Hong Kong at a crossroads

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Hong Kong at a crossroads

Hong Kong citizens’ protests against China are spreading fast across the territory. In vehement opposition to the way China wants to hold elections for the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers have occupied main streets of the city since last weekend to demand more democracy and even the resignation of the current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying.

As the protesters respond to the police’s firing of water cannons and tear gas with umbrellas, their protests are being called the “umbrella revolution.” Given that the protests continued through October 1, China’s holiday to celebrate the foundation of the People’s Republic, they will likely continue. Analysts raise serious concerns about the economic repercussions of the temporary shutdowns of institutions and shops in the territory. The Hang Seng Index fell 1.90 percent Monday and 1.28 percent Tuesday. Unless the protests calm down, they could shake investors’ confidence in the financial hub of Asia.

The rally was triggered by a new election system adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Chief executives of Hong Kong have so far been elected through an election committee comprised of representatives of industries and civic groups. However, as most enterprises in Hong Kong have deep connections with mainland China, some 80 percent of the committee members are considered pro-Beijing. In an effort to ease Hong Kongers’ anxiety, the National People’s Congress made a new electoral system in August granting them the right to cast votes in the election, while replacing the existing election committee with a nomination committee which is also comprised of representatives of industry and civic group from 2017, when the next election will be held. Even though Hong Kong citizens now will have voting rights, 80 percent of the nomination committee members are still pro-Chinese, which caused the protests.

When the United Kingdom handed over the territory to China, Beijing promised it would maintain a “one-country, two-systems” arrangement - an assurance of a high level of self-rule. Hong Kong’s Basic Law specified that China will gradually democratize the territory with the goal of electing the chief executive through a direct popular vote. The demonstrations show that China’s experiment with this unique system is at a crossroads. Taiwanese leaders have expressed support for the protests because Beijing also wants reunification with Taiwan. China needs to return to the spirit of “one-country, two-systems.” JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 2, Page 38
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