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"Occupy Central and Hong Kong's place in China"
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"Occupy Central and Hong Kong's place in China"

Chris FoxProtests in Hong Kong are viewed as a call for democracy but Chris Fox, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Canada who lived in Beijing says the real issue is Hong Kong’s relationship with the People’s Republic.

For watchers of democratic transitions the Hong Kong protests must be quite a thing. Students with little to gain materially and much to lose otherwise collectively boycotting classes in the name of democracy. Indeed, many of them demonstrate for an election which, were it held today, they would be too young to vote in.

Media outlets the world over have had no difficulty portraying Occupy Central as a yearning for democracy plain and simple. Indeed, it is hard to imagine any movement anywhere ever being so purely idealistic in its aims: in a society with a per capita GDP higher than Canada’s, a media (still) ranked as among the freest in the world, and even popular elections for its Legislative Council, Hong Kongers – youth mainly – agitate for democratic reforms so procedural it is unclear at best what change they would effect in people’s lives.

To be sure, democracy can be an end in itself; undoubtedly many currently occupying Central feel just that. Yet, I would argue this is about much more than whether Hong Kong can freely nominate candidates for the position of Chief Executive or not. There is another less talked-about sentiment animating this movement, and one closer to the hearts of more than a few Hong Kongers: a fear of being assimilated into the mainland.

Among Hong Kong’s youth it is not difficult to hear almost apocalyptic warnings of mainland plans to “destroy Hong Kong” or, perhaps worse: “make it just another part of China.” These dire predictions have taken on added urgency this year following attacks on Hong Kong journalists, as well as a White Paper released by Beijing reminding Hong Kong of its inviolable place within the People’s Republic.

Against this backdrop, the growing perception that the principle of ‘One Country Two Systems’ is in jeopardy – and with it the very existence of Hong Kong – has led many to view this fight as a final showdown: a battle to insulate Hong Kong from the mainland and set the tone for the future of the city’s relationship with Beijing.

While Occupy Central may very well accumulate a degree of political capital for its future dealings with Beijing, its chances of having Xi Jinping’s China back down and meet any of its demands are, at this point, approximately zero.

Accordingly, post-“Occupy” Hong Kong is going to have to begin facing some hard truths; first among them being that whether it likes it or not Hong Kong is very much a part of the People’s Republic – and that relationship will only become more interconnected with time. Managing this relationship will be Hong Kong’s great affair over the coming decades.

While the struggle to secure what Hong Kongers value is by no means futile, recent history has shown that Beijing responds to being antagonized poorly and to public petition even worse. The lesson of Occupy, then, may very well be that the politics of mass protest aren’t necessarily amenable to the cause of advancing Hong Kong’s interests within the People’s Republic.

photo credit: hurtingbombz via photopin cc

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About me:  I’m from a touristy little town in Canada and have lived in Beijing. For most of what I could loosely call my adult life I’ve been fairly obsessed with Asia in general and China in particular. So, naturally enough, I’m interested in issues of development, authoritarianism and civil society. I also enjoy travel and 30+ hour train rides.

In the future I hope to work in the Foreign Service or some international body that does good things in interesting places.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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