Former justice minister and current deputy director of the Basic Law Committee under National People’s Congress Elsie Leung Oi-sie has warned that Hong Kong “would be doomed if a ‘colour revolution’ takes place” in the territory, echoing a state media declaration that the people of Hong Kong do not “have the ability to turn Hong Kong into Ukraine”. “Hong Kong is such a free city,” Leung told Commercial Radio, noting that “we have to stay vigilant about whether external forces are meddling in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.”
The movement demanding full democracy in the SAR, however, is very much homegrown. On June 22 an unofficial “referendum” on universal suffrage is planned to take place, and next month the Occupy Central movement has threatened to take over key areas of the territory’s financial district to demand the same. In local parlance, “universal suffrage” refers not only to “one man, one vote” but also the right to nominate and elect whomever the public wishes. Although Beijing has promised the former in the next Chief Executive elections in 2017, they maintain that only pre-screened candidates will appear on the ballot. The criteria they have nominally set for potential candidates is that they must be “patriotic”, but it is not clear what distinction, if any, exists between “loving the country” and “loving the Party”, prompting many to see “patriotic” as merely a euphemism for “obedient”.
Nonetheless, Occupy Central’s leaders insist that the movement poses no threat to the central government. Organizer Benny Tai Yiu-ting told RTHK that the movement “has never challenged the country’s sovereignty” nor “one country, two systems”, stressing that “we have never tried to [engage in] subversion… We are only fighting for genuine universal suffrage.”
Last week, the State Council released a strongly-worded white paper on the implementation of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong. The paper asserts Beijingi’s ultimate sovereignty over the affairs of Hong Kong, and has been seen as a deliberate attempt to cow Hongkongers into resignation before the Occupy demonstrations go ahead. It further states that Beijing has “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the former British colony, whose perceived rights are no more than privileges that Beijing is good enough to bestow for the time being, and that the “two systems” under “one country, two systems” are not to be regarded on an equal footing— that Hong Kong’s political and economic freedoms will always be subordinate to the country’s overall implementation of socialism.
The backlash to the white paper has been intense, but activists are not the only ones to denounce the paper. The Hong Kong Bar Association has also criticized the white paper’s insistence that even judges must be “patriotic”. Unlike in the mainland where judges and lawyers are required to swear allegiance to the Communist Party, Hong Kong continues to practice Common Law, which prizes the judiciary’s independence form party politics.
The South China Morning Post, which has long faced accusations of self-censorship, entered People’s Daily territory when their coverage amounted to simply republishing the white paper verbatim without a word of commentary. When the PLA began splaying the characters for “Chinese People’s Liberation Army” across the facade of its newly refurbished headquarters in Admiralty, some said it was the army symbolically “occupying Central” in advance of the demonstrators. Once again, it was an issue the SCMP vigorously tackled by quoting the daughter of pro-establishment politician Regina Ip (she who had to leave Hong Kong in shame after her failure to push through the widely unpopular anti-sedition act Article 23) and failing to even mention that the message appears in simplified characters.
Responding to worldwide interest in Hong Kong’s democratization, China Daily warned the Western press away from reporting too much on the issue, saying they “should have more pressing issues than poking its nose into the affairs of a tiny place like Hong Kong.” Be it in commerce, film, or popular music, however, this “tiny place” has been punching well above its weight for over century and a half, and Beijing knows better than anyone else the threat posed by a popular democratic movement on Chinese soil.
By Ryan Kilpatrick