Swelling crowds of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong on Monday plunged Asia’s normally staid financial hub into a tense standoff with Beijing that strikes directly at China’s expanding political grip in the former British colony.
The rapidly escalating protests are aimed at forcing Beijing’s Communist leaders to abandon newly declared powers to weed out any candidates in upcoming Hong Kong elections. Yet many on the streets proclaimed they are fighting for something even bigger: preserving a vision of Hong Kong promised 17 years ago when it reverted to Chinese rule.
At the time, Chinese leaders promised a state within a state, saying they would allow special hands-off provisions for Hong Kong such as elections and a degree of self-rule in policymaking. But protesters accuse China of reneging on the deal and trying to exert its control over every aspect of Hong Kong’s political affairs.
The mounting protests present a conundrum for Beijing.
Too hard a crackdown could drive more people to the pro-
democracy cause, which would embarrass Chinese authorities, who would never permit such a challenge on the mainland. Yet, by the same token, allowing the protesters some room risks encouraging others to question Communist control in the rest of the country over such issues as media freedom, economic development and minority rights.