The heavy-handed posture of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration appears to have led to the rise of “anti-China” forces in Hong Kong.
Continuing progress in democratization and political reforms is essential to maintaining Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, rather than reinforcing a clampdown.
In the recent elections for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, newly emerging, anti-Beijing forces making such radical calls as “independence” from China have made headway. For the 70-member legislature, 35 candidates are directly elected by voters, while the remainder are chosen through functional constituencies, mainly those representing particular professions or trades.
The newly emerging forces, which made a strong showing in direct voting, and the pro-democracy camp won a combined total of 30 seats, more than one-third of the seats needed to vote down important bills. The pro-Beijing camp managed to retain a majority, but won fewer seats than in previous elections.
In 2014, student-led demonstrators calling for democracy staged sit-ins on roads. It can be said the latest elections indicate that the Hong Kong people are increasing their watchfulness against China’s ever-growing influence, even after the demonstrations were resolved peacefully.
The newly emerging groups are led by young people, including a former student leader of the demonstration, and those “localists” who, in opposition to China’s political interference, put Hong Kong’s interests first, as they consider the territory their “motherland.” Among localists, some even approve of the use of violence.
China has granted Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” formula. The problem is that autonomy has increasingly become a mere formality.
The Electoral Affairs Commission of Hong Kong took such high-handed measures as pressing candidates to sign a declaration that they agree to the principle that “Hong Kong is part of China” and disqualifying some localists from running.
When five Hong Kong booksellers and other people dealing with publications critical of the Chinese Communist Party disappeared one after another, it was regarded as an instance of “rule by force.” Deep suspicions remain that the Chinese authorities had removed them from Hong Kong, where they had no right to investigate, and detained them in China.
Without a convincing explanation, it is inevitable that Hong Kong people grow more anxious about their future.
In June last year, a bill designed to elect the next chief executive of Hong Kong through “universal suffrage” was rejected by a majority of pro-democracy lawmakers. Although the bill was aimed at directly electing the chief executive through a one-man, one-vote formula, it was a system under which only pro-Beijing candidates could declare candidacy. This proposed method was naturally rejected as “phony universal suffrage.”
Regarding the outcome of the latest elections, the Xi administration released a statement saying that Beijing would “resolutely oppose any form of Hong Kong independence activities inside or outside the legislature.” It appears that the Xi administration intends to drive a wedge between the pro-democracy camp and newly emerging forces, and stop them from joining hands.
It would not be implausible for localists and other groups to become offended by Beijing’s hard-line posture and become increasingly antagonistic to Hong Kong authorities.
What Xi should do is respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and win the trust of the international community.