Head Off a Tiananmen Massacre in Hong Kong

Posted on Sep 23, 2015


Head Off a Tiananmen Massacre in Hong Kong

Beijing’s edict has made larger protests in Hong Kong inevitable.


Hong Kong students have not been afraid to make their voices heard. GETTY IMAGES


Editor’s note: The following op-ed is written by Yang Jianli, Teng Biao and Hu Jia, who are all former political prisoners of China. Mr. Yang is the president of Initiatives for China. Mr. Teng is a human rights lawyer. Mr. Hu is a winner of the Sakharov Prize.

Hong Kong students are boycotting classes this week and protesting for democracy. As widespread demonstrations grow against Beijing’s violation of its promise to allow universal suffrage, there is a danger the infamous 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square could be repeated in Hong Kong.

The crisis began in June, when Beijing released a white paper that reneged on the “One Country Two Systems” principle laid out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 and the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution. China had pledged that Hong Kong could rule itself on all matters apart from defense and foreign affairs, and voters could freely choose their own leader.

Instead the white paper claimed that Beijing has complete jurisdiction over Hong Kong, with the only autonomy being what the central government decides to grant. All aspects of local government are subject to oversight by Beijing, and even judges must meet its standard of patriotism.

Not surprisingly, this made Hong Kong people angry. Some 800,000 people participated in an unofficial referendum on the system for nominating candidates for Chief Executive; 90% voted for the citizens selecting nominees rather than a committee. More than half a million people then protested to underline this demand.

Nevertheless, China‘s National People’s Congress, a figurehead of the Central Committee of the China‘s Communist Party, released restrictive rules to select Hong Kong’s 2017 Chief Executive. A nominating committee will be composed mostly of those approved by Beijing. Candidates for chief executive must then obtain approval from the majority of the committee and only two to three candidates will be chosen to run.

Requiring voters to select leaders from 2-3 candidates selected by a committee controlled by Beijing is not meaningful “universal suffrage.” Hong Kong people’s hopes for real democracy have once again been shattered.

Beijing’s edict has made larger protests inevitable. Occupy Central With Love and Peace and other pro-democracy groups will hold a non-violent sit-ins that will block traffic in Hong Kong’s financial district. The right to such peaceful assembly and freedom of press are enshrined in the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, as well as in the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, an international treaty that applies to Hong Kong.

Yet in early July, Hong Kong police detained more than 500 participants and organizers fortheir role in peaceful protests that called on Beijing to deliver genuine democracy. Hong Kong’s House News, one of Hong Kong’s most popular independent papers, known for its support of Occupy Central, closed after its owner released a letter saying he was “fearful” because of political pressure from China. And last month, Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption raided media owner Jimmy Lai’s home in connection with his donations to pro-democracy legislators. The pro-democracy legislator Lee Cheuk-Yan’s home was raided on the same day.

Chinese officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs have threatened repeatedly that Hong Kong-based units of China‘s People’s Liberation Army will use force to suppress peaceful demonstrations. This tragic outcome is becoming more likely.

The United States and the international community share the responsibility to prevent another murderous massacre. While the Tiananmen Square massacre surprised the world, this time the world is on notice. The Obama administration should press the Chinesegovernment to honor its promise of democratic elections in Hong Kong. Any crackdown on peaceful protest by force will be strongly opposed and severely punished.

Two of the world’s powerful autocracies, both rooted in the idea and practice of communist dictatorship, are bent on encroaching upon freedom and democracy on two different fronts: Ukraine and Hong Kong. Many strategic experts note that Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s aggressive posture towards Ukraine was strengthened by America’s failure to act more decisively in Syria. And the U.S. failure to challenge his seizure of Crimea helped embolden Mr. Putin to invade southeast Ukraine.

China has the potential to become an even more relentless, aggressive dictatorship than Russia. From their support for rogue regimes in Iran, North Korea, and Syria to their military buildups and aggressive use of cyber warfare and technology theft, Moscow and Beijing are playing for keeps and their corrosive impact should worry the free world.

Only a strong, unambiguous warning from the U.S. will cause either of those countries to carefully consider the costs of new violent acts of repression. Hong Kong and Ukraine are calling for the rebirth of American global leadership for freedom and democracy.

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