Rooting for democracy

THE city-state of Hong Kong marked its ninth anniversary of return to Chinese rule with thousands of people thronging the streets demanding full democracy in the territory. While the organisers of the rally say about 60,000 took part, police sources put the figure at less than 30,000.

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Published: Mon 3 Jul 2006, 9:40 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:09 PM

Hong Kong has been periodically witnessing pro-democracy rallies, as China tightens its grip on the former British colony. Hong Kong became a part of China on July 1, 1997, as a Special Administrative Region with limited autonomy after a 150-year stint with the United Kingdom, but it does not accept the Chinese communist system, as it is proud of its dynamic, thriving capitalism.

Hong Kong is a commercial dynamo of Asia, counted along with other cities like Dubai and Singapore. It has a very robust work culture and pursues Mammon like no other Asian city. Though now it comes under Chinese rule, its status as an SAR allows it to follow the Western capitalist model with private entrepreneurship playing a major role in the territory’s growth and development. Its significant contribution to China’s GDP also allows the mainland to adopt a policy of ‘one nation, two systems’, with only Defence and Foreign Affairs in Beijing’s hand. So far, the arrangement has been working quite well as Hong Kong has continued to prosper under the pragmatic policy of the Chinese leadership and Hong Kong’s new leader Donald Tsang.

But periodic pro-democracy rallies demanding greater political freedom tend to unnerve Beijing which comes out vociferously against such expressions of popular sentiment. Though the large crowds have thinned out of late as Donald Tsang is proving to be quite popular, they cannot be ignored off-hand. For, it is generally assumed by totalitarian systems that once economic freedom is given to people, they would not care much about political freedom. While it is true that if people’s basic needs are met and they lead a comfortable lifestyle, social unrest gets diminished, it is also true that people are always looking for something more than what they have. So, if people of Hong Kong demand greater political freedom, it should not be surprising.

The Chinese leadership should show its pragmatism in also granting greater political freedom to the people of Hong Kong as a test case, before applying the new measures on mainland China. Anson Chan, one of the island’s most respected political figures, while addressing the democracy rally said: “Today I come to take part in the march in support of democracy, but this doesn’t mean we are trying to challenge the government. Although the economy has been good it doesn’t mean we don’t need democracy.” True, Hong Kong does need more democracy, despite its economic liberalism.

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