonstrations July 1, the 17th anniversary of the city-state’s return to mainland rule. Approximately 100,000-200,000 people participated in the annual demonstration (opposition parties estimated the number of participants at 500,000). As in previous years, the demonstration, reflecting the city-state’s moderate protest culture, was a venue for expression rather than an event focused on a central theme. However, tense public debates and relations with Beijing led to a broad campaign on universal suffrage and full democracy and demands for Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s chief executive, to resign. A sit-in of approximately 3,000 students in the key business district and outside the chief executive’s office followed the demonstration. The sit-in drew a heavy police presence.
The student groups apparently intended these actions as a rehearsal for the Occupy Central movement, a proposed civil disobedience protest led by three pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong’s busiest central district. So far, concerns that the Occupy movement could turn violent have led the majority of the public and mainstream Occupy leaders to distance themselves from the campaigns. The main Occupy leaders have emphasized their nonviolent approach and desire for dialogue with Beijing before the central government makes a formal decision, expected in August, on how Hong Kong elects its chief executive. Nonetheless, concerns are growing that the more radical segments of the pro-democracy movement and society have momentum and could depart from the nonviolent approach to promote their political agenda.
To be continued