China can still save ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong, as it is
Authorities in Hong Kong may have hoped to start 2020 by putting a turbulent period of sustained, often violent, protests behind them. Instead, hundreds of thousands of protesters ushered in the new year by taking to the streets. About 400 were arrested as protesters continued their pursuit of political reform on the densely populated island. The clash between the government and protesters has been going on for seven months now and has contributed to further weakening Hong Kongers’ confidence in China’s commitment to the “one country, two. systems ”formula. According to this principle, in 1997 the region gained a degree of autonomy over its own affairs. But a perception that Beijing is increasingly enforcing its authority has not only led to a more militant protest movement, but also the separation of the continent. As a political scientist who has been closely following the political developments in Hong Kong for the past ten years, I have seen confidence in Beijing disappear during the ongoing unrest. If China wants to correct this course and convince Hong Kongers that their best hope lies in autonomy rather than independence, then I believe it should allow true democracy in the region. Cycle of unrest The people of Hong Kong did not have much say in their own destiny. Not only did they have political power as a colony of the British, but they were also not consulted in the drafting of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration laying down the conditions for the 1997 handover of territory from the United Kingdom. to the People’s Republic of China. Nevertheless, the agreement offers an implicit bargain to Hong Kongers: they would submit to Beijing’s sovereignty in exchange for the promise of a ‘high degree of autonomy’ based on ‘one country, two systems’. Over the past two decades, outbreaks of unrest in Hong Kong have followed Beijing’s efforts to impose unwanted measures that violate this bargaining chip. Large-scale protests have toppled Beijing-led legislative proposals on sedition in 2003, national education in 2012 and extradition last year. The 2014 Umbrella Movement protests succeeded in stimulating Beijing’s proposed revisions to the Hong Kong system for the election of the chief executive, but the demand of protesters for universal suffrage and an open nomination process was rejected. in the provisions of the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Mini-Constitution. This interference reinforces the fear that the city will lose its autonomy completely after 2047, the end of the commitments under the joint statement. With only limited and inadequate democratic mechanisms at their disposal, Hong Kongers developed a vibrant and increasingly militant protest culture as a primary means of exercising political influence. Efforts to send Hong Kong to greater integration with the mainland have bounced back, undermining confidence in Beijing’s promise of a ‘high degree of autonomy’. The result is an ongoing cycle of radicalization. The focal point for many protesters has moved away from any particular issue to focus on the fundamental status of Hong Kong’s relationship with China. Growing numbers of people are asking why they should keep their side of the bargain – with the acceptance of Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong. According to a recent Reuters poll, 17% of Hong Kongers express full support for China’s independence, while another 20% are dissatisfied with the “one country, two systems” model. In addition, 59% of respondents said they supported the recent protests and more than one-third attended a protest themselves. According to a separate survey, support for the eventual independence of young people is 40%. Many young people also rejected a “Chinese” identity in favor of a “Hong Kong” identity. The depth of discontent among Hong Kongers was reflected in the November 24 district council election. These low-level posts have traditionally been dominated by Beijing’s political parties. However, the recent election brought a record turnout with pro-democracy parties winning almost 90% of the disputed posts. Beijing’s miscalculation To stop the growth of separatist sentiment in Hong Kong, Beijing needs to tackle a ‘commitment problem’ for social scientists. In any negotiation, each side will only cooperate if they believe that the other side is willing to be able to fulfill any commitments made as part of the bargain. If one of the parties believes that the other party’s credibility is not credible, then the cooperation fails. What China needs to do now is to show that it is committed to respecting the promises of autonomy in the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. I believe the best way to do that is for Beijing to stop running the city. As long as the choice of the chief executive and a majority of the Legislative Council is in Beijing’s hands, it will be difficult for the continent to resist interference in Hong Kong’s affairs and for Hong Kongers to feel that their autonomy ‘. offers a real say in their fate .In other words, Beijing could undermine the calls for independence and interrupt the cycle of mass protests by giving Hong Kongers the opportunity to elect their leaders through free and fair elections. Beijing was badly miscalculated in 2014 when it proposed electoral reforms that were far from the demands of Hong Kong’s pan-democratic camp, a coalition of parties advocating universal suffrage. As a result, older mainstream leaders lost control of the protest movement to younger, more militant activists. By 2019, young radicals were using violent street actions, along with harsh rhetoric against Beijing. A move towards democracy can still calm the waters, provided the process enables real and effective local participation. This proposal is perhaps far-fetched. Some reports suggest that leaders in Beijing are planning to move in the opposite direction by taking more direct control of Hong Kong’s political and legal institutions. In addition, Beijing is concerned that full democracy in Hong Kong elsewhere in China could lead to the same demands. If a democratic solution to China’s Hong Kong problem seems unattractive to Beijing, the alternatives could be worse. The current cycle of provocation, protest, radicalization and increasing separatism can only lead to one end result: a violent repression that will damage China’s reputation and occupy a grumpy and challenging population for a generation or longer.[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]This article was published from The Conversation, a non-profit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. Read more: * As Digital Earth gains momentum, China sets the pace * Unrest in Latin America makes authoritarianism seem more attractive to some * Decade of disagreement: how protest shakes the UK and why it is likely to continue David Skidmore does not work , consult, hold shares or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have not disclosed any applicable commitments outside of their academic appointment.