Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest currently in its sixth month is unprecedented for more reasons than one. Firstly, no other protest anywhere in the world has continued unabated for such a long duration, they generally erupt at intervals. Secondly, one very rarely witnesses a mighty world player from getting over-awed by a group, even after 22 years of exercising its sovereignty.
It is 22 years since Hong Kong’s handover by Britain to the PRC. Thirdly, much to PRC’s utter astonishment and disgust, the district counselors elections held on Nov 25, 2019 have brought in a landslide victory for the pro-democracy protesters. About 2.74 million people voted i.e. about 71.2 pc of elected voters – a figure which was just 47 pc in the 2015 elections.
The pro-democracy protesters are slogan screaming ‘Liberate Hong Kong’. Aren’t they justified screaming the above slogan? They won a massive 390 of the 452 district council seats. This result will be a force multiplier for the pro-democracy protesters and will make a very significant impact in the next election for the Chief Executive’s position.
It might be recalled that President Xi Jinping while speaking on developments in Hong Kong, during his visit to Kathmandu on Oct 12, 2019 – had said “anyone attempting to split China, in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones”.
The pro-democracy protesters are in fact challenging the bedrock of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which is, ‘one nation with two systems’ which ensures complete autonomy for the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. But has Beijing shown the bravado of crushing the bodies of the protesters and shattering their bones? They have not and the wont. Why?
If we are to believe President Donald Trump, it was his pressure on President Xi Jinping, which has deterred the latter from committing bloodshed generating violence, which, according to Trump would have brought Hong Kong within the firm control of PRC within 14 minutes.
President Trump has used his commercial heft by using the Beijing- China trade talks- as a leverage, to ensure the restraint on Beijing’s part. Of course, the fact that Xi Jinping is amongst the world’s most mature statesman –who always subscribes to strategic restraint in preference to belligerence and bloodshed – were also contributing elements.
Also, the fact that Britain, the European Union and several other nations have overtly ridiculed PRC for its blatant curbs on democracy in Hong Kong and playing erringly of its promised “one China –two systems” policy, which also could have compelled Beijing to keep its guns unfired, even though at an enormous cost towards its threat to sovereignty and national security.
The temptation by President Xi Jinping for a hawkish or violent approach in dealing with the pro-democracy protesters is very compelling, but he is choosing to adhere to the maxim ‘discretion is the better part of valour’.
Let it not be forgotten that PRC’s human rights violations in Xinjiang – where it has completely crushed the Uighurs and done ethnic cleansing to the extent that the locals are almost getting wiped out, after losing their cultural identity through ‘re-education’ camps. PRC’s human rights violations in the PRC termed ‘’Tibet Autonomous Region” and its human rights violations within mainland China itself –have all classified PRC as the worst human rights violator.
Xi Jinping fully recognizes the above and is not oblivious of the fact that PRC whose human rights record, already in tatters, would, most certainly render it internationally isolated, if it commits mass massacre in Hong Kong. PRC believes- at least till the present moment, that it will, by some political master stroke, manage to quell the seething dissent from the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong.
Xi Jinping, has for public consumption, extolled the “robust administrative acumen” of Hong Kong’s Beijing nominated Chief Administrator, Carrie Lam. But the truth is something totally different. A tough message, has, in fact been conveyed to her- two days after she met President Xi Jinping.
On that occasion, Premier Hang Zheng, the State Council Cabinet member incharge of Hong Kong affairs (member of the Politburo Standing Committee) made no bones of the shabby way in which Carrie Lam handled the violence in Hong Kong. She was told very firmly that she needed to enact the National Security Law for the territory in accordance with Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. This law completely prohibits any act of treason, secession, sedition and subversion.
This has to be seen in the back drop of the recently concluded Fourth plenum of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party –which categorically affirms that China plans to tighten its grip of Hong Kong, at any cost. There were two ominous portends in the above assertion namely a) China’s Central government will control and rule Hong Kong and Macau – using all powers vested in it under the Constitution of the Basic Law-and b) It will build and improve a legal system and enforcement mechanism to defend national security in both zones of the Special Administrative Regions (SAR) i.e. Hong Kong and Macau under PRC’s sovereignty.
Implicit in the above, is the frightening scenario where PRC will renege upon its ‘one nation two systems’ commitment made under the Basic Law.
The Nov 25, 2019 district council election, and its anti-Beijing outcome, as seen in the backdrop of the pro-democracy protests spearheaded by the indomitable Joshua Wong, with thousands subscribing to his views, has an immense political ramification, since this election is a barometer of the governance of Hong Kong under its pro-Beijing Chief-Executive Carrie Lam, whose policies and mis-governance have, not only left Beijing in the worst dilemmas it has ever faced in its history, but also attracted international ridicule for it.