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Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Movement Gathers on Anniversary of Beijing’s Takeover

Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Movement Gathers on Anniversary of Beijing’s Takeover
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VIDEO: As Hong Kong marks its 18th year under Chinese rule, political divisions in the colony still run deep. VOA’s Martin Secrest takes a closer look at this often bitter dispute.

As Hong Kong marks its 18th year under Chinese rule, political divisions in the colony still run deep. On one side, lawmakers and activists who are loyal to Beijing and its policies. And on the other, longtime residents and students who want the right to elect their own leaders, without oversight from the mainland government.

Although the July 1 protests were not as large as last fall’s demonstrations, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement isn’t giving up the fight. The protesters continue to push for everything from better wages to all out political autonomy — a promise they say Beijing made back in 1989, but has failed to keep.

On June 18, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council voted to reject a Beijing-backed proposal to reform the former British colony’s election system. If passed, the bill would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to directly elect their chief executive from a group of two or three Beijing-approved candidates. The pro-Beijing camp claimed that this would have been an important step in fulfilling China’s promise to grant Hong Kong political autonomy.

“Any democracy, if you look at the history of many Western countries, somehow they do take it step by step, and in Hong Kong we are already seeing that it’s a bit more simplistic," said James Tien, a pro-Beijing member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, who spoke to VOA via Skype.

"Ninety-five percent [of Hong Kong residents] are Chinese, and we don’t have a religious problem," he added. "So, the only thing we really have is the rich and the not-so-rich. So, it’s not really that controversial in a sense. But somehow we are getting into a nasty situation. So I hope in the future we can really sit down and think about it."

Chip Tsao, a well-known columnist in Hong Kong, appearing by Skype on Hashtag VOA, said voters should have the right to pick their own leaders.

"Since China is no longer an empire, it should develop a parliamentary democracy as soon as possible," he said, expressing a position that doesn't sit well with Beijing or its Hong Kong loyalists.

"What is important is an attitude change — to accept the central government as the government of China," said Lawrence Ma, a representative of the group knownn as Silent Majority for Hong Kong, who also spoke with VOA by Skype.

For now, many worry the pro-democracy activists are running on empty after months of protests. More change seems unlikely anytime soon, but it also doesn't appear as if street protests demanding change will end either.