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’: more freedom of expression and its own brand of political and social organisation and judiciary.
It was left to operate its capitalist service economy, the world’s third-leading international financial centre, after London and New York, even keeping its own currency, the Hong Kong dollar.
It is a major gateway for Chinese exports.
Treaty commitments by Beijing provided for democratic development, including the election from 2017 of the chief executive by universal suffrage. But then last month the authorities imposed a rule that the candidates would need approval from the People’s Republic — vetted as true China-loving patriots.
Many Hong Kongers objected.
First students, then others; pro-democracy protesters in the heart of the global financial hub gathered under the banner: “Occupy Central with Love and Peace”.
This political challenge for Beijing has taken on proportions not seen since the Tiananmen Square dissent 25 years ago. That dissent was at first tolerated, then crushed.
Organiser Benny Tai said: “The future of Hong Kong’s democratic movement would be a very important issue especially after this largest scale of civil disobedience action in Hong Kong, in Hong Kong history. I think all the Hong Kong citizens participating will have a time to think about it. But one thing can be sure that, we will never give up, about Hong Kong’s democracy.”
Communist Party leaders have said so far they will leave Hong Kong to handle the umbrella crowds itself(umbrellas wielded as some protection against police tear gas and water cannon), yet the Party is acutely sensitive to sparking reform passions in other parts of the world’s most populous state.