20 October 2018
Occupy Central organizers limber up. The civil disobedience movement did more than most to push Beijing into showing Hong Kong who's the boss. Photo: HKEJ
Occupy Central organizers limber up. The civil disobedience movement did more than most to push Beijing into showing Hong Kong who's the boss. Photo: HKEJ

Occupy Central got more than it bargained for

Occupy Central was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back.

More than anything in Hong Kong’s fight for democratic reform, the civil disobedience movement pushed Beijing into asserting its authority and control over Hong Kong in no uncertain terms.

The white paper issued by Beijing last week showing Hong Kong people who’s the boss is a consequence of several factors, all related to Hong Kong’s political development.

Senior leaders in Beijing believe the political opposition in Hong Kong has become aggressive and could harm the “one country, two systems” principle under which it enjoys a high degree of autonomy.

If the train of events is allowed to continue, it could complicate Hong Kong’s political integration with the mainland when the time comes — 50 years after the 1997 handover from Britain.

Occupy Central is the chief organizer of a mock referendum, scheduled for June 20-22, in which Hong Kong people will be asked to choose between three methods of choosing candidates for the 2017 chief executive election. The choices pertain to selection by public nomination.

Beijing favors screening by a nominating committee.

Executive councilor Andrew Liao said the white paper was intended to bring the political discussion over electoral reform back on the normal track. It’s Beijing’s response to the threat of civil disobedience that could hurt Hong Kong businesses. 

Liao was the first official from the government of Leung Chun-ying to directly link the white paper to the Occupy Central movement.

He used the opportunity to remind Hong Kong people that they do enjoy freedom of expression and other civil liberties that come from the “one country, two systems” doctrine and that “one country” is a precondition for “two systems”.

The fear in Hong Kong is largely about Hong Kong losing its uniqueness. People are concerned that Beijing is no longer committed to maintaining its independence and will try to mold it in its image.

That’s not without basis. Some hawkish Beijing officials stress the primacy of country over autonomy when dealing with Hong Kong.

Still, veteran communist politician Bao Tong, a top aide to former party leader Zhao Ziyang, said the white paper is in serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which laid down the conditions for the handover to Chinese sovereignty, and is tantamount to degrading Hong Kong to a local government under Beijing’s rule, rather than a special administrative region.

Bao questioned the claim by the central government that Hong Kong derives its powers solely by the authority of Beijing, saying it completely ignores the Joint Declaration.

Barring lengthy official pronouncements such as the white paper, it’s hard enough to gauge Beijing’s intentions in the best of times.

But it does give itself away from time to time. The latest example comes from Xu Jiatun, former head of the Hong Kong branch of Xinhua.

Xu condemned Occupy Central’s plan to blockade Central as an attempt to “devastate Hong Kong”. He expressed support for Beijing’s stance on Hong Kong’s political reform and for weeding out “unpatriotic” candidates from the chief executive election.

He said western democracies also practise screening.

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EJ Insight writer

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