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Mass Upsurge in Hong Kong -Imaginative and sensitive handling needed

The members of C3S   discussed and analysed  the serious  developments in Hong Kong . The discussions were led by Shri BS Raghavan, Patron of C3S. The collective response of the members has been put together and the same is appended below:-

Commodore RS Vasan IN(Retd),Director, C3S

The world is watching with great concern the snowballing of mass protests during the last week in Hong Kong(which coincided with the 65th  birth anniversary of PRC) over what the protesters regard as “restrictive modalities” which the Government of the People’s Republic of China at Beijing has decided to adopt for the election of the Chief Executive of the island in 2017.

The reason  for the flare-up, called Occupy Central, almost on the analogy of Arab Spring or similar uprisings elsewhere in the world, is as follows: The election of the chief executive, instead of being (as was expected ) direct and open in tune with democratic practice by allowing all aspiring candidates to file nominations and all eligible voters to exercise their franchise, will be indirect and opaque; the choice to the electorate confined only to those candidates screened and approved in advance by a committee set up by Beijing. On present showing, the protesters fear that the committee will be packed by pro-Beijing rich and influential members and the entire process would be no different from the current practice of a Beijing-appointed “election committee” imposing a chief executive on the Island.

The protesters are also demanding the removal of the present chief executive, Leung Chung-ying, who though supported by China in full measure is seen as authoritarian and hence extremely unpopular. While he has refused to step down, he has indicated a willingness to have some dialogue established with the protestors. According to People’s daily, the Chinese Government has warned of unimaginable consequences if the citizens of Hong Kong persist with ‘Occupy Central’. Taiwan has expressed its support to the protestors in Hong Kong and has even gone to the extent of terming the present phase as a ‘life and death’ moment.

A distinguishing feature of the mass upsurge is that it is spontaneous and spearheaded mostly by students and the younger generation of residents. Independent observers have rubbished the contention of the People’s Daily that the upheavals are instigated by democratic radicals who have sought support from “anti-China forces” in Britain, the United States and also from independent activists in Taiwan. It has done no service to the cause of fair play or reporting by describing such protesters as a “gang of people whose hearts belong to colonial rule and who are besotted with Western democracy.”

As against this, the former chief secretary of Hong Kong, Anson Chan, who belongs to an older generation, has actually joined the protest movement, saying, “If I knew what Hong Kong would be like today, I would not have been so enthusiastic 17 years ago in helping with the handover.”

The handover in 1997 was based on the specific understanding that China would pursue a policy of “one country, two systems”, making the territory semi-autonomous, except for defence and foreign affairs, for a period of 50 years. By virtue of having enjoyed a modicum of civil liberties, including independent press and judiciary, for 156 years under British Rule, the people of Hong Kong hold individual expectations and sensibilities unlike the people of the mainland. They have to be handled sensitively, imaginatively and differently.

While on one hand it could be argued that it is an internal matter of China, the world would be watching the way in which the People’s Republic of China would respond to the protests. Handling of this issue with greater sensitivity and by making the 2017 election more elector- friendly as agreed during the hand over from the British provides an opportunity to China, to demonstrate its new found strength to involve and integrate the people of Hong Kong in its march to a prosperous China recognizing the aspirations of people. In the words of the President of Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou “If Hong Kong can soon achieve universal suffrage, it will be a win-win for the mainland as well”

China wants  to be recognised as a  responsible nation with formidable economic and military power and has a pivotal role in the affairs relating to peace and prosperity of the world.Handling of this impasse with greater dexterity  differently will reinforce the belief that a prosperous China, a leading power in the world, is able to respond to the aspirations of a part of China which has evolved under conditions different from the Mainland but whose economy and society are irrevocably dependent on the Mainland. Use of disproportionate force on its own dissenting youth and reneging on its promise on two systems and one country will add to the levels of discomfort and trust deficit in dealing with China in the Asian Century.

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