A week after roughly 100,000 people turned out in Hong Kong in a protest directed at China’s Communist leadership, Beijing has issueda ringing defense of its oversight of the territory, crediting the central government with everything from combating the SARS epidemic to promoting democratic reforms and ensuring Hong Kong’s economic success.
The “white paper” was issued just as pro-democracy elements in Hong Kong have been agitating for Beijing to finally allow universal suffrage, amid signs that the Communist Party leadership will continue to exert strong control over who gets chosen to run the territory’s government.
After the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, “Hong Kong got rid of colonial rule and returned to the embrace of the motherland, and embarked on the broad road of common development with the mainland, as they complemented each other’s advantages,” the paper says.
The paper emphasizes the economic vibrancy of the territory, citing a 3.4 percent average annual growth rate since the handover as the banking, trade and shipping industries have flourished. While far below China’s growth rate for that period, the territory has experienced sustained prosperity as it has benefited from China’s economic boom.
But on other fronts, the paper makes some questionable assertions, citing China’s handling of the 2003 SARS epidemic even though Beijing was roundly criticized for its response.
“The central government promptly lent a helping hand,” the report read. “Although the mainland also needed medical supplies in the fight against SARS, the central government provided a large quantity of free medical supplies to Hong Kong. The Chinese leaders also went to the hardest-hit areas and hospitals of Hong Kong to inspect local conditions and console victims.”
In fact, China was forced to admit that it had seriously underreported the number of SARS cases in the territory after the epidemic was detected, probably causing a delayed medical response as the deadly epidemic quickly spread.
The white paper was issued as pro-democracy groups gear up for a potentially contentious summer in Hong Kong, with some leaders threatening widespread protests if Beijing does not go far enough in assuring democratic changes. The high turnout at the June 4 vigil marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown was cited as evidence that anti-Beijing passions could fuel “Occupy Central” protests later in the year.
The chief complaint of the Occupy leaders is that Beijing only allows candidates loyal to its rule to run for election, a situation that, they say, is unlikely to change in the future.
The government’s white paper argues, conversely, that democracy has in fact taken deeper root under Beijing’s rule.
Beijing and the local government “have unswervingly and steadily promoted Hong Kong’s democratic political system, featuring the election methods for the chief executive and the Legislative Council,” the report said, adding that the election of the territory’s chief executive “has become increasingly democratic.”