Hong Kong’s Struggle for Democracy

By: Leeann Ji

After lending Hong Kong to Great Britain for more than 150 years, China has learned to not let the Western, big-boy nations play with its toys. 155 years under British control has deeply ingrained a Western, democratic mindset in Hong Kong’s society, yet Beijing refuses to accept this notion. The “one country, two systems” policy is an attempt to reintegrate Hong Kong with mainland China physically, socially, and politically; and not even the Umbrella Revolution can protect against Beijing’s reign.

Historically, Beijing has not tolerated internal calls for democracy in Hong Kong, so why should it succumb to them now? Beijing’s response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests exists as a prime example of its distaste for anything remotely democratic. Even to this day, Beijing adamantly denies and conceals the brutal government crackdown on the peaceful protest for democracy in China. The Chinese government’s response to the protest shows a clear lack of concern for human rights. When pro-democratic Western desires threaten the communist Chinese regime, Beijing will use whatever it can use in its arsenal to protect and preserve its political dominance.

Since the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, China had not seen large-scale, pro-democratic protests until the Occupy Central Movement began in September 2014. Twenty-five years later, Beijing still holds true to its anti-democratic roots, responding to the student-led protests that occupied one of China’s busiest financial districts with police brutality. As the use of tear gas and pepper spray by the police increased, protestors began using umbrellas as means of defense, and the protests became known as the Umbrella Revolution. Unfortunately, the protestors failed to realize that although they can defend themselves physically against the wrath of Beijing, they cannot prevent the total encroachment of the Chinese government.

The government of Hong Kong will never be truly democratic because the Chinese government would never allow it. For Beijing, if the people live within China’s borders, they will follow Chinese policy, and a democratic Hong Kong threatens this national uniformity. If Beijing grants Hong Kong a purely democratic government where people elect their own political leaders, it will experience a snowball effect that it wants to avoid. A democratic Hong Kong recognized by the Chinese government will lead to a disgruntled Taiwan, thus furthering the tensions between the two states. In addition to the question of Taiwan’s sovereignty, China faces calls of independence from Tibet and the Xinjiang region Uighurs. Eager to avoid this conundrum, Beijing will do whatever it can to hold on to all its territories, especially its prized financial center, Hong Kong.

The demonstrators began protesting before they were even ready to accept a completely democratic government. During the 155 years of British rule, Hong Kong never truly elected its leaders; in fact, the governors during that time were all appointed by London. If Beijing granted Hong Kong the autonomy the protestors call for, voters will only have two choices to vote from, pro-Western or pro-Beijing, because they have never experienced governments different from the two options. Beijing would never allow for a Hong Kong governed by Western policies to exist within China’s borders, so a pro-Beijing government would be inevitable even with a direct vote.

Besides the heavy-handed response the Communist Party has demonstrated towards previous calls for democracy, Beijing also, knows that it will win this fight simply because the conflict exists between an organized government and dissatisfied citizens. The protestors are mainly students who have interrupted local commerce and businesses. As a result of the protestors’ disorganization and miscommunication, their desired two-day referendum was called off. Even the protestors themselves are beginning to lose faith in the demonstration due to the movement’s lack of leadership. Without a leader, the pro-democratic demonstrators have no way of negotiating with Beijing. The leaderless movement contradicts its own calls for democracy; if the protestors cannot even choose a leader for their movement, they are clearly unprepared to choose their own government leaders.
The inevitability of a pro-Beijing government has already dawned on the protestors, and the movement has begun to lose steam. After the failure of the first round of talks between student leaders and government officials, neither party has scheduled a second round of negotiations. With no more negotiations and a failed referendum in Hong Kong, Beijing can still flex its political muscle and show that it is unstoppable in its pursuits to keep the country unified. Softness is the last thing central government in China wants to communicate to its citizens, and the way it has handled the Hong Kong protests shows that President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party are a force to be reckoned with.

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The Globe Staff

Author: The Globe Staff