Academic journal article China Perspectives

Hong Kong after the Umbrella Movement: An Uncertain Future for "One Country Two Systems"

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Hong Kong after the Umbrella Movement: An Uncertain Future for "One Country Two Systems"

Article excerpt

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An uncertain future for "One Country Two Systems"

Before police in riot gear fired rounds of tear gas at unarmed protesters on September 28, few could have expected that the siege of the government headquarters would turn the scripted Occupy Central (zhanling zhonghuan...) into Hong Kong's biggest and most unprecedented pro-democracy movement amidst its electoral reforms.(1) In the next twoand-a-half months, protesters of what became the Umbrella Movement (yusan yundong????)(2)would occupy major roads in the city's busiest districts, set up tents, stock up supplies, and protect their territories with makeshift barricades, sometimes with human chains, to stop police incursion and opposing groups. Across the encampments, they would press on for a focused goal - "genuine universal suffrage" (zhen puxuan???) for election of their Chief Executive, the city's top leader - until police officers cleared the last occupied site on December 15. This article assesses the implications of the Umbrella Movement as it drew to a close. It explains how the movement morphed from the Occupy Central movement, and reviews the controversy raised over the city's rule of law and constitutional relations with mainland China. Despite having amplified democracy supporters' yearnings for universal suffrage, the movement, in which no compromise was offered by Beijing and the Hong Kong government, will likely deepen social cleavages and send the city toward an uncertain future.

From Occupy Central to the Umbrella Movement

The Umbrella Movement was set against a protracted debate over the electoral reform of the city's Chief Executive election. According to the National People's Congress ruling in 2007, Hong Kong may finally introduce universal suffrage for the election of the fifth Chief Executive in 2017 - after it was twice denied by Beijing for its 2007 and 2012 elections.(3) If universal suffrage is implemented in 2017, Chief Executive candidates would be elected by a popular vote instead of being selected by an election committee - but they must be selected by a nominating committee to ensure that the elected leader would not oppose the central government and that he/she would "love the country and love Hong Kong" (aiguo aigang ????), a requirement set out by numerous Chinese officials. In addition, Hong Kong's Basic Law requires this nominating committee to be "broadly representative" and to operate "in accordance with democratic procedures," but it does not clearly outline the composition of the committee or the nomination procedure.(4)

The nomination process soon became the focal point of contention. Across the pro-democracy camp, there were widespread concerns that the nomination process will act as a safety valve to screen out candidates regarded unfavourably by Beijing. Fearing that the election might turn out to be "fake universal suffrage" (jia puxuan???), democracy supporters argued that they have not only the right to be elected but also the right to be nominated, and thus they deserve a more democratic and inclusive nomination process. (5) Many insisted on the introduction of civic nomination (gongmin timing ????), a mechanism that would allow the public to bypass the nominating committee and directly nominate Chief Executive candidates, but which has been rejected by the government as a contravention of the Basic Law. (6) Some would accept a more democraticallyformed nominating committee, as long as there was reform on its composition and/or a reasonably lower nomination threshold.

The idea of Occupy Central was floated amidst the debate. In early 2013, law professor Benny TaiYiu-ting sketched the early vision of Occupy Central in a series of newspaper articles and interviews.(7)Tai proposed a large-scale civil disobedience (gongmin kangming????) movement in which participants would block traffic to petition for universal suffrage in the CE election that would comply with "international standards. …

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