Chi­nese re­pres­sion is back­fir­ing in Hong Kong

The Myanmar Times - - News -

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has fre­quently pre­dicted that the ag­gres­sive poli­cies of Rus­sia and China in places such as Ukraine and the South China Sea are des­tined to be self-de­feat­ing, be­cause of the blow­back they gen­er­ate. It has been, at times, an all-toocon­ve­nient the­ory for a pres­i­dent re­luc­tant to em­brace ro­bust coun­ter­ac­tion by the United States. But an elec­tion in Hong Kong last week­end pro­vided strong ev­i­dence that, in the case of that quasi-au­ton­o­mous Chi­nese ter­ri­tory, Bei­jing’s grow­ing re­pres­sion and na­tion­al­ism un­der Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping have back­fired.

Two years ago, the com­mu­nist regime touched off mass protests in Hong Kong by re­fus­ing to al­low fully demo­cratic elec­tions for the city’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. It then re­fused to com­pro­mise with stu­dents and other pro-democ­racy ac­tivists who peace­fully oc­cu­pied ma­jor streets in the city for 79 days, and in­stead brought crim­i­nal charges against some of them. Since then, Bei­jing has fur­ther eroded the in­de­pen­dence of Hong Kong me­dia and uni­ver­si­ties and launched an ex­trale­gal cam­paign against a crit­i­cal book pub­lisher, ab­duct­ing its prin­ci­pals and con­fin­ing them in China.

The re­sponse of Hong Kong’s elec­torate was to turn out on Septem­ber 4 in record num­bers to hand pro-democ­racy forces a de­ci­sive vic­tory in elec­tions for the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil. Most im­por­tant, six can­di­dates favour­ing con­sid­er­a­tion of in­de­pen­dence from Bei­jing swept to vic­tory. None was older than 40, and sev­eral were lead­ers of the 2014 “um­brella” protest move­ment. Be­cause most of the coun­cil’s mem­bers are not cho­sen by pop­u­lar elec­tion, the op­po­si­tion will not have a ma­jor­ity and real power still lies with the pro-Bei­jing chief ex­ec­u­tive. Nev­er­the­less, the op­po­si­tion’s abil­ity to frus­trate leg­is­la­tion with ve­toes and fil­i­busters has been strength­ened.

More­over, the cause of Hong Kong in­de­pen­dence – a di­rect re­sponse to Bei­jing’s past re­pres­sion – has been le­git­imised for the first time. The regime tried to squelch that, too, re­quir­ing leg­isla­tive can­di­dates to sign pledges sup­port­ing Hong Kong’s in­cor­po­ra­tion in China and ban­ning six who ei­ther re­fused to sign or were re­garded as in­sin­cere. A stu­dent­founded party called De­mo­sisto, which calls for a ref­er­en­dum on Hong Kong’s fu­ture sta­tus, was de­nied a bank ac­count and per­mis­sion to dis­trib­ute its elec­tion ma­te­ri­als; two of its lead­ers were sen­tenced to com­mu­nity ser­vice last month for their ac­tions in 2014. No mat­ter: One of them, 23-year-old Nathan Law, won elec­tion.

The re­buff con­fronts Mr Xi with a dilemma: con­cil­i­ate with the op­po­si­tion, in­clud­ing those who still favour Chi­nese sovereignty over Hong Kong, or crack down still harder. There is a deal to be made with the mod­er­ates, who seek only to com­pel China to ful­fill its own promises about democ­racy in Hong Kong. But the four-year record of the Xi regime strongly sug­gests it will dou­ble down on re­pres­sion, es­pe­cially on the new proin­de­pen­dence crowd. That would risk en­gen­der­ing a still greater back­lash: Ac­cord­ing to one re­cent poll, 40 per­cent of Hong Kong youths between ages 15 and 24 sup­port even­tual in­de­pen­dence. As Mr Obama might ob­serve, the arc of his­tory in Hong Kong is not bend­ing to­ward China’s com­mu­nists. – The Wash­ing­ton Post

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