China’s Communist leaders have pulled out their usual playbook to suppress resistance to their plans to tightly limit the first direct election of Hong Kong’s leader, but are likely to find that the results are quite different.
Beijing is blaming radicals and foreigners and showing off its military might, all things unlikely to go down well in the freewheeling capitalist bastion where a sizeable middle class accustomed to freedom of speech and the rule of law plans to push back with acts of civil disobedience.
Rowdy protests on Monday against a visiting Beijing official who was explaining the central government’s decision signalled a new stage in Hong Kong’s battle for democracy.
The ruling came after months of reminders from Beijing that it is ultimately in charge of the city despite its substantial autonomy. But the reaction in the former British colony is shaping up to be unlike anything Beijing is used to encountering when quelling dissent on the mainland.
Dozens of pro-democracy lawmakers heckled Li Fei, the deputy secretary general of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, or legislature, as he explained the election process, a rare occasion on which a Beijing official was exposed to open defiance.
They chanted slogans and waved signs accusing China’s central government of “breaking its promise” to let Hong Kong have full democracy. Security officers escorted some out and carried or dragged away others. Outside the venue, a group of activists trying to storm barricades to get inside were pepper-sprayed by police.
Democracy groups reacted with anger after Li’s announcement on Sunday ruling out open nominations for candidates in Hong Kong’s first direct elections in 2017. Students vowed to boycott classes, and leaders of the Occupy Central movement said the city had entered an “era of civil disobedience,” adding they would go ahead with plans to paralyze the financial district with 10,000 protesters to press for genuine democracy.
Li dismissed the threats, saying “the Chinese central government believes that the Hong Kong government, especially the high-quality police force and law enforcement agencies, with the support of Hong Kong citizens, will be able to handle it.”
Beijing’s hard line reflects President Xi Jinping’s ongoing crackdown on mainland dissent to remove all challenges to the Communist Party, as well as Hong Kong’s waning importance to China as economic reforms boost other mainland financial hubs such as Shanghai.
China has sought to blame the opposition in Hong Kong on interference by Britain and other unidentified foreign forces, an echo of Beijing’s frequent continued…