China's decision to select the candidates for Hong Kong's next chief executive election via a committee stacked with pro-Beijing members has dashed the city's dreams of democratic reform.
But to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ideologues, it is democratic reform — Chinese-style.
Some have borrowed former CCP leader Deng Xiaoping's slogan “Let some people get rich first,” in reference to China's pivot toward free-market economic policies, and modified it to be “Let some people get democracy first” to argue for the framework for Hong Kong's universal suffrage of its top leader. The use of the phrase indicates that this political reform could be meant to turn Hong Kong into a testing ground for a non-western “democratic” system that's compatible with the mainland.
A former British colony, Hong Kong enjoys a certain amount of autonomy from China as a special administrative region under the “one country, two systems” principle. Beijing has promised the city that its people could elect the next chief executive in 2017, but the standing committee of China’s National People Representative Conference (NPC) decided earlier this week that candidates must obtain at least 50 percent support from a 1,200-member pro-Beijing nominating committee before being allowed on the ballot.
To pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, who want the right to choose the candidates, this undermines a direct vote. To mainland officials, the nominating committee, with its “collective will”, protects the single-party regime in China and goes hand in hand with the concept of “freedom of discussion, unity of action” under the Soviet-style “democratic centralism“. Top officials from Beijing have openly condemned the demand for genuine universal suffrage as being an attempt to launch a sort of Colour Revolution and thus representing a national security threat to the country.
Mainland web users discussed the democratic experiment following the NPC's decision, and some said that it poses a threat to the “one country, two systems” principle in Hong Kong, which ensures the city's freedoms. The following joke, one of the more witty responses out there, went viral on social media:
Hong Kong's people have been walking on a bridge and you have to push them into the river, forcing them to “wade across the stream and feel the way” with you.
The expression “wade across the stream by feeling the way” was used by Deng Xiaoping for promoting the economic reform in the 1980s.
Mainland Chinese political cartoonist @remonwangxt's reaction was more direct. He depicted the NPC's decision as a proclamation of the end of “one country, two systems”:
— 变态辣椒 (@remonwangxt) August 31, 2014
Wherever the power of a single-party state reaches, there won’t be any genuine universal suffrage and democracy. Now what remains is “genuine one country, one system”.
The Beijing government has boasted about the originality of the NPC’s nominating committee “solution” in the promotion of non-western democracy in Hong Kong. On popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo, Huey pointed out that the framework is a copycat of Iran's and Russia's model:
The government’s framework for universal suffrage in Hong Kong is not that original. Have you heard about the Guardian Council in Iran? Its function is like the “nominating committee”. The members are appointed by Hassan Rouhani. No pro-western politicians can appear in the vote. Do you know how the presidents of all the “autonomous” republics of Russia are elected? They are all nominated by Putin and “confirmed” by councils of the repbulics. The current decision is just a copycat.
Writer Golden House believed the NPC decision could ruin Hong Kong:
Hong Kong belongs to Hong Kong's people. You [mainland China] have the army stationed in the territories and you are in charge of diplomacy. Why can’t you accept a nominating committee formed by direct election? Why can’t you accept nomination with a 10 percent vote in the nominating committee? Why do you have to manipulate the nomination and apply the party rule to Hong Kong? This is domestic politics and you have to make everyone angry and frustrated and turn it into an international issue. Whoever gets elected, they are all Chinese. What are you afraid of? A small issue turns into a big incident, a good deed turns into a bad deed. The decision reflects the nature of the decision-maker and shows if he is a human or a pig.
Nan Kezhoz speculated that the state would never establish its legitimacy without giving citizens the right to vote:
The legitimacy of the state comes from the source of its authority. In ancient time, the emperor’s power came from the heavens, so they had to perform rituals for the heavens. In modern society, the legitimacy comes from people. Whether or not people have the right to universal suffrage is the scale for measuring the state’s legitimacy. Another source of legitimacy comes from military power. That nature of authority is similar to pirates, bandits and goons.
Beijing law professor He Weifang believed Beijing's handling of the situation would not only risk Hong Kong's “one country, two systems”, but also push Taiwan away from a peaceful reunification with China. The post was censored on Weibo, but was recovered by anti-censorship FreeWeibo.com:
What worries me is that the government is now playing the role of bully in international society. Years back, the implementation of the principle of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong and Macau was to set up an example for Taiwan [and prepare for its reunification]. The current method pushes Taiwan away.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 following a civil war. China considers democratic Taiwan a breakaway territory and doesn't recognize its independence.
As the mainland continues forward with its plans for Chinese-style democracy in Hong Kong, lawmakers in the Hong Kong legislative council with a different understanding of true democracy are building a coalition to exercise their veto power to the electoral reform package.
Follow our in-depth coverage: Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution