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.

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By S. M. Hali

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.

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