Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Will protest or persuasion shape Hong Kong's future?

updated 3:30 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hong Kong governed by China under "one country, two systems" model allows the territory more freedoms than the rest of the country
  • The election of Hong Kong's top leader may be by universal suffrage in 2017
  • But will it happen without Beijing screening the candidates?
  • Hong Kong resident: "I definitely want universal suffrage so that we can have a leader who is not as corrupt as mainland officials"

Editor's note: This month's episode of On China with Kristie Lu Stout focuses on Hong Kong and airs for the first time on Friday, July 25, 1:30 pm Hong Kong/Beijing time. For all viewing times and more information about the show click here.

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Tam Chi Tat has driven his bright red taxi for 20 years. Born and raised in Hong Kong, he calls himself not Chinese but a "Hong Konger." The distinction is very important to him.

"The difference between Hong Kong and the mainland is that we grew up in a relatively free environment," he says.

Relative freedom rings in this metropolis on the southern tip of China. There's freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and rule of law.

Since the handover from Britain to China 17 years ago, the people of Hong Kong were granted a wide range of civil liberties and a measure of autonomy under the governing principle known as "one country, two systems."

Is Hong Kong in decline?
Tracing Hong Kong's antagonism

But many say that way of life is now under threat as Beijing affirms its "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong in a white paper issued by the State Council Information Office.

Many in Hong Kong consider the white paper an abrupt missive from Beijing declaring that they call the shots.

Political muscles

Albert Ho is a member of Hong Kong's Legislative Council and organizer of Occupy Central -- a movement of pro-democracy activists who have threatened to "occupy" the central business district if their calls are not heard.

He tells me this is the message from Beijing: Hong Kong is subordinate to the central government.

"And when the time comes -- if it's necessary and appropriate -- all the powers previously given, dedicated and authorized to Hong Kong, could be taken back," Ho adds.

China's political muscle flexing comes at a politically sensitive time for the territory, as scores of Hong Kongers demand true universal suffrage to elect their leader.

The National People's Congress has said that the election of Hong Kong's top leader may be implemented by universal suffrage in 2017. But will it happen without Beijing effectively screening the candidates?

As a hint of what will happen in 2017, Michael DeGolyer, professor and director of the Hong Kong Transition Project, points to how patriotism is emphasized in the white paper.

"Clearly they are saying that (patriotism) is the fundamental requirement," DeGolyer says. "And we have to be assured whoever is being nominated to run is patriotic, according to our definition, i.e. willing to follow orders."

Standing ground

On July 1st in Hong Kong, tens of thousands of protesters -- if not more -- demonstrated for a free and open system to elect their government.

After the march, more than 500 protesters were arrested at an illegal sit-in -- including Albert Ho.

Prior to his arrest, the pro-democracy lawmaker told me he was willing to go to jail to expand democracy in Hong Kong "because we have to make it absolutely clear to Beijing that they have to honor their promises given to the Hong Kong people."

But is civil disobedience the only way forward?

Douglas Young is Hong Kong-born designer and co-founder of Goods of Desire, a retail business and lifestyle brand that draws inspiration from local icons from old mailboxes to mooncakes.

Over the years, Young has courted controversy -- and the attention of Hong Kong police -- with a few eyebrow-raising designs. And yet the rebel designer believes persuasion -- not protest -- should shape the future of Hong Kong.

Young addresses Albert Ho point blank: "I think you are going to create more enemies than supporters."

"At the end of the day, especially in an Asian society, I don't think people react well with aggression.

It's soft power, it's persuasion, that can appeal to them."

True freedom

Like many other business owners in Hong Kong, Young believes demonstrations should take a backseat to dialogue with China to bring about more opportunity.

"We should integrate with China," Young says. "Kids will be able to build their homes and businesses because what we suffer from is the lack of space in Hong Kong."

"If we can embrace Guangzhou, Shanghai, Dongguan and Macau, Hong Kong will be a great metropolis."

But, as Albert Ho points out, such opportunity requires both sound infrastructure and sound governance.

"We need good government," Ho tells me emphatically. "And that must be based on a truly democratic government."

Hong Kong taxi driver Tam Chi Tat wants his vote to truly count one day.

"I definitely want universal suffrage," he says. "So that we can have a leader who is not as corrupt as mainland officials."

It's the aspiration of a people raised on freedom. But true universal suffrage anywhere on Chinese soil is not something Beijing will easily grant.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
updated 5:29 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
updated 1:45 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Reforms to the grueling gaokao - the competitive college entrance examination - don't make the grade, says educator Jiang Xueqin.
updated 8:18 AM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
Beijing grapples with reports from Iraq that a Chinese national fighting for ISIS has been captured.
updated 10:00 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
CNN's David McKenzie has tasted everything from worms to grasshoppers while on the road; China's cockroaches are his latest culinary adventure.
updated 8:57 PM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
Beijing rules only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive.
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
China warns the United States to end its military surveillance flights near Chinese territory.
updated 11:12 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
China has produced elite national athletes but some argue the emphasis on winning discourages children. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports
updated 1:13 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Chinese are turning to overseas personal shoppers to get their hands on luxury goods at lower prices.
updated 5:08 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Experts say rapidly rising numbers of Christians are making it harder for authorities to control the religion's spread.
updated 12:52 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
"I'm proud of their moral standing," says Harvey Humphrey. His parents are accused of corporate crimes in China.
updated 3:42 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A TV confession detailing a life of illegal gambling and paid-for sex has capped the dramatic fall of one of China's most high-profile social media celebrities.
updated 12:10 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
President Xi Jinping's campaign to punish corrupt Chinese officials has snared its biggest target -- where can the campaign go from here?
updated 3:12 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
All you need to know about the tainted meat produce that affects fast food restaurants across China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
updated 10:30 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
updated 5:11 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Is the Chinese president a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
updated 11:44 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
ADVERTISEMENT