Beijing Growls at Hong Kong
For the first time since the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, Beijing has unambiguously asserted its complete jurisdiction over Hong Kong.
A recent government paper reminded Hong Kong that whatever autonomy it has flows from the Chinese government and that the doctrine of “one country, two systems” implied in the original agreement allows Hong Kong to retain its capitalist system but does not confer political independence.
Beijing’s purpose is to put its foot on what it deems an undesirable political movement. It also invites a backlash.
The document’s release comes at a time of heightened political debate in Hong Kong. The increasingly active pro-democracy Occupy Central movement, for instance, calls for free elections and universal suffrage, and it wants Beijing to stop selecting Hong Kong’s chief executive in what are essentially closed proceedings. The group is now conducting an informal, nonbinding referendum offering voters three different ways to choose their chief executive; all would confer more power on ordinary voters. As it is, Beijing pretty much controls the process and outcome.
Meanwhile, for the first time in a decade, a majority of Hong Kong residents (52 percent) say they are dissatisfied with the way Beijing manages Hong Kong’s affairs. The level of dissatisfaction for those in their 20s is an astonishing 82 percent. Here is what Beijing must understand. While the 1997 Basic Law negotiated at the time of the handover says essentially that China and Hong Kong are one country, the cultural differences are vast. Hong Kong enjoys liberties — freedom of speech, assembly and religion; a free press; and an independent judiciary — that are not available in China. However discomfiting these differences may be, Beijing must respect them. And Western nations should speak out against any effort to restrict them.