Sunday, October 05, 2014

Hong Kong and People's Republic of China

Typically a closed authoritative political system like China changes when it gets sympathetic top leaders. Mikhail Gorbachev comes to mind. But the Chinese boss Xi Jinping is in no mood to entertain any kind of political reforms. Under the name of 'fighting corruption' (which is good) Xi seems to be very busy in removing his political opposition without much legitimate, coherent ideas about how to advance China further and make China at ease and at peace in comity of nations. There is a real danger, now that his honeymoon period is over, that he simply becomes a tool of a powerful faction of PLA and in some sense 'keeper' of vested interests of Chinese Crony Capitalism - the businessmen enriching themselves on the largesse of State or hyper nationalists who preserve their own fiefdom / profit sources under the veneer of Nationalism. Given all that, political freedom of any kind will be the last thing on his mind regardless of what Beijing spin masters say.

Now, it is true that everyone knows what happened after Gorbachev undertook perestroika. Soviet Union joined History Books and suddenly you got more sovereign states in former USSR. Xi Jinping does not want to preside People's Republic of China (PRC) as the man who allowed Uighur to become independent. Of the 3 immediate 'centrifugal forces'  vibrating in Chinese System - Uighur separatism, Tibet resistance and unfinished business of peaceful assimilation of Hong Kong - only the Uighur problem is serious one (and Beijing is not on a right track there). The province of Xinjiang has substantial native Uyghur population - around 40+% - which mostly are Sunni Islamic. Ethnic identity among Uyghur is strong with checkered history of independence. Given that background, it is a right question among Communist Party Leaders in Beijing that what kind of autonomy would establish a political equilibrium? So from a Communist point of view, any concession in political freedom will be a slippery path culminating in dangers of Xinjing or parts of it sleeping away from PRC. And that is the danger Communists in Beijing do not want to feed into, whether it Uighur or Tibet or Hong Kong.

But the problems of Tibet and Hong Kong are different. With Tibet, Dalai Lama has maintained to work within the framework of PRC Sovereignty (even though his own people might not be with him at times as well as PRC would not be buying his argument). It is more the question of retaining autonomy, cultural identity and most important demographic balance within Tibet. What PRC is failing is to find a viable path here, the necessary step of which is to engage with Dalai Lama and his cohort and avoid chauvinistic Sinicization of Tibet

The problem of Hong Kong is even more clear. PRC absorbed Hong Kong on the basis of an international accord where PRC signed that it will allow universal suffrage. China and Xi Jinping are simply reneging on their legal commitments here. To blame protesters being non-patriotic and anti-China is simply Mao-style propaganda. Nethier the argument that Hong Kong never had full democracy under British rule nor Hong Kong needs to wait until entire PRC gets universal suffrage; are valid arguments. Why not Hong Kong be the leading light in bringing true democracy to entire China? Clearly Xi Jinping is too busy to entertain any such thoughts. (*)

The question for protesters is what can they do to change this situation? They have shown clearly that they can bring millions of Hong Kong residents on streets. But this will not be sustainable. As it starts damaging local economy, sympathy among Hong Kong mainstream residents (parents of kids on street) will dry up. That is exactly Hong Kong's current rulers and Beijing want. Given that, these protesters have to find a rhythm in keep bringing crowd on the street at regular interval while minimally disrupting livelihood of Hong Kong People. Every resistance movement needs to find creative ways in keeping the political pressure because the very nature of such conflicts is asymmetric - there are no channelized ways to register the opposition in authoritative closed political systems and the whole point of such resistance is to change the very system suppressing people's freedom. On this background advice from veterans 'to take break' is appropriate; least it ferments social tensions and violence.

Equally, these Hong Kong protesters need to become more cohesive from an organizational perspective given that their fight is for a long haul. Xi Jinping and Beijing Bosses are with thick skin and a stick (and with a gun and a tank as Tienanmen Square incident demonstrates vividly). No political movement can achieve substance unless structurally it is organized coherently and tightly, especially against such a behemoth adversary. There are many in Beijing who are in glee looking at this Hong Kong protest as they see how Hong Kong pulls itself down in its economic interests (and as a result opens door for Shangahi to further itself as the premium global financial center; though many argue that the real winner will be Singapore). So Hong Kong protesters need to navigate their longer term resistance in a manner which is not perceived as detrimental to Hong Kong's business. Some price these businesses have to pay (and those with weak heart may indeed flee Hong Kong too); but these protesters will have to be mindful of these bread and butter issues.

The more these protests portray how Beijing is subverting an international treaty, more are chances that rest of the world (and Taiwan in particular) becomes more vigilant in dealing with PRC. That is the price which these protesters can make Beijing to pay (unless Xi Jinping adopts the dirty and cheap path of Vladimir Putin - hell with international laws). May be when the price becomes sufficiently high, Xi Jinping would come around and may open the path of political freedom for Hong Kong residents.  Till then a smart and sustained resistance is what these protesters have to undertake.

* - One argument nationalists are forwarding is what is wrong in insisting vetting of candidates by Beijing before hand, after all Beijing intends good for Hong Kong? But similarly any freedom loving person can argue that why Beijing needs to have then any such insecurities? If a freely elected Hong Kong chief does not behave in accordance to PRC's national interest, PRC can simply prosecute the chief on charges of treason and even remove that chief in extreme situations in the name of national security. 

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