The tear gas has cleared and violence has abated but a meeting between officials and student protest leaders in Hong Kong has been cancelled.
It was to have taken place this Friday in a bid to ease tensions over China’s decision in August ruling out direct elections in 2017.
Protest numbers have dwindled from tens of thousands to just a few hundred people at various sites around the city, but activists have managed to keep up their blockade of some major roads.
Mass disruptions to business and commuter chaos over the past 11 days challenged Beijing. The protesters demand the city’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying step down and that China allow Hong Kong people a free vote for a leader in 2017. China wants to select the candidates.
Hong Kong used to be a British colony. It was handed back to China in 1997. Designated a ‘Special Administrative Region’ of the People’s Republic, Beijing allowed it a high degree of autonomy, under a principle of ‘one country, two systems’.
The Communist Party has left the Hong Kong authorities to manage the protests, without stepping in. But President Xi Jin-ping’s increasingly assertive regional territorial claims make it unlikely that Beijing would reward calls for democracy in Hong Kong with outright change, for fear other restive parts of the People’s Republic would press for reforms.
China’s handling of the recent Hong Kong protests has raised questions about President Xi’s leadership policies.
It comes as those policies are laid bare in a new book ‘Xi Jinping: The Governance of China’, published in nine languages and covering core issues in domestic and foreign affairs.
We spoke with Dr Robert Lawrence Kuhn, author of ‘How China’s Leaders Think’ and expert in Chinese affairs, about what lies at the heart of the protests and Beijng’s handling of them.
Nial O’Reilly, euronews: “Dr Kuhn, we’ve seen a relatively hands-off approach to the protests in Hong Kong, entirely different from how Beijing has handled previous challenges to its authority. Does this reflect a new leadership philosophy from Xi Jin-ping or is it a one-off event?”
Dr Robert Lawrence Kuhn: “First of all we have to understand the concept of ‘one country two systems’ which is the Basic Law that governs Hong Kong and Macao and, from China’s point of view, hopefully Taiwan in the future. And they take that very seriously.
“The kinds of protests we see in Hong Kong, from the Chinese government’s point of view, no change. That [the protests] should be handled locally by the Hong Kong authorities.
“That does not mean that Beijing is totally independent of it [the protests], they’re very concerned, obviously, about what is going on there. You would never see such a demonstration for that long being allowed on the mainland of China, that’s for sure. But, as [for] allowing the Hong Kong authorities to handle that in their own jurisdiction, this is not a change in policy.”
euronews: “Why did they take this decision that Beijing would nominate election candidates in the territory, knowing that it would provoke an angry response?”
Kuhn: “Well, I’m not sure if I agree with the question in terms of knowing that it would provoke an angry response.
“One has to go back to the Basic Law and the whole structure of how it was working. It’s, I would say, a little bit murky in terms of how that would work. This is the first time in history.
“It’s not that we had a Western style democracy in Hong Kong when it was under the [British] Crown, it was run by a Governor. So it’s an evolving process.
“Clearly, Beijing will not allow Hong Kong to break free of the fact that it is Chinese and under Chinese authority. But, given that, they will try to respect as much as possible the ‘one country two system’ approach, which, so far, has been working reasonably well.”
euronews: “You talk about an evolving process and this standoff hasn’t been resolved yet. Do you see any chance of Xi conceding to the protesters demands, particularly on the core issue of Beijing choosing who stands for election?”
Kuhn: “The simple answer is no. I don’t think there is any possibility that the central leadership in China is going to allow Hong Kong, by virtue of protests, to make any substantive change, whatsoever.
“I think there are two issues here: one is on the core issue of the election of a chief executive officer, and can such a person be someone completely opposed to Beijing’s policy, as opposed to selected by universal suffrage but from a group of people that is generally approved, that’s the substance of it.
“I don’t think China will want to set a precedent of having street protests make any progress in effecting change. So, two issues. Both come up with the answer ‘no’.”