Love, Peace and Protests
At a time when China is leapfrogging its competitors in economic growth, the suspicious rise in color revolutions on its periphery could impede its meteoric rise.
Protesters in Hong Kong brought life to a standstill. Demonstrations were being led by the Hong Kong Federation of Students, a body of high school students, and the civil disobedience movement called Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP). The protest rallies noticeably affected Hong Kong's busiest areas leading to serious traffic disruption, temporary closures of schools and banks and a slump in the benchmark Hang Seng Index, impacting the region's economic development and international reputation. The ordinary citizens of Hong Kong on the other hand resent the disruption of their lives and means of livelihood.
The dissenters’ demand for electoral reform was apparently triggered by the August 31 decision of the Standing Committee of China’s National People's Congress on Hong Kong's electoral system granting universal suffrage in the selection of the chief executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) on the basis of nomination by a "broadly representative" committee, i.e. vetting candidates contesting elections for the city’s top post in 2017. Western media played an important role in blowing the protests out of proportion, drawing parallels between the Hong Kong demonstrations and China’s Tiananmen Square protests.
Hong Kong, adjacent to mainland China, has come a long way from the tiny coastal island of fishing villages infested by malaria and other pestilence. Following China’s defeat at the hands of Great Britain in the First Opium War of 1839-42, Hong Kong was ceded to the United Kingdom. The Japanese invaded Hong Kong during the Second World War and indulged in loot, arson, pillage, rape and genocide of the local inhabitants for the three years of their occupation. Japan’s defeat at the hands of the allies returned Hong Kong to the British, who continued to rule it till July 1, 1997 when once again the island changed ownership and was handed back to China at the cessation of the 99 years lease.
The British had established financial and commercial centers at Hong Kong, making it a hub of trade and business. It is ironic that the Brits, who take pride in the pursuit of democracy and are one of the greatest critics of China, never held elections in Hong Kong during their 150 years rule. Hong Kong, like numerous other colonies, was ruled by a British governor.
Mainland China evolved the ‘Basic Law’ – which continues to serve as the mini-Constitution for Hong Kong – to provide a high degree of autonomy, with the people of “Hong Kong governing the city and the chief executive being elected by a selection committee of 1200 members, who themselves are elected from among professional sectors and pro-Chinese business in Hong Kong.”
The decision by the NPC is in consonance with the Basic Law and was reached with a consensus of opinions from all walks of life in Hong Kong. Two aspects need reiteration here. Firstly, Hong Kong’s democratic canons are China’s internal matter and do not merit interference by external organs. Secondly, Chinese electoral practices follow indirect democracy but are the butt of derision by the Occident since they differ from the western modus operandi of electing governments.
Chinese statesman and father of modern China’s economic turnaround Deng Xiaoping gave the concept of ‘one country, two systems,’ which implies that while mainland China practices socialism, Hong Kong and some other regions continue to follow capitalism for uninterrupted economic stability. The notion of ‘one country’ means that within the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is an inseparable part and a local administrative region directly under China's Central People's Government. As a unitary state, China's central government has a comprehensive jurisdiction over all local administrative regions, including the HKSAR.
The high degree of autonomy accorded to the HKSAR is not an inherent power, but one that emerges from the authorization of the central leadership. Perhaps this misconception needs to be allayed that the high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR is neither full autonomy nor decentralized power. It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership. This autonomy is dependent on the level of the central leadership's authorization and should not be confused with ‘residual power.’
The PRC’s Constitution stipulates unequivocally that the country follows a fundamental system of socialism. The basic system, the core leadership and the guiding thought of ‘one country’ have also been explicitly stipulated. The nucleus upholding the ‘one country’ principle is to maintain China's sovereignty, security and development interests, and respect the country's fundamental system and other systems and principles.
In this milieu, China – which patiently bore the disdain but did not cow down to the demands of the conscientious objectors namely the triad comprising the OCLP – is likely to weather the storm. Firstly because in the PRC’s perception the movement does not represent the aspirations of the majority of Hong Kong citizens. Secondly, the PRC is aware of the international propaganda to drag its rising economy down.
While the economic meltdown of 2008-09 brought major economies of the world to the brink of bankruptcy, prudent Chinese economic policies not only enabled it to remain stable but to continue its upward mobility, becoming the second largest economy of the world as well as shore up the teetering western economies like the U.S. Alarm bells have been ringing in western capitals because of the threat they fear from the Chinese currency the Renminbi. It is cold comfort for the financial mandarins of the Occident that China is bidding to enter the heart of global finance by establishing the Renminbi as part of IMF’s Special Drawing Right (SDR) the composite reserve currency used in official financing around the world. This will enable the Renminbi to eventually challenge the dollar and its pivotal position in world trade, investment and capital flows.
To further support the developing nations often embittered by stringent IMF and World Bank terms for extending financial loans, China has motivated the members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations to establish an independent international organization encouraging commercial, political and cultural cooperation between its members and also woo the Muslim nations towards its fold. At the sixth summit of BRICS in July this year, the $100 billion BRICS Development Bank and a reserve currency pool worth over another $100 billion was launched with China contributing $41 billion towards the pool. Brazil, India and Russia contributed $18 billion each while South Africa’s share was $5 billion.
It is difficult to ignore the whispers of conspiracies against China, especially when the PRC is leapfrogging its competitors in economic growth and color revolutions are being orchestrated at its periphery perhaps to impede its meteoric rise. Tibet, Xinjiang and now Hong Kong are facing turbulence. Prima facie there may be no links with the friction prevailing in each location. The Tibetans and the Uyghur of Xinjiang have been fomenting trouble in the name of independence for long. The Chinese leadership has dealt with miscreants with an iron fist but it also invested millions in development projects in both regions as they are an integral part of China. Hong Kong is also a vital component of the PRC and has enjoyed special privileges. However, at the end of the day, it should be left to the prudence of the PRC’s central leadership to resolve its internal issues.