Tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have gathered on the streets of Hong Kong this week as part of a mass civil disobedience campaign to demonstrate against China’s increasing control of the electoral process in the region.
China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee voted August 31 to fundamentally change the way Hong Kong picks its leaders by requiring voters to choose from a pre-approved slate of candidates in the upcoming 2017 elections.
University of Oklahoma College of International Studies Assistant Dean Rebecca Cruise says the tension between Hong Kong’s pro-democracy groups and the Chinese government is deeply rooted in Hong Kong’s history.
“It was controlled by Britain and handed back over to China in 1997 with the agreement from China that they would be generally autonomous,” Cruise says. “That they could have their own government, but that they would still be part of China, that they would have to go by China's rules in terms of foreign and defense affairs.”
Cruise says that this agreement is at the heart of the pro-democracy Occupy Central protests.
“It does seem that in recent years China has been trying to reassert its control in Hong Kong and that this was just the final step in that process,” Cruise says. “The idea that the Chinese government is able to come in and say, ‘We are going to dictate the candidates that you can choose from’ seems to run counter to the agreement that many in Hong Kong felt was the case when the island was handed back over to China.”
Despite facing tear gas and assault by pro-government groups this week, the Occupy Central movement maintains its momentum, calling for universal suffrage and the resignation of current Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
Cruise says that although the future of the current pro-democracy protests is uncertain, they’re unlikely to end like those in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 25 years ago.
“There is more international attention,” Cruise says. “China's position in the world is certainly different from an economic point of view and some sort of attack like what occurred in Tiananmen Square would certainly be looked upon very negatively. And we have seen the administration in the United States already calling for calm, though China, of course, has responded that we need to mind our own business.”
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