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Chinese Democracy
China Puts Its Foot Down on Hong Kong

Beijing ruled on Sunday that candidates running for Chief Executive of Hong Kong have to be approved by a panel appointed by the Chinese Communist Party—the latest step in Beijing’s gradual takeover of Hong Kong’s political system. The Wall Street Journal explained the details of how the new system is going to work:

Candidates will need to secure support from at least 50% of members on a nominating committee, and their numbers will be capped in any given race at two or three candidates. Currently, the chief executive is appointed by the central government via a 1,200-member committee heavy on Beijing backers as well as business leaders. Candidates have until now needed to get support from just one-eighth of the panel, which in 2012 allowed a pro-democracy legislator to run as one of three candidates.

“Since the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and the sovereignty, security and development interests of the country are at stake, there is a need to proceed in a prudent and steady manner,” Beijing said in its ruling Sunday.

Hong Kong is a problem child for China, and Xi Jinping, in the midst of a flurry of moves to consolidate power, is surely keen to avoid showing weakness in the face of democratic agitations in the city. China had promised universal suffrage to Hong Kong’s residents for the 2017 elections, but had previewed this week’s announcement in a general white paper in June, prompting democracy activists to organize a referendum on democracy in June and an estimated 150,000 people to turn out for street demonstrations in early July. Sunday’s announcement was an expression of Beijing’s resolute insistence that none of that matters, and that it will have the final say in how Hong Kong is ruled.

Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum. Chinese leaders can confidently tug at their reins at this moment without fear of provoking too much push-back from Western leaders, who are distracted by hotter crises in the Middle East and Ukraine—and who haven’t shown much appetite for standing up to authoritarians in any case.

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  • Anthony

    Does Professor Mead really think that China would adopt a more liberal approach in Hong Kong if America invaded Syria, as he has advocated? Does anyone who reads this blog really think that way?

    China has a trump card that Russia does not, and that is the backing of corporate America. The Chinese market is so large that American corporations will do a lot in order to avoid losing access to it. Therefore, they use their significant wealth and prestige to pressure the American government to refrain from doing anything that would antagonize the Chinese government.

  • Anthony

    Of course nothing happens in a vacuum but as inferred by June white paper, China is determined to reconcile democratic urges (sentiments) among certain segments of Chinese populace with its central control apparatus. Reining in Hong Kong appears consonant with Beijing’s strategy in this area.

  • El Gringo

    The handling of the Ukraine issue should be a wake up call for the entire South and East Asian world. The West didn’t raise a finger when Russia invaded Europe – do you think it would spend a single second worrying about Asia? Taiwan should be very, very worried.
    If I were in charge of a country anywhere near Russia or China right now I would be seriously contemplating a nuclear weapons proram.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Fair point. I had not put Ukraine into the list of China’s Hong Kong calculations. It would not control the decision, but it sure could nudge the timing.

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