Thursday, October 02, 2014

Hong Kong

So finally, after a decade of living in China, there is a half-decent attempt to question the government's approach to, well, government. There's been attempts in the Mainland before - either individual activists, or signing of certain documents like Charter 08 - but the government has blown them out the water quickly and unfortunately severely punished those involved. In most of those cases, actually, what has been asked of the government is to respect the Chinese constitution (unfortunately the government prefers to make up its laws as it goes along as well as its punishments, and doesn't bother to pretend there is an independent judiciary, let alone any interest in implementing the constitution which is supposed to guarantee certain freedoms).

Now, Hong Kong has caused some problems for China. To be honest few ever thought those in Hong Kong (who protest regularly, such as on the anniversary of the Tiananmen protests) would ever do anything serious or sincere. The theory has been that most of those in Hong Kong are doing quite well so don't really have much to complain about, and their progress is highly dependent on Mainland China so they need to stay close. But all of a sudden some broken promises and some minor violence has made people remember that they do actually belong to Beijing (I think they forgot and just liked the benefits of being part of China without the costs), and it is a Beijing that does not listen to what people want.

So a few interesting questions - the most prominent being about how will the protests end? well, thankfully Beijing realized that using force tends to backfire, at least in a small, well connected, well educated, and highly outspoken city (force has worked in Xinjiang, Tibet and other areas). So they are just going to wait, say nothing and hope that eventually the protestors will get bored or tired or give up. Beijing doesn't compromise and doesn't want to be seen to compromise to those who protest (what a precedent that would set...)

So what will the protestors do? This is really the litmus test. As we've seen with previous protests (including the Occupy protests around the world a few years ago), things do just peter out unless they are stepped up. But stepping up requires more commitment from protestors - do they really want to do something serious here? Are they willing to take the risks? What can they do? The protestors talk about occupying government buildings - this would be interesting since it would need some use of force. And it's going to test the government's ability to just stand-off and do nothing. I'm intrigued to see what will happen...

Meanwhile of course no-one in the Mainland knows what is really happening as the government's censorship is so incredibly effective (and most Mainlanders are so patriotic they'd see this less as about democracy and more about separatism which they certainly don't support); but at some point, eventually, might word spread (depending on how things end in HK) - and will people in the Mainland start to get certain expectations? And this comes as over the last 2 years the government has cracked down harder than it has for decades on those who it disagrees with, has moved to really enforce its autocratic rule, and is acting incredibly draconian.

Of course the government has done a great job bringing economic and social progress in the last few decades and now seems serious about addressing the environmental issues too. The question is about the lack of progress in improving governance. Can one stamp out corruption without an independent media, independent judiciary or any form of democracy? one would think not, but maybe this government can do it. Or maybe it won't.. and the endless anti-corruption campaign will just show the people how corrupt those in power are, and encourage them to seek some real change to address it. So what happens in HK might have bigger consequences for what happens across the border in the future.

Personally I've always hoped the government would give a little, slowly, in a measured way which i see as the only option for a safe evolution towards whatever the future looks like (and it doesn't have to be a full democracy in the Mainland, but some form of independence of the judiciary, some form of empowerment for the people, and some form of choice is likely - there are other Asian examples of these). Unfortunately it seems the government is going the opposite route. I hope it knows what it is doing and where this is going...


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