Beijing vs. Hong Kong


A remarkable exercise in self-government has occurred in Hong Kong. If China’s rulers were more adept and less insecure, they would embrace the process. Instead, they seem intent on delivering another self-inflicted wound.

Despite Chinese objections and cyberattacks, more than 750,000 people — a fifth of Hong Kong’s registered voters — cast ballots in a recent unofficial poll. Organized by a nonviolent protest group called Occupy Central with Love and Peace, it asks residents to choose among three electoral reforms for selection of Hong Kong’s top leader.

China reclaimed the administrative region from the British in 1997. It has steered the selection process of Hong Kong’s chief executive, but had promised universal suffrage by 2017.

Now China plans to stick to the letter, but not the spirit, of its promise. Instead of ensuring true competition, China will impose a pro-Beijing committee to nominate candidates for general election, disqualifying anyone who doesn’t “love the country and love Hong Kong.”

Over the past two decades, China has mostly honored its promise of “one country, two systems,” keeping its hands off Hong Kong’s independent rule of law even as leaders tightened repression on the mainland. Hong Kong has thrived, its relatively free press and predictable courts drawing global business in a way that Shanghai cannot.

But there are disturbing signs that China may be rethinking its policy. China recently asserted its “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong. Its crackdown on courageous mainland dissidents has alarmed residents, who worry that repression could spread.

Two major banks were allegedly pressured by China to pull their advertisements from two independent Hong Kong publications. Taiwanese protest leaders were barred from entering Hong Kong. According to one survey, more than 80 percent of Hong Kong residents between the ages of 21 and 29 feel “dissatisfied” with how Beijing is controlling the island.

Hong Kong residents who agitate for self-rule understand that they are part of a much larger country with a far different system. At the same time, they hope China will not see their democratic success as a threat. But the country’s rulers may fear the lesson their people could learn from a successful Chinese democracy more than they care about stifling the lifeblood that is Hong Kong’s freedom.

The United States should be clear that being pro-China means advocating genuine democracy, including a real choice in the nomination and election of chief executive candidates. Anything less will hurt its long-term future.

— Washington Post