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A warning for China in Hong Kong Local Elections

Dr Raj Kumar Sharma writes: Chinese government has been trying to evoke nationalism amidst its slowing economy to gloss over its domestic problems, especially these separatist movements.

Elections for the Legislative Council of Hong Kong were held on September 4 and the voters have elected a number of pro-democracy candidates and even some who want independence from China. This, of course, would be a cause of worry for authoritarian Chinese government. Hong Kong was handed over by the British government to China in 1997 with a rider that the former British colony should be autonomous for next 50 years (till 2047). This led to establishment of ‘one country, two systems’ dilemma for China and the government has been struggling to impose its writ over Hong Kong ever since.[1]

These were the first elections in Hong Kong after the pro-democracy students led ‘Umbrella Movement’ in 2014. The voter turnout was highest ever (58 per cent) which shows growing awareness about democracy. There are 70 seats in the Hong Kong Legislative Council, out of which only 40 are elected through voting. Rest 30 seats are called ‘functional constituencies’ which are managed by China and have pro-establishment candidates. After these elections, pro-establishment seats are 40 while pan-democrats, localists and centrists have 30 seats.[2] This means they have the desired one-third seats to veto pro-establishment policies.[3] Some prominent young protesters from the Umbrella Movement have been also chosen which shows that the youth wants change in Hong Kong.

China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office has said it is opposed to any form of independence for Hong Kong, as it would jeopardize its security and prosperity.[4] It should be noted that Beijing is also fighting separatism in Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Taiwan. China has been trying to alter the demography of these areas to quell unrest. However, if elections were to be held in these areas, most of the people would opt for freedom. In the January 2016 elections, there was landslide victory for independence leaning opposition, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) led by Tsai Ing-wen.[5] China had warned Taiwan about any “hallucinations” for independence, similar to what it had to do after the Hong Kong election. Chinese government has been trying to evoke nationalism amidst its slowing economy to gloss over its domestic problems, especially these separatist movements. However, this is unlikely to be a sustainable solution until the voices of these sections are heard and assuaged.

Endnotes

[1] Why anti-China sentiment is surging in Hong Kong, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2016/0904/Why-anti-China-sentiment-is-surging-in-Hong-Kong

[2] Hong Kong’s historic 2016 Legislative Council election, in five charts, http://qz.com/774232/hong-kongs-historic-2016-legislative-council-election-in-five-charts/

[3] Tensions between Hong Kong and China are getting higher, http://www.businessinsider.com/r-china-wary-as-hong-kong-election-exposes-underlying-strains-2016-9?IR=T

[4] Beijing warns Hong Kong radicals over calls for independence, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-election-idUSKCN11A16Y

[5] After vote, China tells Taiwan to abandon independence “hallucination”, http://www.reuters.com/article/taiwan-election-idUSKCN0UV02I

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