22 October 2016
Hong Kong people must safeguard their civil rights and freedom of speech to preserve the city's unique characteristics and help the territory serve as a model for potential changes in China. Photo: Bloomberg
Hong Kong people must safeguard their civil rights and freedom of speech to preserve the city's unique characteristics and help the territory serve as a model for potential changes in China. Photo: Bloomberg

What role can Hong Kong play if an uprising erupts in China?

China is at a historical crossroads. A drastic social change is on the horizon and the country is shrouded in uncertainty and apprehension.

No one can tell when that change is going to take place — and how.

The reason many Sinologists are pessimistic about China’s future is that President Xi Jinping’s relentless crackdown on dissent and consolidation of his absolute power are at odds with the irreversible tide of globalization.

They believe the present autocratic political system is unsustainable.

However, they also think that even though the communist regime is likely to ultimately crumble, its collapse is not going to take place overnight.

Rather, the party’s decline and final demise could be a long drawn-out process that may take years if not decades given the size, strength and resources of the Chinese Communist Party.

After the June 4 crackdown and Deng Xiaoping’s trip to the south in 1992, China saw the rise of the so-called “say goodbye to revolution” sentiment among intellectuals.

Many of them no longer regarded social uprisings and mass movements as the only means to speed up economic reform and democratization.

They began to see that the best way to undertake reform is in a step-by-step manner under the communist leadership, through which the country would undergo gradual transformation and ultimately achieve full democracy peacefully.

But that sentiment has been losing momentum in recent years, especially after President Xi took power in 2012.

Many new-generation intellectuals don’t buy the “say goodbye to revolution” notion.

Deeply frustrated with President Xi’s one-man dictatorship, many young elites believe it would be naive to think that the Communist Party would change for the better. 

They think only a revolution and the collapse of the regime can bring about a democratic and free China.

Many of those who embrace this view have been inspired by the Arab Spring in 2011.

Others such as the “Color Revolution” in Ukraine also provided some insight into how a revolution can overthrow autocratic rulers without bloodshed.

A nationwide uprising against the Communist Party is not imminent but it is not entirely inconceivable.

What role can Hong Kong play as China faces potentially drastic changes?

First, I believe Hong Kong’s biggest strength lies in freedom of information and free speech. That is why our city can act as the mainland’s window to the free world through which new and progressive ideas can be introduced into the country when a revolution is under way.

Second, unlike their mainland counterparts, Hong Kong citizens are free from political persecution thanks to our long-established rule of law and highly developed judicial system.

Hong Kong can also serve as a supply base for the revolutionary movement in the mainland in recruiting and training new members, as well as planning for actions and raising funds.

And in case the revolution is suppressed, Hong Kong can serve as a sanctuary for revolutionaries, or a stepping stone to asylum in a third country.

For now, the most important task before us is to preserve and defend our unique characteristics such freedom of speech, freedom of information and rule of law.

These are elements that make us fundamentally different from other mainland cities, so that when the time comes, we can be a key player in the movement.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 25

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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President Xi Jinping troops the line in this undated file photo. Many Chinese intellectuals are deeply frustrated with his iron-fisted rule. Photo: Huffington Post

Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong

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