It is been almost one year since Occupy Central shook Hong Kong and Beijing. Despite the movement’s failure, pro-democracy supporters vowed they will continue fight for universal suffrage. Occupy Central has also shown us the great divide between Hong Kong and China has existed before Occupy Central.
History of Hong Kong
Hong Kong is an international city and a trading and business hotspot. It is a haven for food lovers and a city with a colourful night life. Hong Kong is also one of the world’s densest cities with a population close to 7.2 million.
Hong Kong was once a pirates’ den but the island gradually became more populated in the 19th century as people from mainland China fled from social and political turmoils.
Hong Kong became a British Colony after the Qing government was defeated in the First Opium War (1839-1842).
The Chinese government was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. At the Second Opium War (1856-1860), the Crown Colony was expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula under the Convention of Beijing.
Under British rule, the colonials opened up Hong Kong’s ports for trade which attracted many migrants from the East and West. Influence and connections from China became limited. Even though Hong Kong enjoyed a strong economic boom, democratic vote for the Hong Kong Chief Executive did not exist as they were appointed by the British government.
Under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, it was agreed the Hong Kong area (Hong Kong island, Kowloon and New Territories) would be returned to Chinese jurisdiction on 1 July 1997.
The legislation states: “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be directly under the authority of the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs which are the responsibilities of the Central People’s Government.”
Hong Kong can set its economic policies within the outlines of the Basic Law, it makes its own decisions on education and social matters, and Beijing does not levy taxes from the region. Before reunification, panic spread across the city as people feared Hong Kong would be under communist rule and this prompted 60,000 a year to emigrate. However, Deng Xiao-Ping promised a “one country, two systems” policy where Hong Kong remains unchanged for 50 years until 2047. Despite China’s promise to a status quo, Hong Kong still dreads that free speech and democracy are under threat.
Hong Kong dissatisfaction with China
Support for democracy and anti-China sentiments is very much alive in region. Every year, the city’s pro-democracy supporters hold a vigil for the Tiananmen Square protestors. Hong Kongers see themselves as distinctively different from their mainland Chinese counterparts.
Although they share the same ethnicity (ethnic Han), spoken and written language, but a poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong in 2011 showed only 16.6% identified themselves as Chinese citizens.
Tensions between Hong Kong citizens and Beijing escalated in 2012 due to the controversial National Education Reforms.
Parents, students and teachers stood in solidarity against the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-Ying (also widely seen as pro-Beijing), and the China’s attempt to whitewash mistakes the communist party had made in the past. Protestors feared students will be brainwashed to become staunch loyalists to the communist party.
However, the Beijing government claimed: “The government council’s guidelines on the new curriculum highlight goals for improving morality, positive attitudes, self-recognition, judgment, identity, and responsible decision-making. Those moral qualities included “Chinese values” such as “benevolence, righteousness, courtesy and wisdom,” but also an interest to “foster universal values, including peace, benevolence, justice, freedom, democracy, human rights.”
Hong Kong people are also discontent with the Chinese government, but also with mainland tourists. Chinese tourists have made international headlines for their uncouth and vulgar behaviour, and this has left Hong Kongers disgusted. In 2011, popular Hong Kong singer Eason Chan mocked mainland Chinese people as locusts which sparked a storm of outrage from Chinese netizens. In 2014, angry protestors formed the anti-locust campaign calling the Hong Kong government to limit mainland tourists. Marchers held signs such as “Go back to China” and “Reclaim Hong Kong”. Locals also fear the growing number of Chinese migrants threatens Hong Kong’s identity and disrupt its society. Pregnant mothers would travel to Hong Kong to give birth to children to gain residency. However this leaves many local expectant mothers without hospital rooms.
The Umbrella Movement
The Umbrella Revolution is one of Hong Kong’s biggest pro-democracy movements in recent history. Also known as Occupy Central, the demonstrations went on for 79 days where protestors, mainly students and young people, camped across Hong Kong’s business and political centre, Central, and busy districts such as Mongkok. Demonstrators carried umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas attacks by policemen.
Protestors had their reasons to fight hard for democracy; Beijing had previously promised direct elections for the Chief Executive in 2017. But in August 2014, the Central Government announced Hong Kong citizens can only choose their leader from two or three candidates that had been elected by the Central government’s nominating committee. Pro-democracy supporters argued the Chief Executive would only act in the interest of Beijing, and not for the people of Hong Kong. Activists vowed an era of civil disobedience, and they will advocate until Beijing acts on its promise.
However, support for the Umbrella Movement dwindled when workers complained of protesters taking up space, blocking people from going to work and disrupting business. In December 2014, the three founding leaders: Benny Tai, Chu Yiu-Ming and Chan Kin-Man surrendered to Hong Kong authorities
Why China should keep Hong Kong as a democracy
Why does China remain intolerant of dissidence and pro-democracy movements? Tracing back to its recent history, China has just emerged from the Century of Humiliation. The country had descended into political and social chaos, foreign invasion, loss of territories, Japanese military aggression (World War Two) and civil wars. Then, China finally achieved stability and economic prosperity after the Opening Door Policy.
However, China should keep its promise to allow free elections and democracy to thrive in Hong Kong. This will be a win-win scenario for China and Hong Kong because China can show it is a cooperative member of the global community to support universal suffrage. There is no shortcut to implementing constitutional democracy, or a unique form of democracy that complements the society and culture of a country. Therefore, Hong Kong should be the stepping stone towards free elections; otherwise commitments to reform will be defunct. As existing tensions between locals and their mainland counterparts, China should not back out from its promise.
A successful democracy works when the nation’s people are educated, has a stable economy and society.
It is evident Hong Kong has all three elements and citizens are ready for reform.