The clean sweep by pro-democracy candidates in the recently concluded district council elections against the backdrop of prolonged street agitation by Hong Kongers may be termed as a victory of democracy in Hong Kong. But China thinks otherwise. Hong Kongers may rejoice on the triumph of pro-democracy candidates, but will this success pave the way for greater democracy for Hong Kongers or force China to stiffen its stand is a question, reply to which is being eagerly awaited by the industrial and political communities across the globe. Pro-democratic candidates’ victory has angered the Chinese government, and it is apparent by the Communist Party newspaper, The People’s Daily’s stand that the triumph is foreign powers’ conspiracy.
Echoing the government’s stand, China Daily in an editorial said that young agitators sabotaged the campaign of pro-establishment candidates and threatened their supporters from exercising their franchise. The newspaper termed the results as a setback for Hong Kong’s democratic development. But the protestors are adamant and unwilling to back off until their demands are met – demands include an independent inquiry into police’s high-handedness, a general amnesty for arrested protesters, revocation of the classification of the protesters as “rioters”, and complete universal suffrage. Protesters are also demanding the resignation of Lam as chief executive.
Beijing and the Hong Kong governments, however, are reluctant to give in to the demands. Geng Shuang, a foreign ministry spokesman at a scheduled press conference, said, “Hong Kong affairs are purely domestic affairs as it is part of China. We are in support of ‘one country, two systems’ principle and are against foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs,” Geng added. Xi has reportedly said that any attempt to divide China would end with “bodies smashed and bones ground to powder.”
The US President Donald Trump’s ratification of the Human Rights and Democracy Act authorizes sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses. The Act also bans US-made crowd control weapons’ export to Hong Kong police, and all these have given reasons to protesters to rejoice, but China is furious. The Chinese Foreign Ministry statement says, “The US has been denying facts and distorting the truth. It is backing criminals who are engaged in violent activities, smashing facilities, setting the fire, assaulting innocent civilians, breaking the rule of law, and jeopardized social order.”
Uncertainty Looms for Hong Kong
China is in no mood to allow Hong Kong too much autonomy when it questioned local courts’ right to declare laws unconstitutional if they flout the Basic Law or Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. The Chinese action was prompted by the Hong Kong court’s decision to strike down a controversial anti-mask law that was forcefully pushed by Chinese officials. From Beijing’s point of view, a disruptive Hong Kong presents a severe threat of the unrest spreading to the mainland. Military intervention in Hong Kong would prove to be “too costly” for China and would spell doom for free-wheeling Hong Kong.
The protest is unlikely to fizzle out even if Beijing shows restraint towards Hong Kong due to the massive resentment towards the elite government class that dominates the economy and the Hong Kong police force.
In light of China’s crackdown in Xinjiang and Tibet, it seems the international community, including the United States, Britain, and others, have limited scope to support the protest movement in the long run. China may not have an answer to the current imbroglio, but history stands testimonial to the fact that China is a hard nut to crack and will not buckle under pressure.