Trouble in Hong Kong

hong kong protestsBy S. M. Hali


One of Asia’s most flourishing financial centers, Hong Kong has recently been rattled by protest movements. The main protagonists that initiated the demonstrations are the triad of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, representing university students, Scholarism, made up of high school students, and the civil disobedience movement called Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP). The demonstrations affected Hong Kong’s busiest areas for days since September 28, leading to serious traffic disruption, temporary closures of schools and banks, and a slump in the benchmark Hang Seng Index, impacting the region’s economic development and international reputation.

Reportedly, the basis of the remonstrations is the August 31 decision made by China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee on Hong Kong’s electoral system granting universal suffrage in the selection of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR)’s chief executive on the basis of nomination by a “broadly representative” committee.  This decision is in consonance with the “Basic Law” which serves as the mini-Constitution of Hong Kong after it was ceded back to China following British Occupation. The pronouncement by the NPC was reached with the consensus of opinions from all walks of life in Hong Kong. Regrettably, the Occident is critical of China’s democratic practices since they differ from western modus operandi of electing governments.

The hullabaloo caused by the triad appears to be at the behest of vested interests. Two recent news items may shed light on Hong Kong’s tribulations. First: Business Insider October 8 Op-Ed by Mike Bird titled ‘China Just Overtook The US As The World’s Largest Economy’, quoting the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Chris Giles of the Financial Times. IMF’s conclusion isbased on adjusting for purchasing power parity affirming that by the end of 2014, China will make up 16.48% of the world’s purchasing-power adjusted GDP (or $17.632 trillion), while the US contribution will comprise 16.28% (or $17.416 trillion). In raw terms, China is still about $6.5 trillion behind the US and will require a few years to overtake.

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The second article meriting attention is USA Today’s October 7 piece that China is bidding to enter the heart of global finance by establishing its currency, the Renminbi, as part of IMF’s Special Drawing Right the composite reserve currency used in official financing around the world. This will enable the Renminbi to eventually challenge the dollar and its pivotal position in world trade, investment and capital flows.

Conspiracy theories are galore but it is no coincidence that Beijing is apparently facing color revolutions simultaneously on its periphery: Tibet, Xinjiang and now Hong Kong. Prima facie there may be no links with the milieu in each location. The Tibetans and Uyghur of Xinjiang have been demanding autonomy; Chinese leadership has invested millions of Renminbi for development projects in both regions as they are an integral part of China but have simultaneously dealt with miscreants with an iron fist. Hong Kong on the other hand has enjoyed special privileges.

The coastal island of Hong Kong has seen numerous ups and downs. From its cession to Britain after China lost the First Opium War in 1842 to the Japanese occupation (December 1941- August 1945) during WW II, which resulted in rape, plunder and mass extermination of the population leaving indelible scars and causing severe dents in Hong Kong’s economy. The British regained control of Hong Kong after its liberation in 1945 till they handed it over to China on July 1, 1997 on conclusion of the 99 years lease signed in 1898.

Interestingly, the British—champions of Westminster style of Democracy— criticize China but themselves never held elections in Hong Kong during their 150 years’ rule. Chinese economic wizard and statesman Deng Xiaoping gave the concept of “One Country, two systems”, in vogue till today; which implies that, while mainland China practices socialism, Hong Kong and some other regions continue to follow capitalism in pursuit of economic stability and prosperity.

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Under the “Basic Law”, Hong Kong has been enjoying a high degree of autonomy with “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” whereas the Chief Executive of Hong Kong is elected by a selection committee comprising 1200 members, who are themselves elected from among professional sectors and pro-Chinese business in Hong Kong.

In this backdrop, the illegal gathering of the OCLP and the triad’s movement appears to have been deliberately instigated by external forces, not to promote democratic and constitutional development in the HKSAR but sabotage it economically and disrupt its financial growth hurting China.

Western media is playing up the trouble in Hong Kong disproportionately. The Triad represents a handful of dissenters, who have chosen the path of confrontation rather than communication. Majority of the residents of Hong Kong are being held hostage to the crisis as they are being deprived of their livelihood and way of life but their voice remains unheeded in the Occident.