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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Beijing’s interference ends HK autonomy

Beijing’s interference ends HK autonomy

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It is inconceivable how China stepped into an oath-taking controversy in the Hong Kong Legislative Council, prohibiting two popularly elected lawmakers — Yau Wai-ching (游蕙禎) and Sixtus “Baggio” Leung (梁頌恆) — from taking their seats and demanding political allegiance from all lawmakers.

Thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday to protest Beijing’s ruling. Depriving Hong Kongers of the right to self-autonomy, China’s judicial intervention exacerbated two serious problems about its management of sovereignty over Hong Kong.

First, Beijing and its agents in Hong Kong have lost touch with the new political reality. The disqualification fiasco exhibited the narrow Chinese stance on Hong Kong affairs since the Sino-British negotiations over the future of the territory in the early 1980s. At that time, Beijing prohibited Hong Kongers from participating in the bilateral talks and opposed any British proposal to democratize colonial governance and empower community leaders. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders sought to marginalize any Hong Kong prodemocracy force that might arise and challenge the central government in the postcolonial era.

Displaying the remnants of Cold War thinking and China’s obsession with total control, this political tactic served Beijing well in the late 1990s and 2000s. Yet this authoritarian governance has caused serious crises: an incompetent government void of any legitimacy, further marginalization of Hong Kong and escalating tensions with Beijing over universal suffrage.

This harsh, futureless reality is not what Hong Kong’s millennials want. Inspired by Taiwan’s Sunflower protests in March and April 2014, and their direct participation in the months-long “Umbrella movement” in late 2014, millennials are thinking smart about ways to change the confused and hopeless politics around them. Many young, first-time voters embraced the discourse of democratic localism and supported pro-independence candidates like Yau and Leung at the election in September.

Second, nationalist ideology is back in Chinese and Hong Kong politics, justifying the suspension of liberal reforms, the distortion of truth and the manipulation of public opinion. As Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) cracked down on domestic dissent and imposed a Maoist-style leadership, this mode of top-down control has silenced any public discourse of democratization.

Rather than reassessing the feasibility of the “one country, two systems” policy, China only perceives the growing grievances of Hong Kongers not so much as a sign of its own failure of governance as the result of instigation by a handful of pro-independence advocates. As a result, moderate CCP officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs have disappeared into the shadows, while hardliners are emerging. Harmless pro-independence voices like Yau and Leung are now demonized by the official propaganda as a dangerous force that could destabilize the territory and even subvert the mighty Chinese state.

When CCP leaders turn to broader ideological and political frameworks to make sense of the collapse of the “one country, two systems” policy, they see everything as a zero-sum game, worrying that the nation is trapped in a final battle between socialism and liberal democracy. This antagonistic mindset not only polarizes the irreconcilable divide between Hong Kong and Beijing, but also undermines the fragile unity with local governing institutions and business interests.

To reduce further conflicts, China should appeal directly to Hong Kong’s millennials, recognize their frustrations and allow them to take part in the public decisionmaking process. Only then can there be a genuine negotiation between Hong Kongers and the Chinese leadership.

Joseph Tse-hei Lee is professor of history at Pace University in New York City.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2016/11/09

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