Policy Alert: Hong Kong Protests Spark Reactions from Rising Powers
Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters marched on the streets in Hong Kong last week in response to the Chinese leadership’s decision to essentially screen candidates for the city’s 2017 election of its chief executive. While the demonstrations have subdued after protesters agreed with the local government to start formal talks later this week, the future of Hong Kong remains uncertain. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, India, Japan, and South Korea on the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
The Chinese government clamped down on images and information of the pro-democracy protests reaching mainland China, with only a few select commentaries in state-run media blasting the gatherings as illegal, disruptive of social order, and harmful to the economy.
- “If the oppositionists continue their Occupy campaign, they will bring more inconvenience to local people, the investment environment will be harmed, and the stock market and foreign exchange market will slip…the central government will not step back just because of the chaos created by the oppositionists,” stated an editorial published in the state-run Global Times.
- China Daily wrote, “By now it should have been clear to citizens that what the political extremists really want is to advance their agenda by seizing power to rule Hong Kong by any means, rather than by promoting democracy.”
- The People’s Daily estimated investors’ aggregate losses at no less than $350 billion HKD ($4.5 billion USD) as a result of “working hours and business transactions lost due to the disruptions in the city,” and referred to the Occupy movement as an illustration of “the tyranny of the minority in politics.”
In contrast, media in semiautonomous Hong Kong broadcasted nonstop commentary about the Occupy crowds and Hong Kong’s future.
- “Hong Kong is torn between rival visions about its identity and future. On one side is the need for our little city to find its place in vast China- integration. On the other side is the counterclaim that we must preserve and protect what is unique and different about us against mainland contamination- exceptionalism. ‘One country, two systems’ under the Basic Law allows and encourages both conflicting tendencies- hence it is the constitutional root of our current malaise,” said journalist Alex Lo in the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post.
- Lijia Zhang, a journalist and social commentator for SCMP noted that, “as Hongkongers experience a political awakening, mainlanders are becoming less interested in politics.” She remarked that few on the mainland appear to be interested in finding out about Hong Kong’s democracy protest, much less sympathizing with it, “clearly a reflection of their political apathy.”
- Tammy Tam, predicted in the SCMP that “there is no doubt Beijing’s policies on Hong Kong will become tougher than ever…Hongkongers may like, dislike or even hate the ruling Communist Party. But like it or not, Hong Kong is part of China. And learning how to deal with Beijing in a more effective and skillful way would be the pragmatic way forward.”
- Another op-ed written by SCMP writer Kelly Yang argued that Hong Kong’s economy “is our biggest asset, and the one thing China is eager to safeguard. It’s the only reason Beijing has to listen to what we want…If Hongkongers really want a democratic election system, we …need to leverage our economy and play this card to our advantage instead of trying to ruin it.”
Indian newspapers and commentators criticized both Chinese and Western governments’ handling of the demonstrations.
- The Indian Express critiqued that the new electoral system in Hong Kong would make only a “mockery of democracy…where every adult citizen can vote for local legislators-so long as the party approves.”
- The Business Standard argued that Hong Kong people are “mature enough to carry out a free election.” Given the remote possibility of the city’s demand for independence, the unrest in Hong Kong shows that “Communist China remains unable to stomach protests of any kind, even if those assembled are armed with little more than umbrellas.”
- Upendra Nath Sharma, a sociology professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, criticized Western countries, especially the Great Britain, for their lack of support for the demonstrations. “Having delivered their former subjects into the hands of a communist dictatorship, Britain has a moral duty to ensure their basic rights, safety and autonomy are protected.”
- He stated that “International opinion should pressure Beijing to stop dictating the outcome of Hong Kong’s elections…not least so that China itself can advance with Hong Kong as its model.”
- The Hindu warned that prolonged demonstrations could “threaten Hong Kong’s status as one of Asia’s premier financial centres.”
Japanese media outlets remained critical of the Chinese government and showed support for the Hong Kong protestors.
- “The ability to impose Beijing-orchestrated governance appears to be reaching its limit,” argued the Yomiuri Shimbun. The Chinese central government “should show serious consideration for Hong Kong’s autonomy, and resolve this situation through dialogue.”
- The Sankei Shimbun demanded that the Xi administration honor the “one-country, two-systems” principle and remove the selection committee designed to screen candidates, warning that any undoing of Hong Kong’s democracy will undermine the city’s trust and value as Asia’s “most matured” financial center.
- The newspaper also questioned the lack of pro-democracy support from Western countries, especially the United Kingdom, the former colonizer who was a party to the “one country, two systems” agreement during the process of Hong Kong’s reversion to the mainland.
Korean newspapers urged the Chinese leadership to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy.
- The JoongAng Ilbo posited that the demonstrations show that China’s experiment with the unique arrangement of “one-country, two-systems” is “at crossroad.”
- It contended that “China needs to return to the spirit of ‘one-country, two-systems,’” which stipulates that Beijing will gradually democratize Hong Kong via a direct popular election of the city’s chief executive.