Chinese vice President Warns HK Over Protests

28-Apr-2014 Intellasia | NY Times | 6:00 AM Print This Post

In the bluntest warning yet from a Chinese Communist Party leader about possible protests in Hong Kong’s financial district, vice President Li Yuanchao has called the Occupy Central movement an illegal initiative that would threaten Hong Kong’s prosperity.

Li’s comments, which were reported in Hong Kong newspapers on Friday, enumerated the Chinese government’s worries about Occupy Central, a group seeking to ensure that efforts to liberalise Hong Kong’s electoral system are not diluted by demands from Beijing. The organisers of Occupy Central say that the Chinese Communist leadership and its supporters in Hong Kong could undercut promises of universal suffrage with conditions that constrict the range of candidates to lead the territory and limit the influence of voters.

The organisers of Occupy Central With Love and Peace, the organisation’s full name, have warned that if they conclude that the proposed electoral changes that emerge from consultations fall short of genuine universal suffrage, they will hold civil disobedience protests in Central, a district crowded with banks and other businesses.

Li stated Beijing’s opposition while meeting with a delegation of Hong Kong journalists and media company executives on Thursday.

“Regarding some people who have launched the Occupy Central movement, Li Yuanchao pointed out that Occupy Central is unlawful, would delay universal suffrage and wreck the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” reported Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper aligned with the Chinese government. According to the newspaper, Li said the party leadership was “adamantly opposed to Occupy Central.”

Li repeated the Chinese government’s position that Hong Kong’s top official, called the chief executive, “must conform to the standard of loving the country and loving Hong Kong.” Critics of Chinese policy have said that phrase is a euphemism to describe leaders who will be pliant enforcers of Beijing’s demands.

A British colony until 1997, Hong Kong is now under Chinese sovereignty but maintains its own laws and administration. Despite the formal protections of a law enshrining “one country, two systems,” ties between Hong Kong and mainland China have been troubled by growing tensions over a flood of mainland Chinese crowding into the territory, Chinese perceptions that Hong Kong residents are arrogant and coddled, and the Chinese Communist Party’s fears that unrest in the territory could spill over into the mainland.

Political tensions centre on changing the electoral system. Hong Kong’s chief executive is now appointed by a committee of about 1,200 people, many of them seen as obeying the Chinese government. The Chinese government has agreed that the election of the chief executive starting in 2017 should be by universal suffrage. But critics say that promise could be an empty one, if the voting rules are calibrated to filter out contentious candidates and deliver electoral victors favoured by Beijing.

Li’s comments are not the first warning from Chinese politicians about Occupy Central, but until now top leaders have not been so explicit. He is a member of the Politburo, a 25-member council of senior officials. In March, Zhang Dejiang, the chair of China’s party-run legislature, made comments that many Hong Kong news outlets took as a warning to Occupy Central. Zhang said Hong Kong should not “emulate Western democracy.”

Li’s comments were part of the Chinese government’s efforts to deter Hong Kong residents from supporting Occupy Central and possibly taking to the streets if there are protests, said Benny Tai, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong who initiated the movement last year. He said any decision on protests would be made only after the Hong Kong government revealed its package of proposed electoral changes, which could be many months away.

“My interpretation is that they really see Occupy Central as a threat,” Tai said of China’s leaders. He said the protests could involve acts of civil disobedience, like obstruction in public places, but no serious lawbreaking. “We have committed ourselves to nonviolence,” he said.

“The Chinese government is still trying to influence the media of Hong Kong, and through the media of Hong Kong to influence the general public,” Tai said. He said the movement appeared to have the support of about a quarter of Hong Kong’s people.

“That means that we have a substantial minority in the society that will support the movement,” he said. “Now we don’t know how many people will join the actual action, but that’s still very substantial.”


Category: Hong Kong

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