Hong Kong democracy activists have vowed further disobedience after learning that, despite large protests this summer and a campaign for electoral reform that attracted 800,000 signatures, China will impose its will and deny them democracy.
Pro-Beijing officials in the former British colony submitted a report this week to the Chinese People’s Congress supporting selection of the chief executive candidates by a nominating committee, not by universal suffrage.
The Chinese government had promised, in the 1984 joint declaration with Britain, that Hong Kong would have “a high degree of autonomy” following British rule. Since then, China has consistently tried to renege on promises it made in this international treaty, declaring in 2013, for example, that only candidates who “love China and Hong Kong” would be eligible for office. Hong Kongers immediately saw that as code for candidates who would kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party, which rules in mainland China.
Justification for the power grab came in a June white paper issued by Beijing, which argued:
The high degree of autonomy of [Hong Kong] is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power. It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership.
Tuesday’s report from Hong Kong’s current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, was meant to consolidate proposals from citizens and politicians alike as the 2017 deadline for suffrage promised by Beijing approaches. Despite the report’s suggestion that citizens should elect the chief executive, the protestors’ demand that the candidate nomination process also be conducted through universal suffrage was said not to represent the “mainstream opinion.”
Democracy-seeking Hong Kongers were disheartened further when the Hong Kong branches of the Big Four accounting firms together claimed that the pro-democracy movement could have a “negative and long-lasting impact on the rule of law.” Although it is not clear if Beijing directly influenced the firms’ decision, businesses in Hong Kong have been pressured not to advertise in Hong Kong and Taiwanese publications owned by Next Media, which takes an anti-Beijing line.
U.S. officials have also been hesitant to formally criticize Beijing. As a result, The Heritage Foundation’s Mike Gonzalez has called for the State Department and Congress to remember the United States’ commitment to Hong Kong made in the 1992 U.S.–Hong Kong Policy Act and condemn China’s usurpation of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
The world now awaits the Chinese government’s decision. Deliberations on the Hong Kong report’s proposals will likely continue until Chinese officials announce final decisions in January 2015. Some observers look to the report’s lack of specific procedural recommendations as a chance for future compromise. On the other hand, protestors who took to the streets this summer have vowed not to give up the fight and even to strike from school or block roads, leading many to fear that a major confrontation is on the horizon.
Jack McKenna is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.