News / Asia

Diplomatic Tension Over Hong Kong Exposes Fragile Democracy Hopes

Reuters
From China warning Western nations to stop meddling in Hong Kong to Communist Party-backed newspapers describing “plots” by foreign spies to seize the city, a growing row over electoral reform has exposed the fragility of hopes for full democracy.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy, an independent judiciary and relatively free press under the formula of “one country, two systems” - along with an undated promise of full democracy, a subject never raised by the British during 150 years of colonial rule.

The implications stretch beyond the shores of Hong Kong, a glamorous, free-wheeling global financial hub. The Hong Kong model has been held up by Beijing as a possible solution for self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province which must return to the fold, by force if necessary.

Hong Kong elects its next leader in 2017 in what will be the most far-reaching version of democracy on Chinese soil. But Beijing's top representative in Hong Kong has ruled out open nominations for candidates, meaning he or she will be chosen by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists.

Call for choice

British Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire this week called for universal suffrage in the 2017 polls, saying Hong Kong people should get a genuine choice. China said it would not tolerate outside interference.

Michael Davis, a constitutional law specialist at the University of Hong Kong, said foreign states had a legitimate interest in Hong Kong, noting how China had once courted international support for “one country, two systems”.

But Beijing, he said, was now suspicious of their motives.

“At its heart it is a kind of insecurity,” said Davis. “China is at that stage of development where it constantly attempts to edit inbound criticism, and that is what we are seeing here.”

The United States and its large Hong Kong consulate are also being targeted by Beijing and its allies - something Washington's new top envoy, Clifford Hart, is expected to address when he delivers his first Hong Kong speech next week.

Diplomats from both Western and Asian nations fear their routine work to reach out to political and business contacts in the city is growing difficult as Beijing rails at “foreign interference.”

Beijing's suspicions

Party-backed newspapers in the city have long questioned the activities of foreign diplomats, this week upping the ante with claims that British spies are highly active, subverting politics with leaks from colonial-era files.

“The diplomatic community is a core part of Hong Kong's international edge,” said one Asian diplomat. “But we feel a bit squeezed and unwelcome... we are entering a very sensitive time.”

Hong Kong remains by far the freest city in greater China but tensions are rising. Every year, on the anniversary of the 1997 handover, thousands take to the streets demanding fully democratic elections, some openly declaring their support for the British.

Pro-democracy groups have threatened to seal off the central business district next year as part of a campaign of civil disobedience. The most prominent Catholic in greater China, Cardinal Joseph Zen, warned last month that the government and pro-Beijing supporters might try to incite violence.

“We're at a point where the significance of the issues on the table are such that the [leaders] responsible for Hong Kong are paying very close attention,” said a Western diplomat.

The diplomat added the hardening of China's stance towards Hong Kong was a decision made by senior Beijing leaders.

“It's being directed at the [Politburo] Standing Committee level,” a Western diplomat said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party's highest decision-making body. “We have solid indications of this.”

Diplomatic endeavors

U.S., British and other multinationals maintain a strong presence in the city while foreign warships stop frequently in its dynamic and strategic port.

British officials have yet to respond to the Chinese criticism of Swire's comments. China's Hong Kong-based Foreign Ministry representative, Song Zhe, also issued an explicit warning to U.S. Consul-General Hart against interfering in local affairs.

Consulate spokesman Scott Robinson defended Hart's work, saying the envoy had met with a range of leaders across government, business, politics and academia.

“Such meetings are the standard practice of diplomatic representatives of nations around the world at the outset of their tenures, and they are important for building relationships, exchanging views and opening lines of communications,” he said.

Long-standing U.S. policy towards Hong Kong was unchanged, he said - including support for progress towards “genuine universal suffrage.”

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid