Beijing, meanwhile, has reversed its original hands-off approach of respecting Hong Kong’s autonomy, and has instead involved itself deeply in Hong Kong’s domestic affairs. Indeed, Beijing is so deeply involved in Hong Kong’s internal affairs that last year Hong Kong’s Democratic Party talked directly to Chinese officials about amendments to Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s political reform package, rather than holding discussions with Tsang administration officials.
Chinese officials repeatedly rejected calls for full democracy. First they said no to suggestions that universal suffrage be implemented in 2007-2008; they said no again to 2012. Finally, Beijing said yes, but deferred universal suffrage elections for the chief executive to 2017, and 2020 for the legislature.
This is where things stand today, with the chief executive to be elected next year being—at least in theory—the last one chosen by an election committee.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
As for the legislature, unlike under the British, all members are now elected. However, half the legislators are elected by so-called functional constituencies, such as professional bodies, trade unions and business groups.
China’s alternative approach toward Hong Kong was reflected by the visit last week to the territory of Wang Guangya, the new director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of China’s State Council. Wang, a senior diplomat who used to be China’s ambassador to the United Nations, wooed the populace like a Western-style politician, visiting markets, sampling egg tarts and bemoaning the shortage of low-cost housing.
In this, he was the exact opposite of his predecessor, Liao Hui, who in his 13 years in office never paid a public visit to Hong Kong, mixed with the population nor answered questions from the media or the public. Wang, in contrast, was approachable, likeable and open. He’s certainly one of the more attractive personalities in Beijing responsible for handling Hong Kong matters.
One reason why Wang’s predecessor was almost invisible was Beijing’s previous fear of appearing to be interfering in Hong Kong’s internal affairs. Before 2003, China was confident that Tung would run Hong Kong well. But after the massive protest, Beijing decided it had to play a much bigger role, and should be seen to be doing so.
There’s little pretence now that Hong Kong can make major decisions on its own, especially where democracy is concerned. Beijing is calling the shots.
Oddly, this has also resulted in restraints being removed on the Hong Kong side. In the early years after the handover, there was a strong desire to keep Beijing at arm’s length, even where it had a legitimate role. Thus, under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal is supposed to ask the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to interpret relevant provisions of the Basic Law concerning the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong in adjudicating cases.