Beijing jitters over HK democracy push
By Willy Wo-Lap Lam, CNN Senior China Analyst
The push towards democracy has been gathering steam in Hong Kong.
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(CNN) -- Beijing's nervous and harsh reaction to Hong Kong's democratic aspirations has betrayed the Chinese Communist Party leadership's fears about losing control over the six-year-old Special Administrative Region.
However, President Hu Jintao's administration's playing hardball with advocates of universal suffrage in Hong Kong has cast into doubt Beijing's commitment to the "one country, two systems" model -- and to reform in general.
The hard-line turn taken by Hu and his colleagues could also have a significant impact on China's relations with Taiwan, the U.S. and the Western world.
In statements issued by the official Xinhua news agency last week, Beijing indicated it would dictate the pace of democratization in the Special Administrative Region (SAR), and that Hong Kong's ruling elite must consist of "patriotic" elements.
It has also been revealed that Beijing's opposition to a one-person one-vote system is based on the fear the SAR might emulate separatists in Taiwan and seek some form of "Hong Kong independence."
As a Chinese-run newspaper in Hong Kong put it, Beijing's foremost concern is that the SAR's political structure will ensure that "Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China ... and that the SAR is under the direct jurisdiction of central authorities."
Beijing's tough position is problematic because the current leadership's interpretation of "one country, two systems" is different from -- and much more doctrinaire than -- that of late patriarch Deng Xiaoping, the father of the revolutionary model for re-absorbing Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.
Deng used to consider the SAR concept a fillip to reform in China.
And he often indicated his desire to create "a string of Hong Kongs" along the eastern coast to expedite the country's overall modernization.
And Deng was most lenient about who should be running post-1997 Hong Kong.
He said while "leftists," or traditionally pro-Beijing elements, should be inducted to the ruling councils, the door should not be shut to "rightists," code word for liberals and people with Western values.
In their great leap leftward, however, Hu's top lieutenants on Hong Kong policy have cited only the more orthodox portions of Deng's SAR-related instructions.
For example, while talking last week to a Hong Kong government task force on political reform, these senior cadres quoted a Deng saying in late 1984 that SAR administrators "should be patriotic people, people who love the motherland and love Hong Kong."
"Patriotism" has been interpreted by these officials as unthinkingly toeing Beijing's line.
What these conservative cadres left out, however, was that Deng went on to say that apart from "leftists," there should also be businessmen, civil servants and "rightists" among SAR administrators.
As the late patriarch put it: "Of course there should be leftists [among the ruling elite], but there should be as few of these as possible. There should also be rightists, and the majority [within Hong Kong's governing body] should be people in the middle [of the political spectrum]."
What the patriarch meant was given the experimental nature of "one country, two systems," it was unwise to exclude politicians and intellectuals who might not see eye to eye with Beijing.
Beijing may adopt a softer approach toward both Taipei and Hong Kong if Chen fails in his re-election bid.
Will the controversy over Hong Kong's democratization adversely affect cross-Straits relations?
An important reason behind Beijing's hawkish line on the SAR is to show Taiwan that it will not tolerate the "creeping independence" gambit of President Chen Shui-bian.
However, this strategy will further dampen whatever attraction that "one country, two systems" may have for Taiwan residents.
For example, last week's Xinhua statement pointed out "one country, two systems" presupposed that "'one country' is the premise of 'two systems'," -- and that so-called "self-governing" in the SAR must be implemented under Beijing's authorization.
This is at variance with communist party's long-standing pledge that Taiwan's residents have full autonomy regarding the island's politics and administration.
Beijing-based political sources said the leadership's hard stance was partly based on conspiracy theories the U.S., Taiwan, and to some extent, the UK, were behind alleged efforts by SAR democrats to turn Hong Kong into a "base of subversion against the central government."
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has repeatedly lambasted Washington for trying to influence the SAR's course of democratization, while Beijing-affiliated politicians and journalists in Hong Kong have accused pro-democracy figures there of being stooges of "rightist" and "anti-China" U.S. organizations.
These leftist views, however, have confirmed the perception in many Western capitals that Hu and his colleagues are no different from previous administrations regarding political liberalization.
Yet, it is premature to think Beijing has come to a decision on Hong Kong's political structure.
The Hu leadership seems to be waiting until after Legislative Council elections in September before making up its mind on whether, and when, to grant the SAR a higher degree of democracy.
There is a possibility that if Taiwan's Chen fails in his re-election bid next month, Beijing may adopt a softer approach toward both Taipei and Hong Kong.
The damage, however, seems to have been done. Prior to the recent turn of events, most observers in Hong Kong and the Western world thought of the new leadership in Beijing as a moderate, close-to-the-masses team.
The autocratic if not anti-reformist line that the Hu-led Politburo has laid down for the SAR, however, may spoil this favorable impression for a long time to come.