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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid