Friday, October 17, 2014

Hong Kong’s “Occupy Central” Central to China’s Future

Night 20: Hundreds of protesters swamp Kowloon’s Mong Kok.
The Occupy Central protests centered on Hong Kong’s financial district are now into their 21st day. They are reportedly costing Hong Kong’s economy around $13.5 million (HK$105 million) a day in lost revenue. Talks are supposed to begin soon between the student-led protest movement and the administration of Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, a puppet of China’s leadership whom the students have called upon to resign. Understand, though, that talks have repeatedly been announced then reshaped, only to be later called off. A resolution of the crisis may not be in sight as long as crowds keep showing up in response to police and hired-goon beatings, talk cancellations, barricade removals, and other negative government actions.

Protesters want Hong Kong’s people to be able to elect their own chief executive--as provided for under the Hong Kong basic law’s promise of universal suffrage--not be force-fed a Beijing puppet. The Occupy Central movement specifically objects to Beijing’s announced plan to select on its own the individuals who compete in future Hong Kong chief executive elections. Beijing says its nomination plan is non-negotiable. Thus, the impasse.

Any solution in sight? The Economist recently editorialized its view that
Xi Jinping, China’s president, and his colleagues believe that the party’s control over the country is the only way of guaranteeing its stability. They fear that if the party loosens its grip, the country will slip towards disorder and disaster. They are right that autocracy can keep a country stable in the short run. In the long run, though, as China’s own history shows, it cannot. The only guarantor of a stable country is a people that is satisfied with its government. And in China, dissatisfaction with the Communist Party is on the rise.
China needs to find a way of allowing its citizens to shape their governance without resorting to protests that risk turning into a struggle for the nation’s soul. Hong Kong, with its history of free expression and semi-detached relationship to the mainland, is an ideal place for that experiment to begin.
Longtime China expert Orville Schell, writing in the Wall Street Journal, similarly paid tribute to Xi’s hard-nosed style before similarly recommending reform:
What has distinguished Mr. Xi to date is his persona as a tough, immovable leader. He has gone so far as to suggest that a “real man” might have been able to head off the demise of the Soviet Union. Such Putin-esque posturing will prove risky in a place like Hong Kong, where many already think that China’s leaders possess tin ears and strong, club-wielding arms. Hong Kong isn’t eastern Ukraine. Should Mr. Xi decide to take a softer path, it may signal that he is also capable of a more mature, subtle understanding. If he wants to build trust and confidence with surrounding countries, it is hard to imagine a more convincing and immediate way to do so.
Reform or revolution? Once again, China confronts two choices.

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