The Democratic Path for Hong Kong: Background and Implications
Ruben Armando Escalante H (Aoyama Gakuin University, Japan)
This is an abridged version of the full article which is available in PDF form.
July 1st 2007 saw the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the British crown back to China. The ceremony carried out to celebrate this handover 10 years ago, in 1997, made evident how much both Hong Kong and China had changed over a century since the small island was taken over by the British as compensation demanded after the victory of the first Opium War: It was not the small fishing port in South China anymore, but a brilliant outpost of liberalism in the East, profiting from one of the highest GPDs in the whole continent and showered with western institutions, customs and ideas. On the other side, the Qing Empire that had lost the territorial possession had given way to a short-lived nationalist regime and since 1949 to a People's Republic led by a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which, even though getting closer to the international liberal market ever since 1979, of which Hong Kong is an integral part, it still was (and is) reluctant to opening up on Humans Rights and universal suffrage. Ten years afterwards, the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing is at the same time complementary and contradictory.
The following paragraphs state very succinctly what I believe are the challenges for China regarding Hong Kong democracy, as well as some final conclusions:
- The formula of "one country, two systems" is needed by the Chinese administration, both to accommodate the theoretical dichotomy of a liberal capitalist Hong Kong in China, and to rhetorically cover as well the reforms being implemented since 1979. This, with the sole aim of economic growth under the undisputed political leadership of the CCP, and the allure that this would add to the case for a peaceful reunification with Taiwan, with the PRC sending the message that Taiwanese way of life would be respected by Beijing as Hong Kong's has.
- The deadline for the respect of Hong Kong "way of life", set to run out in 2047, needs to be remembered when analyzing the direction Hong Kong is going. Neither the CCP or the People's Government should be underestimated when it comes to long-term planning, and even when I do not possess any information supporting this statement, I am sure the Government of the PRC must have an eye on the final merging of 2047 when devising its current Hong Kong policies.
- The issue is not whether Hong Kong should have universal suffrage, but when. What Beijing and the CCP can control are the timing and the process leading to the fulfillment of this promise, while creating the appropriate circumstances to prevent this fulfillment from becoming a threat to their legitimacy as the ultimate holders of authority and sovereignty over all of the Chinese territory.
- Existence of an internal divide in the HKSAR: On the one hand there are the Beijing political/Hong Kong business elites who want to preserve the current status quo and slow down the process toward democracy, maintaining the current economic policies of the Region. On the other hand there are the Hong Kong working class and local political parties who want to accelerate the process and to change the economic policies, which would threaten the benefits of the business elites, and create a source of legitimacy in Hong Kong that directly threat the CCP and that could split into other parts of the country.
- China needs to find a balance between universal suffrage in the HKSAR and continuous participation of the Region as an integral part of China within the frameworks established by the CCP, preventing Hong Kong both from becoming a source of alternative ultimate loyalty and from developing of a Honk Kong sense of nationhood that could estrange its relations with Beijing in the medium or long term, always keeping in perspective the final 2047 deadline.
- Inevitable changes for the CCP: Hong Kong leaders being democratically elected will change the fabric of Hong Kong's participation in the institutions of the PRC and the CCP, and add a push to the cause for greater CCP intra-party political reform, as probably the only way for the CCP to maintain an undisputed rule in the future.
- The Chinese Government needs to find out a way to make the expected HKSAR's achievement of universal suffrage in 2012 rhetorically and strategically a part of its drive to further increase China's modernization, in order to maintain the legitimacy of the CCP, increase Chinese level of competitiveness in the world economy and maintain a door open for peaceful unification with Taiwan under the "One country, Two systems" formula.