By Debotosh chatterjee
Edited by, Namrata Caleb, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
Many believe that this can happen only once in a blue moon – when a financial nerve centre and one of the most politically stable cities in the world witnesses an unforeseen groundswell of pro-democracy sentiments that brings human life to a standstill across its length and breadth. What began with college and high school students taking to the streets in order to express their dissatisfaction at the lack of democracy in the Hong Kong society and government, has now turned into a conflagration of sorts, threatening to dismantle the People’s Republic of China’s stronghold on its Special Administrative Region.
A brief history of Hong Kong
Barring the brief period between 1941 and 1945, Hong Kong was an integral part of an illustrious 155 year old British Empire that flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was in 1984 that the British handed over the city to China, in the aftermath of several agreements and negotiations of the ‘Sino-British Joint Declaration’; Hong Kong became the first Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China in July 1997, and was set to be governed according to the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ (the other Special Administrative Region covered by this principle was Macau). Even though Hong Kong was proclaimed as a city with a significant amount of autonomy in the functioning of its government and judiciary, the Chinese mandarins made sure that they had retained master control on the legislature of the city – the body that is directly responsible for the election of governments. The continued existence of such unethical Chinese influence on the city legislature is what has motivated the protesting citizens to make the clarion call for a ‘pro-democracy change’.
The public ire
It is no longer a secret that Hong Kong ranks the lowest among today’s advanced nations in the yardstick of political rights – and various political forums have often been abuzz with talks of the ‘flawed democracy model’ of Hong Kong. However, China’s shrewd administrative acumen juxtaposed with the financial prowess of Hong Kong had till recently been strong enough to thwart any public show of dissatisfaction at the shambolic state of democracy in the ‘autonomous’ city. That changed when a crowd of students from various high schools and colleges in the city occupied the streets last Friday and, for the first time, lent a credible face to the public ire, which had for long been suppressed due to the absence of proper channels of expression – the start of the protest by the fearless student community has become just that vent of expression for the entire city. The use of force and tear gas shells, by the Police to disperse the protestors, which took place last Sunday, has only added fuel to the fire!
The Chinese story
China’s stubborn silence on this burning issue is perhaps not entirely unanticipated, for there are a number of reasons responsible for China covertly trying to undermine and suppress all ways of allowing a democratic election to be held in Hong Kong.
Firstly, the exhibition of the slightest streak of leniency by China on this issue is bound to raise spontaneous questions on the authoritarian ways of its Communist Party, with which it has ruled the mainland since time immemorial. Advent of democracy in any of its administrative regions can subsequently invite severe criticism of the undemocratic ways of the Communist Party of China – prognosticating which, the Chinese authorities must be scrambling to nip the ‘pro-democracy clamour’ in the bud. As they say, democracy can be contagious – it hasn’t taken much time to travel from West and Central Asia to the very fringes of the East. Besides, China is well aware of the growing lobby of democratic elements within its own folds, which has always been on the lookout for opportunities to dismantle the ruling Communists. Any talk of democracy in the vicinity of Beijing is bound to provide a fillip to this pro-democracy lobby within the Chinese mainland.
Secondly, the more important factor underlying China’s fears about the Hong Kong demonstrations must be concerned with the notion that letting Hong Kong get away with the demands of democracy may inevitably end up in further demands of complete independence for the city – the prospects of which are seriously terrifying for ruling disposition in Beijing!
Just like our Prime Minister Narendra Modi, China too knows a thing or two about regional balance and security, and the Chinese government knows full well the consequences of losing control of one of its most important cities. The leadership of Xi Jinping is expected to be put under tough experiments in the near future, and most of his decisions on this issue shall not only decide the fate of Hong Kong and China, but also change a number of political equations which are presently in equilibrium, all around the world.
Debotosh Chatterjee is an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, Debotosh is a die-hard cricket aficionado, who loves writing on the Gentleman’s Game. Besides, he is a percipient interpreter of daily life and is never shy of responsibly opining on issues, which he finds worthwhile. A passionate admirer of silence and tranquility, he is currently discovering the many joys that stem from ‘positive thinking’. Reading and traveling too fall within the periphery of his myriad interests.