A few days ago, the results of the elections to the district councils, which took place last Sunday, November 24, were summed up in Hong Kong. The representatives of the democratic parties have received convincing victory.
In total, Democratic Party, Civil Party, Neo-Democrats, Labor, and Hong Kong Association for Democracy and Welfare of the People received 347 out of 452 seats and control 17 out of 18 district councils divided by Hong Kong. Loyal to Beijing, Hong Kong Democratic Alliance for Better Development and Progress has lost 98 seats.
The election results are the litmus test of the mood of the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong society, which shares the demands of the protesters: wider autonomy from Beijing in the field of regional self-government, independent justice. The Hong Kong people want to develop as a state in the state, and not integrate into the political and economic system of the PRC.
However, the results of the vote should be taken rather as a cut of public opinion, rather than a real victory of protesters over the government in Beijing, due to the specifics of the electoral system of the former British colony and the interests of leading players in world politics.
The protestersє pyrrhic victory
The victory of the Democrats in the elections to the district councils of Hong Kong will not lead to the transfer of key control levers into the hands of protesters. The competence of the district councils includes resolving purely local issues in the field of housing and communal services and transport. Hong Kong's development strategy, relations with the central government are in the hands of the Executive Council and the head of Hong Kong, Kerry Lam, who maintain their loyalty to Beijing.
The preparation of bills of local importance is carried out by the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, where the loyalists of the Communist Party won the elections in 2016. The real power struggle in Hong Kong could be the next election of deputies to the Legislative Council in September 2020 and the head of Hong Kong in 2022. Prospects for Democrats in these elections will show the results of work in district councils. This is the whole snag.
Communal services, as well as other local issues, are meticulous in themselves and require not only managerial abilities from district leaders, but also constructive relations with higher management, which will not be a priori.
Since British colonialism, Hong Kong’s electoral system has been designed to reduce the ability of the masses to influence the change of power and political processes. The head of Hong Kong is selected by a special election commission of 1,200 electors, the selection of which is coordinated with the center.
Four strata of Hong Kong society each have 300 seats in the commission: business circles, representatives of trade unions and public organizations, scientists and religious figures, as well as members of district councils, which are united in one group with the functionaries of the Legislative and Executive Councils. During the last election, out of 1,200 electors, only 205 were representatives of democratic parties.
Deputies to the Legislative Council are partially elected through direct elections, partly by representatives of two commissions, which also consist of representatives from Hong Kong’s political, economic, intellectual and spiritual elites.
To some extent, the current protests are a belated anti-colonial uprising of Hong Kong society. Hong Kong autonomists have been fighting for electoral reform since they were in Britain.
The transfer of the region to China in 1997 did not change anything. In fact, the metropolis has moved from London to Beijing. The results of the elections to the district councils are not a serious help for changing the political regime of Hong Kong. It is not surprising that the Global Times, a newspaper close to the Communist Party of China, called for the correct perception and not an exaggeration of the victory of the Democrats in the elections.
The Chinese press, unlike Western journalists, does not focus on the elections to the Hong Kong regional councils, since their informational value is extremely impartial to the political bureau of the Communist Party of China. No matter how insignificant the district councils are in Hong Kong’s political system.
The important thing is that they were won by liberals who do not want to accept the socialist system that has existed in China for 70 years. Hong Kong people are clearly demonstrating to residents of other Chinese megacities that a multi-party system exists not only on paper.
The Chinese constitution recognizes political pluralism, but in reality, the Communist Party dominates the government with the nominal participation of several parties in the country's political life that do not cross its line. Attempts to create real opposition in China usually ended in failure. Hong Kong was the exception to the rule where the allies of the Chinese Communists were defeated.
The Hong Kong precedent may prompt free thinking in the most developed cities of coastal China, such as Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Shenzhen, which are the drivers of the Chinese economy. In total, more than 66 million people live in these cities and the demonstrations may be larger than in Hong Kong (7.5 million people).
Hong Kong protesters advocate the idea of decentralization, which could provoke an increase in centrifugal trends in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, in Tibet, where the Han people (the main ethnic group of China) do not represent the majority of the population. The Chinese authorities have long struggled with separatism in these regions.
The Chinese authorities do not specifically comply with all the demands of Hong Kong protesters and brutally disperse their actions so that the people of other cities and regions are not accustomed to following their example. Security officials stormed the building of the Polytechnic University, which became the base of protesters, kidnapped their leaders from hospitals, and seized passports from detainees so that they could not vote in the elections.
Watching Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong, there are associations with centrifugal performances in Chechnya in the early 90s, Northern Ireland in the 70s, protests in Catalonia, which the authorities of Russia, Great Britain, and Spain suppressed by force to prevent the development of separatism in other regions. The Hong Kong protests are a struggle for financial flows and resources between representatives of the communist elite and the liberal opposition.
Contradictions with the West
The political crisis in Hong Kong is complicated by difficult relations between the United States and China in the context of a trade war and is also the subject of disagreement between US President Donald Trump and American lawmakers. After the Hong Kong district council elections, the Chinese authorities tightened criticism of the United States and accused of interfering in the internal affairs of the Middle Kingdom.
Three days before the election, the US Congress passed bills to protect human rights in Hong Kong and the ban on the supply of weapons and special equipment for the Hong Kong police. The first bill creates a legal framework for monitoring the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong, provides grounds for imposing sanctions against Chinese officials, which is the interference of one state in the affairs of another. However, Trump has a low profile in Hong Kong.
On the one hand, Hong Kong has been an ally of the United States since the Cold War, a conductor of American interests in China. On the other hand, supporting the protesters, Congress runs the risk of disrupting the recent dealings between US Trade Representative Robert Lightheiser and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with the Chinese side to resolve trade agreements.
They agreed on a number of terms of the trade agreement, agreed that China would purchase the US $ 50 billion worth of agricultural products, and the States would not increase duties in the future. 30-40% of the terms of the transaction remain uncoordinated. The Chinese insist on a further reduction in duties.
Similar contradictions are growing in relations between China and the EU. The European Commission called on the Chinese security forces on November 18 to take a restrained position, stop the violence a week before the elections to the district councils. Chinese Ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming accused the British authorities of interfering in the internal affairs of China on the side of Hong Kong protesters.
The House of Commons of the British Parliament has prepared reports that highlighted the actions of the Chinese security forces that do not honor the Communist Party of China. The UK nominated one of the protest leaders Joshua Wong for the Westminster Prize for the protection of human life, rights, and dignity.
Globally, the EU is not profitable to spoil relations with the Middle Kingdom due to protests in Hong Kong. China is the second EU trade and economic partner after the United States. The very fact that the British authorities returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, after the lease expires, removes all claims of human rights violations.