China Makes It Clear Who’s the Boss of Hong Kong

    Robert Keatley

    Security, Asia

    Chinese President Xi Jinping makes a toast at the beginning of the welcoming banquet at the Great Hall of the People during the first day of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, May 14, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

    When Britian handed Hong Kong back to China, universal suffrage when electing executive and legislative officials was a stated goal- it didn’t happen.K

    For the past twenty years—with one exception—Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists have held peaceful July 1 demonstrations in the island’s Victoria Park and nearby streets. These annual demonstrations remind Beijing that activists want more political rights and are held on the anniversary of when the former British colony officially became an autonomous piece of China back in 1997.

    That one exception of no protests, came at a predictable time last year when China’s President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping was in town to mark the twentieth anniversary of the mainland’s recovery of sovereignty over Hong Kong. Local government officials didn’t want their boss embarrassed by noisy demonstrators chanting opposition to some of the rules he has imposed upon them and so instead they gave permits only to party loyalists, who held their own demonstration.

    This year will bring exception number two. Although pro-democracy organizers sought the needed (and generally routine) permits last December, they recently learned the park’s six soccer pitches are again off limits. Instead, some forty pro-Beijing groups were given the right to hold a “charity” event July 1 to mark the twenty first anniversary of Britain’s handover of Hong Kong, even though political groups by law aren’t supposed to run charities. The official if dubious reason is that neighborhood residents “demanded” that “celebratory” activities be organized to mark the end of colonial rule, rather than have the park host another noisy gathering of the politically discontent. Though 2018 will see another pro-democracy demonstration, it will have a less desirable venue and almost certainly will draw fewer marchers than in previous years.

    The July 1 protest will also follow an annual commemoration in Hong Kong of the June 4, 1989 massacre near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, when a thousand or more youthful demonstrators were gunned down by the Chinese army. But this year’s gathering will continue a downward trend of its crowd size; Hong Kongers below middle age have no memory of the Beijing event, and local student groups—dismayed by the failure of their own Occupy Central protest three years ago to bring political gains—have decided to stay away this time.

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