Recent events in China have made some observers wonder if Hong Kong is slipping away from China. (Link) Beijing’s representatives have tried to maintain or increase the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong’s political system and classrooms, but these policies have backfired horribly by driving Hong Kong citizens into the streets.
In particular, Beijing’s attempts to maintain control over Hong Kong’s political system have resulted in outrage. Since the transfer of Hong Kong to China, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has been nominated and selected by an electoral college. Hong Kong citizens have repeatedly protested against this system because each selection has resulted in victory for pro-Beijing candidates, irrespective of public opinion. In an attempt to appease Hong Kong residents, Beijing has promised that in 2017 the Chief Executive will be popularly elected by all eligible voters of Hong Kong. However, while Beijing wants to retain the current nomination process, Hong Kong citizens want it replaced with nomination by popular vote. Consequently, on New Year’s Day of 2014, thousands of Hong Kong protesters took to the streets in a show of opposition to Beijing’s desire to retain control over nominations.
Immigration policies designed to increase demographic similarity between the two polities have similarly gone awry. Hong Kong’s Basic Law allows children born in Hong Kong to automatically become Hong Kong residents. This policy has caused some push-back among some Hong Kong residents. In 2012, a group known as “Hong Kong People First” brought the flag representing colonial Hong Kong to the headquarters of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. They criticized the current immigration system for burdening Hong Kong’s social safety net and schools with lower income migrants. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, exacerbated Hong Kong-China tensions by proposing controversial Chinese patriotism classes for Hong Kong’s elementary school students. The classes would have required teaching the alleged benefits of one-party rule over multi-party democracy and would have glossed over events like the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Great Leap Forward. Hong Kong citizens pushed back hard against these courses, leading Chun-ying to make them optional.
Simple solutions to these conflicts do not exist. If Beijing gives Hong Kong citizens the ability to directly elect and nominate the Chief Executive, then it runs the risk that a pro-democratic or even pro-independence candidate will be elected to lead Hong Kong. Such a Chief Executive would be a direct threat to the Communist Party, as he or she would not only have popular legitimacy, but also political incentives to criticize the political system and policies of the mainland. However, if Beijing preserves the current nomination system, it risks further alienating Hong Kong citizens who see Beijing as meddling in their political affairs.
Hong Kong residents want to increase their political self-determination. Beijing wants to integrate Hong Kong into an undemocratic system. Unless China’s leaders are able to resolve this deep contradiction of objectives, the relationship between China and Hong Kong will likely continue to deteriorate.
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