A top parliamentary advisory body in Beijing on Wednesday expelled a prominent Hong Kong politician from its ranks after he called on the chief executive of the semiautonomous Chinese territory to resign.
James Tien, who was voted out by delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), later also stepped down as chairman of the biggest pro-Beijing Liberal Party in Hong Kong.
The outspoken Tien, who last week added his voice to growing calls for the resignation of embattled chief executive C.Y. Leung, said stepping down as Liberal Party leader would enable him to "better serve" the people of Hong Kong.
"The CPPCC found the fact that our party has different opinions was not acceptable," said Tien, who will keep his seat on Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo).
"If I want to represent the Hong Kong people, to give them a voice ... my resignation will allow me to better serve Hong Kong people as a lawmaker over the next two years," he said.
Tien had said on Friday that Leung should consider resigning, flying in the face of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's official position that Leung should be supported in the face of "illegal" protests incited by "foreign forces."
Tien is no stranger to public controversy and resigned from Hong Kong's cabinet, the Executive Council, in 2003 over a proposed security law that was withdrawn in the face of mass protests and prompted the resignation of then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.
No room for dissent
Veteran journalist and political commentator Ching Cheong said Beijing clearly couldn't afford to tolerate dissent within the ranks of the China-backed Hong Kong political establishment.
"If they hadn't taken action, people would have taken that to mean that Beijing's support for C.Y. Leung was wavering," Ching said. "[The message seems to be that] it's OK to criticize him, but you can't call for his resignation."
"If Beijing doesn't want him to resign, and you call for him to resign, then you're setting yourself up in opposition to Beijing," he said.
Ching said Tien's ouster from the CPPCC was also calculated to send a warning to other pro-China politicians in Hong Kong.
"The establishment can't afford dissenting voices, at least not for the time being," he said.
"We know that support for C.Y. Leung is weak; he only got 689 votes, which means that nearly half [the pro-Beijing election committee that appointed him in 2012] didn't want him to be chief executive."
"They are killing the chicken to frighten the monkeys, so that the establishment won't dare to go shooting its mouth off again," Ching said.
Thousands at protest sites
Tien's unceremonious departure from the CPPCC came as a mass civil disobedience protest entered its fifth week, after thousands gathered at key protest sites on Tuesday to mark a full month since its inception and the firing of tear gas at protesters on Sept. 28.
The Occupy Central movement, also known as the "Umbrella Movement" after protesters used umbrellas to ward off police attacks with tear gas and pepper spray, is calling on Beijing to allow public nomination of candidates in 2017 elections for Leung's successor.
China's rubber-stamp parliament the National People's Congress (NPC) announced on Aug. 31 that while all of Hong Kong's five million voters will cast a ballot for the first time in the poll, they may only choose between candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing nomination committee.
Pan-democratic politicians and Occupy protesters have dismissed the Aug. 31 ruling as "fake universal suffrage," and called on the Hong Kong government to renegotiate the election arrangements with Beijing, demanding Leung's resignation over the use of tear gas.
The mostly peaceful protests have occupied major highways and intersections near government headquarters in Admiralty district and in the busy shopping districts of Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, amid sporadic clashes with police and anti-Occupy protesters.
Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai said Tien's dismissal constituted a form of "white terror" exercised by Beijing in the former British colony, which was promised a "high degree of autonomy" under the terms of its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
"I feel extremely angry that a person should be stripped of his post simply for speaking his mind," Tai told reporters. "This will create a white terror in the sphere of public expression."
Hong Kong political commentator Poon Siu-to said he believes the move was a result of the internal politics of the CPPCC itself, and had little to do with Hong Kong.
"It's not as if they stripped him of his seat on the Legislative Council," Poon said. "Everyone probably thinks the party is really scary, and that if you say the wrong thing you're out."
But he added: "The Occupy movement isn't going to swell just to support James Tien's freedom of speech."
The Occupy Central movement appears now to have reached a stage of political deadlock with the government following talks last week with senior officials including Leung's second-in-command Carrie Lam.
The former colonial governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, called on Wednesday in a newspaper editorial for Leung's administration to find creative ways to broaden democratic representation without opposing Beijing's rulings on the 2017 poll.
"The longer the stand-off between Hong Kong's chief executive and the demonstrators continues, the more likely it is that individual citizens—and Hong Kong itself—will be hurt," Patten wrote in a syndicated article that was published in the English-language South China Morning Post newspaper.
He said Leung could "quite properly" make suggestions to Beijing in a new report regarding a more democratic legislature, as well as broadening the process for choosing the nominating committee that will select candidates for chief executive.
"It is surprising that 17 years after the handover of sovereignty, Hong Kong still does not have a directly elected legislature," Patten wrote, adding: "All has not gone well."
Citing a U.K. government statement calling for Hong Kong voters to be given a "genuine choice," Patten called on Leung and his officials to look at ways to make the nominating committee more representative of the population.
"Both sides will need to give a little to prevent the confrontation in the streets from escalating," he wrote.
Reported by Wen Yuqing, Lin Jing and Lin Yuetong for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.