Historically, the legitimacy of Communist Party of China (CPC) has often been put to test. Of which, the biggest example was the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, which severely challenged the ‘one-party rule’- raising concerns over the sustenance of the Communist ideology. To quell the risks of a contingency, in 1991, CPC launched the patriotic campaign, which was directed at re-establishing Chinese people’s political beliefs and mainly loyalty to the communist state. Chinese government’s policy was motivated by the fear of loss of the credibility of the Communist ideology and thus, the Party. To say so, as it is argued that Chinese people experienced a “three belief crisis”(sanxin weiji): crisis of faith in socialism (xinxin weiji), crisis of belief in Marxism (xinyang weiji), and crisis of trust in the party (xinren weiji). This crisis thereby, led to the rise of pro-democracy movement that took the shape of Tiananmen demonstration in 1989.
To avert another Tiananmen, China has been cautious given CPC’s legitimacy is not immuned under its autocratic system. In the 21st Century, the very idea of ‘One China’ and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s grand Chinese Dream has been constantly put to test by two factors: First, Taiwan, that seeks
to continuously defy China’s policy of reunification; and second, Hong Kong, which became a part of mainland only in 1999, but remains resistant towards CPC’s rules. In this context, the recent surge of anti-government protests in Hong Kong has again put CPC’s credibility to test.
The Hong Kong protests began in March, however, a defiant shape in June against the Chinese government’s attempt to adopt a bill that would have enabled the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to request extradition of suspected criminals from Hong Kong. Reacting to the mass mobilisation, Chinese government labelled it as “signs of terrorism” and suggested that they were the real threat to rule of law. To which, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, issuing a warning that Beijing has the authority to intervene stated that “If riots happen, the central government has to intervene”- drawing on Deng Xiaoping’s historic comments. Furthermore, issuing a strong statement, Xinhua also called the protests a “colour revolution” aimed at overturning the Chinese government. Adding to the intensity, Chinese government mobilised People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops to the Hong Kong garrisons, raising red alarms of state intervention. However, calling it an “annual normal routine action” as approved by the Central Military Commission, Chinese military stated the troops would “resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests, effectively perform Hong Kong’s defence duties, and safeguard Hong Kong’s prosperity”. These shifts thereby, call for serious concerns over the case of Hong Kong versus PRC. However, the precursor to the 2019 protests can be traced in the 2014 “Occupy Central” protests staged against the CCP-led electoral policy – posing a severe challenge to the sanctity of Beijing’s “One Country, Two Systems” policy. The query remains- what calls for such protests in Hong Kong?
To argue, the problem lies in the policy dictum of “One Country, Two Systems”- a vision put by Deng Xiaoping to resolve the Hong Kong issue. Under this policy, Hong Kong maintains a de-facto constitution, known as the “Hong Kong Basic Law”, which came into effect on 1 July 1997. Adhering to this policy, Chinese President Jiang Zemin in his statement at the power transferring ceremony of Hong Kong emphasised that: “[T]he Chinese government will firmly pursue the basic policy of “one country, two systems”, “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and ensuring a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong. However, the current situation in Hong Kong reflects a different policy practice by Beijing.
What is important to note that under the Basic Law, Hong Kong residents have certain exceptions. Of which, first, unlike the mainland Chinese citizens, Article 27 of the Basic Law grants Hong Kong people- freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike, as stated in Article 27. Thus, an anti-government protest in Hong Kong has a legal provision. Second, and most important, Article 5 states that “[t]he socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years”. This outlaws any form of intervention by the PRC government. However, the CPC leadership’s actions run contrary to the Law- thus, resulting into anti-government sentiments among Hong Kong. What also calls for Hong Kong’s such a behaviour is its identity that is rooted in the British colonial past, to which the Communist ideology has failed to cast a shadow. The democratic western outlook of Hong Kong runs contrary to CPC’s one party autocracy.
In this context, Hong Kong has become an achilees heel for the Chinese leadership. To say so, as for long CPC-led China had succeed in guarding its domestic matters from the outsiders. However, Hong Kong’s defiant attitude has brought to surface China’s weakness of ‘setting its own house in order’. This weighs a heavy reputation cost for PRC, which continuously attempts to project a united and stable China. Thus, Hong Kong’s civil disobedience has become a biggest challenge for the Xi leadership. To which, the query remains- To bring order, will PRC make ‘use of force’. As history suggest, Deng Xiaoping’s Tiananmen military crackdown of 1989 costed China with a political isolation and condemnation at the international stage. Can Xi choose to do the same when China is aspiring to become a global power? The answer remains ‘no’, however, creates a dilemma for Beijing to end the stalemate.
Given this political flux, three significant inferences cane be drawn from the Hong Kong crisis. First, CPC’s one -party dominance faces a legitimacy crises- highlighting the rising skepticism over the sacrosanct nature of the ‘communist regime. Second, Hong Kong with its anti-government protests adds to Beijing’s list of restive province such as Tibet and Xinjiang. And third, Hong Kong with its pro-democracy outlook joins Taiwan in challenging PRC’s “One China Policy” under the scheme of “One Country, Two Systems”.
It remains indisputable that the emerging scenario in Hong Kong has strongly upset the political stability of PRC. Making it a dilemma for the Chinese leadership given a linear way out fails to be an option. Thus, Hong Kong calls a ‘checkmate’ on the CPC leadership.
1. Suisheng Zhao, “A State-Led Nationalism: The Patriotic Education Campaign in Post-Tiananmen China”, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Vol. 31, no. 3, p. 288. 2. Quoted in Tara John, “Why Hong Kong is protesting: Their five demands listed”, CNN, 18 August 2019, https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/13/asia/hong-kong-airport-protest-explained-hnk-intl/index.html, accessed online 29 August 2019. 3. Amy Gunia, “Chinese State Media Warns of Intervention as Hong Kong Protests Turn Violent”, Time, 26 August 2019, https://time.com/5661163/hong-kong-beijing-intervention/, accessed online 29 August 2019. Ibid. 4. Quoted in James Griffiths, “Chinese military's routine rotation of new troops to Hong Kong garrison raises alarm”, CNN, 29 August 2019, accessed online 29 August 2019. 5. The 2014 Hong Kong protests were called for the resignation of the incumbent Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. The protesters demanded for freedom to elect their political representative by popular vote, while CPC wanted to elect its own representative to rule Hong Kong rather than possible anti-Communist democrats. 6. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “The Chinese government resumed exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong”, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/ziliao_665539/3602_665543/3604_665547/t18032.shtml, accessed online 29 August 2019. 7. See, The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, p. 11, https://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/images/basiclaw_full_text_en.pdf, accessed online 29 August 2019. Ibid., p. 2.