Sunday, October 05, 2014

China’s false promises to Hong Kong

By Keith B. Richburg October 3, WashPost

Keith B. Richburg, a freelance writer based in Asia, was The Washington Post’s Hong Kong bureau chief from 1995 to 2000 and The Post’s China correspondent from 2009 to 2013. He is currently researching a book on China.

Deng Xiaoping, China’s late, great leader, was lauded as a visionary when, in talks with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, he articulated a formula that would allow Communist China to take control of Hong Kong in 1997: “one country, two systems.”

It was a construct unique to China, offering Hong Kong what Beijing’s leaders promised would be “a high degree of autonomy” and a “gradual” path to democracy. It was a way to reassure nervous Hong Kong residents thinking of fleeing for refuge abroad that the longtime British colony would retain the characteristics that turned a “barren rock” into a prosperous and sophisticated global financial center. It was an answer to Hong Kong’s democratic proponents, who thought the end of colonial rule should bring with it the right to vote for a leader in free and fair elections.

It was also a fiction.

China never intended for Hong Kong to operate independently of the Communist-run central government in Beijing. China wanted to run Hong Kong precisely as the British had: administered by a senior official handpicked by the metropole — called a governor by the British, a chief executive by the Chinese — with limited or no local input. For Beijing, “one country” was always more important than “two systems.” And the promises of democracy and universal suffrage were just that, promises, left deliberately vague and couched with such qualifiers as “eventual” and “step by step.”

The current crisis in Hong Kong — which has brought students and pro-democracy activists to the streets — poses the most serious threat to the Chinese Communist Party since Tiananmen Square. And it all goes back to the vague words and conflicting interpretations of that tense handover period.

(More here.)

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