By Majid Gafoor
When the people in Hong Kong took to the streets in June to protest the introduction of the extradition bill, I applauded their action. The bill posed a challenge to the unique “One country, two systems” formula for Hong Kong under the Basic Law, the mini constitution.
I can understand their alarm. Not so long ago, in 1949, when the Communist Party took power in China, there was an exodus of people fleeing to Hong Kong for sanctuary. They sought the shelter of the British government.
These people had since established roots in Hong Kong and had prospered. With the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, there were murmurs of concern, but these were muted with the “One country, two systems” promise. The extradition bill appeared to renege on this promise, hence the protests.
They were successful. First the bill was shelved and then it was removed.
Victory. And they should have rested on their laurels. But no, they wanted more. Resign! they called on the Chief Executive. Release! they called for those arrested. Give us one man one vote! They screamed. Better housing, more money in the bank – apologise, apologise! Each demand more strident and more extreme. And like petulant children, when refused, they turned to violence.
This is where they lost my sympathy, and indeed, sympathy from many people around the world.
Let us be clear, if they had a justifiable platform, they may have stirred empathy protests in China, but there were none. The protesters, mostly young people, felt they had a right, and a need to correct what was wrong.
Wrong? What was wrong? People in Hong Kong enjoy privileges and freedoms unheard of in China, and in many regions in Southeast Asia.
In the context of China, the protests were mere local disturbances. It was not a revolution in the sense of the French (1789), the Russians (1917) or even the Arabs (2010).
They hold the United States’ system of elections as the panacea for self rule without understanding that the American Electoral College have restraints which does not guarantee that the candidate with the most number of popular votes becomes president. Hong Kong has a similar system, perhaps not in practice, but certainly, in spirit. The “Small circle” elections for Chief Executive operate along the same lines.
The bill may have been a challenge to the “One country, two systems” status, but the escalation of protests had led to a loss of focus and become meaningless. As such, Beijing may feel that the “One country, two systems” experiment has failed and decide that it may be best to have Hong Kong run like a province of China. This, Beijing can achieve with a mere stroke of a brush.
Majid Gafoor is a former journalist from Hong Kong. He now lives in Canada.