Why Didn't Hong Kong's Freedoms Spill Over Into China?

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hongkong-protest-07012017.jpg Protesters in Hong Kong express a range of grievances as the former British colony marks 20 years under Chinese rule, July 1, 2017.

Two decades after the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule, predictions and fears that Hong Kong would gradually and gently push mainland China into a more democratic direction appear to have been ill-founded, activists told RFA in recent interview.

Indeed, the ruling Chinese Communist Party appears to have successfully exported its authoritarian mode of government across the internal immigration border into Hong Kong, according Hangzhou-based rights activist Zou Wei.

"I think that we can say the status of freedom and democracy in mainland China, 20 years on, is still very, very low, and this appears to have affected Hong Kong as well," Zou said.

"Our power state has made no progress towards democracy, and indeed has even begun to wear down Hong Kong, because of its sheer size," he said. "This was once a freewheeling city that was the very soul of freedom, and look where it is today."

Zou said he doesn't expect Hong Kong to go down without a struggle.

"I don't know if the city will become subsumed under a single system," he said. "Several million Hong Kong people made this freedom, so I don't think they're going to let that spirit vanish entirely."

Just across the border from Hong Kong, which has been subjected to a number of high-level political interventions from Beijing in spite of being promised a "high degree of autonomy," Guangdong activist Ye Xiaozheng said the city's autonomy is already being fast eroded.

"There has already been a change in the one country, two systems idea," Ye said. "It is already becoming very hard to maintain, because China is doing everything it can to take control of Hong Kong."

"That's why one country, two systems is no longer sustainable."

Ye said large numbers of mainland Chinese immigrants into the city are already changing its culture.

"I don't think it will take very long before it becomes just like Shenzhen and Shanghai: just a special region of Guangdong province," he said.

Interventions draw backlash

He said a number of interventions in the internal political affairs of the city by China's National People's Congress (NPC) had prompted a backlash and widespread popular protests, however.

"I think we are going to see more and more volatility in Hong Kong's political situation," he said. "But Hong Kong independence is unlikely to succeed, because China is so powerful, and already has troops stationed there."

A mainland Chinese national and long-time Hong Kong resident surnamed Liao said the best way of defusing such tension in Hong Kong is to allow fully democratic elections to the legislature and for the city's chief executive, however.

"They should allow universal suffrage immediately for the Legislative Council, and for the chief executive, because if they don't then really you are saying that the mainland Chinese government doesn't trust the people of Hong Kong," Liao said. "If you trust the people of Hong Kong, then you should give them this power."

"That's what they promised, back before [the handover]. Even [Chinese negotiator] Chen Zuo'er said so, and it's in the Basic Law," he said, referring to Hong Kong's post-1997 mini-constitution.

Liao said the promises of one country, two systems had never been properly upheld since the handover, however.

"All the important decisions since then have been made by the mainland government, including the the choice of chief executive," he said. "Whenever they feel that the one country, two systems principle constitutes a threat to their authority, they can just cancel it."

On the eve of 20th anniversary celebrations of Hong Kong's handover on July 1, Chinese president Xi Jinping reviewed People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops in Hong Kong, as officials in Beijing dismissed the handover treaty promising the city its freedoms as "a historical document."

In a stark contrast to U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's description of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration as a treaty that is still binding in international law, Beijing's foreign ministry said the handover agreement "no long has any practical significance."

"Now that 20 years have passed since Hong Kong returned to the motherland's embrace, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any practical significance," spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

"It is not at all binding for the central government's management of Hong Kong. The U.K. has no sovereignty, no power to rule, and no power to supervise Hong Kong after the handover," Lu said.

The joint declaration promised that Hong Kong would retain its traditional freedoms and way of life for "at least 50 years."

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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