July 19th 2014

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Divorce now costs Australia $14 billion a year

FIRST WORLD WAR Were we right to go to war in 1914?

EDITORIAL Deep fissures divide Islamist militants

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Iraq: examining the professed caliphate

SCHOOLS Preventing bullying with emotional intelligence

CANBERRA OBSERVED Media circus obscures foreign policy initiatives

FOREIGN AFFAIRS China's Confucius Institutes pushing Beijing's line

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Beijing fury over Hong Kong pro-democracy rallies

LIFE ISSUES At last, we wake up to the truth about Dr Death

EDUCATION Fifty years on: reflections of Monash's first graduate

ENVIRONMENT Alarm that emperor penguins endangered by global warming!

BOOK REVIEW Youth's call to arms

BOOK REVIEW Creator, midwife and guardian of science

BOOK REVIEW A knight-errant walking the mean streets

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Beijing fury over Hong Kong pro-democracy rallies

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, July 19, 2014

Large numbers of Hong Kong residents have taken part in public demonstrations to protest against the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to muzzle free speech, control Hong Kong’s legal system and prevent the people of Hong Kong from controlling their own future in elections due to be held in three years.

When the British surrendered Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, they secured an undertaking by the Chinese government that it would respect the rights of Hong Kong residents to freedom of speech and association.

Under the terms of a formal and legally binding agreement, called the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was established and placed directly under the authority of the Central People’s Government of China and was to “enjoy a high degree of autonomy except for foreign and defence affairs”.

Further, the Declaration said that Hong Kong would continue to have an independent government, legislature and judiciary, including that of final adjudication. The Basic Law, which embodied these principles, also specified that, in addition to Chinese, English could also be used in organs of government and that, apart from the national flag and national emblem of China, Hong Kong “may use a regional flag and emblem of its own”. It also guaranteed the continuation of the free economic and trade systems previously operating in Hong Kong.

Since the handover 17 years ago, there have been repeated attempts by Beijing to erode the freedoms of Hong Kong residents, both by the Chinese-appointed Chief Executive and through the direct presence of Chinese government apparatchiks in Hong Kong.

The people of Hong Kong have resisted these moves, but Beijing’s pressure has been relentless.

The issue has come to a head over promises Beijing made to allow popular elections for the Legislative Council and Chief Executive in 2017. Beijing has insisted that it have the right of veto over candidates, effectively giving it control over the government.

Additionally, it has demanded that Hong Kong judges declare loyalty to Beijing, which is an attack on the independence of the judiciary.

And, finally, under the new Chinese President, Xi Jinping, it has issued a White Paper on Hong Kong which has reasserted China’s claim to control Hong Kong’s internal affairs, contrary to the Declaration that China signed 30 years ago.

Beijing’s White Paper declares that “the high degree of autonomy [of Hong Kong] is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorisation by the central leadership” of the Chinese Communist Party.

These are just the visible signs of a pervasive attempt by the Chinese government, operating through an agency known as the China Liaison Office, to control Hong Kong from within.

Its activities include suborning politicians, courting business leaders, sponsoring newspapers, cultivating journalists, and running counter-demonstrations when Hong Kong’s residents are involved in public protests, such as commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre and campaigning against the persecution of Falun Gong.

Beijing’s repressive acts are well known in Hong Kong, and have aroused deep hostility from most of its 7 million population.

A recent telephone poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Program found that 33 per cent of respondents had a negative opinion of the central government’s policies, the highest level of dissatisfaction since it began asking the question in 1999.

In a further sign of deepening concern, nearly 800,000 people participated in a poll which put forward various options for direct nomination and election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive in 2017.

The Beijing regime was furious over the poll, but was powerless to stop it.

Early in June, about 150,000 people gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park in the largest commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

On July 1 — the anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty to China — a mass rally was held demanding that Beijing respect the rights of the people of Hong Kong, including the right to elect their own leaders. Around 500,000 gathered, and subsequently marched in procession to the financial hub of Hong Kong, where 500 mainly young people were arrested when they staged a sit-in. The rally was the largest since Hong Kong came under Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Most of the protesters were later released with a warning.

It is unclear how, or whether, Beijing will respond to the protests. When mass protests arose some years ago over China’s attempt to impose an anti-sedition law on Hong Kong, China quietly dropped the plan. When former Chief Minister Tung Chee-hwa faced opposition over his pro-Beijing policies, he was forced to resign.

However, the mood in Beijing has darkened considerably since Xi Jinping was elected President, and repression of human rights activists, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners and others has increased.

The events in Hong Kong may well be part of a much wider struggle.

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