Today the world’s shaky political systems received another addition. Along with the upheaval in Thailand and the overthrow of government in Ukraine, Hong Kong was added to the list. Yesterday HSBC Bank announced a downgrade of Hong Kong due to strains with Beijing and the threat of the Occupy Central movement. This is fresh on the heels of the largest, peaceful demonstration in the city’s history. Police estimated 98,000 took part. Organisers claim 510,000 marched. Independent experts assert 140,000 to 172,000 participated. Regardless of total numbers, what matters is the amount of attention the tension is receiving.
Overall, our view remains that the concept of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ is an everyday reality in Hong Kong. The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, which are so vital to Hong Kong’s success, are being upheld. Essential rights and freedoms are being protected, and challenges to them fully and freely debated.— UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Mr Jack Straw, Six-monthly Report on Hong Kong, July-December 2001, presented to the British Parliament, March 2002
Time, however, seems to be working against Hong Kong. This special set-up was put in place in 1997 and was guaranteed to remain in place for 50 years. That means Hong Kong would be quasi-independent until 2047. Now with 33 years left to go, Beijing is shifting the lines.
Last month Beijing issued a White Paper on the future of Hong Kong. The central claim is that China retains “complete control” over Hong Kong. The Communist Party has called on judges to remember their roles as state employees (versus Hong Kong’s prized independent judiciary). The White Paper has led to a flurry of negative articles, protests and calls for change. This has played directly into the hands of the Occupy Central movement.
In the coming weeks we expect to see more and more protests. The main business district may be inaccessible for days at a time. No doubt protesters and police will clash. This orderly, polite nation will take pepper spray to the face.
Clash is inevitable as Beijing seeks greater control and Occupy Central calls for greater transparency. I just hope we don’t descend into a Thai-Ukraine style crisis.