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Home > East Asia > 

Hong Kong struggle for democracy a lonely one
Paul Lin
8/5/2004

On the first of this month people the of Hong Kong hit the streets with a pro-democracy demonstration that attracted 500,000 people. While the rest of the world was impressed, it was of particular embarrassment to Beijing.

Last year's 500,000-strong demonstration could be blamed on the incompetence of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. But after that, Zeng Qinghong, China's vice-chairman and member of the standing committee of the Politburo, would hear nothing of high-level autonomy for Hong Kong, insisting instead on being personally involved in its affairs. Hong Kong, however, had Western-style democracy for more than a century. Zeng is still finding it difficult to prevent its residents from striving for freedom and to break their desire for freedom and democracy.

Zeng's so-called united front policy in Hong Kong can be broken down into three main points. First, the united front of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) primarily seeks to differentiate friend from foe. Liu Yangdong, head of the united front, visited Hong Kong in May and took part in many events. These included activities put on for senior citizens but that totally excluded those who are part of the democratic movement. The excuse given for this was that there was no time. The reality is that the democratic movement had been earmarked as an enemy that has to be destroyed.

Second, with regard to their enemies, they are attempting a dual tactic of attack and division. On the one hand, they sought to isolate the figures of the traditional democracy movement, such as Martin Lee, Szeto Wah, Emily Lau, and Margaret Ng, labelling them "ultra-stubborn." On the other hand, they sought to lure new pro-democracy figures into the fold after the 1997 handover, most notably lawyers like Audrey Eu, Ronny Tong and Edward Chan, and the Catholic Bishop Joseph Zen.

Third, Beijing is using permits to allow people to return to their hometowns in China, as well as promoting freedom of travel as part of their strategy of division. This is intended to stimulate economic activity in Hong Kong and to set Beijing up as a benefactor, driving a wedge between Hong Kongers and the pro-democracy faction. It is unclear how the investment and spending of Hong Kong residents in mainland China compares with that of Chinese residents with the freedom of travel. Regardless, if people from Hong Kong are to be given freedom of travel within China, mainland Chinese people should equally be given permission to travel in Hong Kong. Doesn't Beijing realize that Hong Kong residents are more than economic animals whose basic rights can be bought off?

Many residents of Hong Kong moved there from the mainland following the communist takeover in 1949, and have witnessed the many inhumane acts perpetrated by the government over the years. They cannot be taken in so easily. These immigrants had originally seen themselves as transients. Under British rule, however, they came to know the value of freedom. As such, they now stand up and want the territory's governance in the hands of the people -- to be their own masters.

During this massive protest, Beijing combined a hard and soft approach to Hong Kong's democracy movement. It is unlikely that they will be too strong-armed in the run-up to the September elections for fear of losing local votes. They will, nevertheless, continue to use these dual tactics.

The people of Hong Kong face a tough road to democracy if they are to maintain their spirited resistance to Beijing. Still, they must prepare for the worst. After all, the CCP is more like a criminal gang than a civilized government.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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