Crackdown or concessions? The future of the Hong Kong protests lies in the balance.

Crackdown or concessions? The future of the Hong Kong protests lies in the balance.

Photo: The Telegraph

Photo: The Telegraph

—- Words by Rose Kallenberg-Pierce

Since the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese authority in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed by China under the principle of “one country, two systems” whereby the city enjoys “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs” until the year 2047. In this regard, Hong Kong enjoys its own system of legal rights, including freedom of speech.

However, the ability to nominate candidates for Hong Kong’s next leader is not a democratic right that can be exercised by the people of Hong Kong.

Instead, the next chief executive will be nominated by a 1,200 member election committee- the majority of which are viewed as pro-Chinese government. This issue forms the crux of the tens of thousands strong protest movement that is currently sweeping the streets of Hong Kong. Led mainly by students for the right to nominate the candidates, the Occupy Central movement certainly has echoes of the Tiananmen Square protests that took place 25 years ago.

At the end of August 2014, the Standing Committee of China’s parliament reiterated that candidates for the chief executive must gain a majority of support from a nominating committee to be considered. CY Leung, the current chief executive, has since confirmed that the new nominating committee will be modelled to a large extent on the previous committee- which had been largely composed of pro-Beijing members.

But this is nothing new. Hong Kong’s mini constitution of 1997, known as the Basic Law, contains Article 45 which reads as follows:

“The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People’s Government (CPG). The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress.”

In this section, the wording of the article is confusing to say the least- who is eligible to vote in the election? The people of Hong Kong? Even former Hong Kong governor under British administration, Chris Patton, has accused the Chinese government of manoeuvring under intentionally flexible legal language. Regardless of the situation, the wishes of the CPG will always override that of the general populace in the name of “gradual and orderly progress”- which in itself could not have a more ominous undertone.

The article continues:

“The ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”

This one sentence gives the CPG the legal right to screen candidates for the chief executive of Hong Kong- in fact, Article 45 may as well do away with the previous sentence. There is no express right for the people of Hong Kong to nominate the candidates. China’s “democratic procedures” are only democratic in the interests of the CPG- so a “broadly representative committee” is farcical.

It seems pertinent to ask why the people of Hong Kong are choosing to protest about this now. Whilst in the past, protesters have been able to stop a controversial national security law from being passed as well as “patriotic education” classes, it still remains that locals cannot have a say in the running of their government. No matter how democratic Hong Kong wishes to be, it is powerless to enact such a system when ruled by the authority of China. If anything, it seems that the former British administration is to blame for recent events, for not ensuring Hong Kong’s democratic right to nominate in Basic Law.

So what will happen next: crackdown, concessions or simply nothing? It would be foolish to have a repeat of Tiananmen, but the CPG would be considered weak and most out of character if it initiated a compromise of sorts.

Attempting to censor the protests indicates that China might be prepared to ride out the storm and wait for all the umbrellas that have become synonymous with the protests, to blow over.

Protesters in Hong Kong. Photo: totallycoolpix.com

Protesters in Hong Kong. Photo: totallycoolpix.com

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