China has already compromised on bigger issues
It is not the first time that hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong youths have taken to the street to demonstrate against plans to diminish the city's sovereignty by amending its de facto constitution, the Basic Law.
The Basic Law is a joint declaration between the British and the Chinese governments signed in 1984. It serves as a constitutional document and guarantees to Hong Kong a high degree of independence following its reintegration into China.
The Basic Law allowed Hong Kong to maintain its freedom of speech, of association and of assembly. Although it did not set a timeline, China also committed to allowing Hong Kong to choose its leaders through universal suffrage. Going one step further, Hong Kong's leaders promised their citizens free elections in 2017.
On September 2002, 5 years after its independence, the government of Hong Kong released its proposals to amend the Basic Law to include a new anti-subversion measure that would have dramatically curbed free speech.
The crux of the bill was that any organization affiliated with an organization banned by China can be banned in Hong Kong at any time and without the need to conduct any independent investigation.
The bill also allowed police to enter residential buildings and arrest residents at any time and without court warrants or evidence. Finally, it criminalized any speech deemed instigative or the failure to report it.
These measures were all well and good for a China that wanted to make it easier to prosecute members of banned organization. However, the citizens of Hong Kong, who were used to the stronger legal safeguards afforded by British law, massively took to the street to protest against the proposed measures. The protests started small but grew to 350,000 people (according to conservative police estimates) by July of 2003. Seeing their determination, the government was forced to withdraw the bill.
More recently, in 2012, the Hong Kong government after a series of large protests withdrew a bill to install a “moral and national” education system that would have been significantly influenced by the China.
The current protests started when the Hong Kong retracted on their promise for free elections in 2017 by proposing that candidates be vetted by China. Once again, fearing a loss of sovereignty hundreds of thousands are taking to the street to express their opposition.
Hong Kong citizens are patient and ridiculously well-behaved. In a waiting game, I would not bet against them.
China is in no position to force its will on Hong Kong
China needs Hong Kong to be stable
Although Hong Kong’s share of Chinese GDP fell from 18 per cent in 1997 (the year of its reintegration) to less than 3 per cent today, Hong Kong remains the gateway to China.
Due to its strong legal system, widespread use of English and history as a global financial hub, the city houses the Chinese headquarters of many foreign and Mainland firms. Furthermore, its stock exchange at a market capitalization of $3.0 trillion is not only bigger than Shanghai (Mainland China’s largest at $2.4 trillion) but also much of that capital is used to fund Mainland projects and companies.
Therefore, a China that obsesses over stability and order cannot allow protests in Hong Kong’s main financial center at the risk of destabilizing the day-to-day operations of companies and halting capital flow. This risk is even greater today as China’s growth rate is slowing down and there are worrying signs of turbulence in the lending market.
China has no soft power over Hong Kong
Since 1997, its published annual military budget grew from $10 billion to over $130 million in 2014, but China is making a terrible strategic error in Asia by funding a giant army while burning bridges by bullying its neighbors.
All those warships and tanks are useless against Hong Kong protesters since its leaders cannot afford to have a use critical force the age of social media.
Like Singapore split from Malaysia, Hong Kong will split from China
There is already precedent for an international hub and former Asian colony of Britain to separate from the mainland: Singapore from Malaysia in 1965. Hong Kong will probably not enjoy nominal sovereignty like Singapore, but I believe that it is bound to gain an increasing level of independence because of China’s inability to control the city and Hong Kong’s deep mistrust of Mainland China.
|World class trading center and English colony separate from Malaysia||World class trading center and English colony separate from China|
|Fully capable and used to exist as an independent entity||Fully capable and used to exist as an independent entity|
|Referendum to reintegrate Malaysia after 136 years of British rule||Handed back to China after 100 years of British rule|
|Violent racial tension between Malay and ethnic Chinese||Peaceful but real tension between Mainland and local Chinese|
|Massive protests against Malay rule||Massive protests against Mainland rule|
|Inability to stop the protests||Inability to stop the protests|
|Sudden independence||Gradual but inevitable independence|
By Kasole Nyembo