Why the protesters shouldn’t look West for help, and won’t get it
The pro-democratic civil disobedience campaign in Hong Kong has reached its zenith. At the time of writing, protesters are flocking to the financial district in droves in an attempt to force Beijing to democratize the electoral process. The forthcoming election in 2017 for Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s Chief Executive is set to be fought between three candidates approved by a committee of pro-Beijing business leaders, making a mockery of the democratic process.
The likelihood that Beijing will acquiesce to the popular will of the masses remains in question. While Hong Kong possesses many of the democratic characteristics of a civil society, China, however, does not. Beijing fears that any greater concessions to Hong Kong may empower China’s population to not be as docile as they perhaps have been since the 1989 bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square. But for those restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, Beijing is anxious not to set a dangerous precedent which separatist activists would seek to emulate.
For the time being the Hong Kong police force have, on separate occasions, both shown restraint on occasion and aggression; they have certainly yet to collude with the protesters in solidarity against Beijing. On Sept. 29, they stood off from protesters after being criticized for their heavy-handedness the previous evening. Nevertheless, for the time being, they have certainly remained loyal to their pro-Beijing paymasters. In fact, as recently as Oct. 3, the Hong Kong police were criticized for failing to protect the protesters from pro-Beijing mafias who attacked the peaceful, pro-democratic masses.
In a disturbing reality, British businesses are in fact facilitating the suppression of these protests; British company Chemring recently sold 4,000 inert crowd control grenades to the Hong Kong police force, according to The Guardian. If our Western governments really advocate the continued democratization of the world, in areas untouched by Third Wave Democracy, then they ought to rescind the licenses for military grade lethal and nonlethal weapons — such as those that have been granted to the Hong Kong Police force and many other organizations and states that engage in suppression.
Under the “two systems, one country” agreement that Britain negotiated with China in the ‘80s in advance of the 1997 transferal of sovereignty, Hong Kong’s citizens reserve the right to many liberties unimaginable on mainland China. The rights of both free speech and the freedom to protest are enshrined in Hong Kong’s legal system, although it stops short of allowing residents to directly elect their own government. This begs the question that Britain perhaps ought to have done more to ensure democratic rights for the post-colonial society, like they did in other parts of their old empire.
Beijing is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they were to crack down on the protests it would provoke widespread international condemnation and risk capital flight from the financial business hub (which is a now indispensable component of China’s plan to liberalize and modernize their economy). Failure to suppress the pro-democratic movement, or indeed to give in to the will of the masses, would certainly place mainland China on a path of tolerance and liberalism which Xi Jinping’s government is seeking to avoid.
The West ought to be doing more to alienate China for its human rights abuses on the mainland and for stifling Hong Kong’s democratic maturation. Realpolitik, however, demands that the West maintains a working relationship with Beijing. So for the time being, it would appear, the protestors on the streets of Hong Kong are the sole agents of prospective change.