China slams the brakes on democracy in Hong Kong

With the White House empty, and the position of Leader of the Free World at least two years away from being filled by a qualified applicant, a number of unsavory characters are seizing the opportunity to make mischief.  While Vladimir Putin raises hell in Ukraine, boasts that he could seize Kiev in two weeks if he wanted to, and muses that a few other scraps of the old Soviet empire – such as Kazakhstan – don’t really qualify as independent states, the Chinese are cracking down on democracy in Hong Kong.  The New York Times reports:

China’s legislature laid down strict limits on Sunday to proposed voting reforms in Hong Kong, pushing back against months of rallies calling for free, democratic elections.

The decision by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee drew battle lines in what pro-democracy groups warned would be a deepening confrontation over the political future of the city and of China. The committee demanded procedural barriers for candidates for the city’s leader that would ensure Beijing remained the gatekeeper to that position — and to political power over the city.

Li Fei, a deputy secretary general of the committee, told a news conference in Beijing that the nominating guidelines — including a requirement that candidates “love the country, and love Hong Kong” — would “protect the broad stability of Hong Kong now and in the future.”

In other words, the voters of Hong Kong get to choose from a slate of Beijing-approved presidential candidates.  Here’s a great slogan for the elections: Choose Your Stooge!

Hong Kong has enjoyed special privileges denied to mainland Chinese ever since it was re-integrated into the communist empire.  As the saying goes, it’s been “one country, two systems.”  It’s almost surprising that their semi-independence lasted this long.  Beijing must have been reluctant to lay too heavy a hand upon the Hong Kong economic powerhouse.  The goose that lays golden eggs must be choked very carefully.

Beijing is cracking down on dissent everywhere, and has evidently included that keeping its longstanding promise of “one person, one vote” to the uppity opposition parties of Hong Kong could give other Chinese a dangerous appetite for freedom.  As long as “democracy” was a diversion, a puppet show that produced a satisfactory puppet government, it was indulged, but now it’s become inconvenient, and there’s no American leadership to call Beijing out and make it pay a price for breaking its promises.  The spectacle of Barack Obama grabbing a microphone on the 9th hole, hiking his golf visor back, and whining about how “disappointed” he is would have the old despots in the Chinese Politburo roaring with laughter.

Also, Obama’s lately been feeding the $35,000-a-plate audiences at his fundraisers a bunch of fairy tales about how the U.S. economy isn’t nearly as bad as everyone thinks.  Beijing, which played a key role in enabling Obama’s irresponsible doubling of the national debt to achieve the anemic results he’s touting, has more than enough financial leverage to generate some inconvenient headlines at a politically sensitive moment if our spendthrift President gets too pushy.

This leaves the opposition in Hong Kong pretty much on their own.  They seem undaunted.  If anything, they’re more uppity than ever:

“After having lied to Hong Kong people for so many years, it finally revealed itself today,” said Alan Leong, a pro-democracy legislator. “Hong Kong people are right to feel betrayed. It’s certain now that the central government will be effectively appointing Hong Kong’s chief executive.”

Occupy Central, the main Hong Kong group advocating open elections, said it was planning civil disobedience protests in the city’s commercial heart. Several thousand people turned out for a rally opposing Beijing’s plan on Sunday night.

“We are no longer willing to be docile subjects,” Benny Tai, a co-founder of Occupy Central and an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, told the crowd. “Our hope is that people gathered here will be dauntless civil resisters. What is our hope? Our hope is that today Hong Kong has entered a new era, an era of civil disobedience, an era of resistance.”

Other groups were also preparing to protest, and the Hong Kong Federation of Students urged university students to boycott classes.

It’s important to note that the Hong Kong opposition isn’t just agitating for free elections and freedom of speech.  They’re also very concerned about the independence of the judiciary.  They want the law to hold as a bulwark against political power, binding government and citizens alike.  Maybe we should fly a few Hong Kong opposition leaders over to Washington to explain that to some of our politicians.  America’s not really in a great position to champion the rule of law right now.

A representative of the Beijing-controlled nominating committee offered the old authoritarian song-and-dance that “democracy” and “liberty” mean different things in different cultural contexts: “Each country’s historical, cultural, economic, social and political conditions and circumstances are different, and so the rules formulated for elections naturally also differ.”  In other words, Chinese pseudo-democracy only looks like a flimsy veil over authoritarian centralized power to arrogant Westerners who don’t understand the Chinese cultural appetite for corrupt one-party rule.  Check your privilege, Westerners!

Oh, and if the Hong Kong opposition succeeds in thwarting Beijing’s plans to tighten its control over the presidential nomination process, why, they might just lose the right to vote at all.  Because that’s how “democracy” works: do as you’re told, or you’ll be stripped of your rights at the pleasure of your grumpy rulers.  No lover of liberty, anywhere in the world, should sit quietly while China cons the world out of respect it does not deserve.  No one should be fooled by the attempt to legitimize raw power by hiding it behind hollow rituals of law and freedom.  If Beijing’s policies are so wise, they should have nothing to fear from the opposition in Hong Kong, and no reason to fear the viral spread of human dignity among other Chinese who demand the same treatment Hong Kong is getting.

Well, good luck, Hong Kong.  Let your friends in America know how the protests work out.  We’ll be busy watching Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid waste the rest of the current session on a futile crusade to repeal the First Amendment, because his party desperately needs some exciting political theater to rally its dispirited base for the midterm elections.  Beijing is not without its admirers in the United States, and they’ve just about had their fill of dissent and disobedience.


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