WASHINGTON – If there is one thing that the Chinese leaders do not like is bad surprises. And they certainly got one from the Hong Kong Legislative Council. All was set for the Council to pass a Beijing-backed electoral law that would have essentially established fake democracy.
A done deal
According to the proposed “reform”, the people of Hong Kong would have been free to vote directly for their new leader. But only pre-screened and pre-approved candidates would have been allowed to run. With the reassurance of a comfortable pro-Beijing majority in the Council, there was no doubt whatsoever that this electoral law would be passed.
Except that it was not. The dynamics that affected the procedures prior to the vote are still unclear, and in some way bizarre. But the point is that before the vote most of the pro-Beijing legislators left the Chamber. However, the opposition and a few others stayed, this way guaranteeing a quorum that allowed members to vote on the proposal. As a result, the mainland China-inspired law was soundly defeated. The final vote was 28 against it, only 8 in favor.
Not the end of this
This is most probably not the last word on this. Hard to believe that the people of tiny Hong Kong will be able to stage a victorious political rebellion against China.
Still, this vote is a huge embarrassment. Beijing’s friends in the former British Colony could not deliver. Some of them seem to have switched sides.
The Umbrella Movement
Is this vote a legacy of the 2014 Umbrella Movement composed mostly of young people who openly demonstrated against China’s direct interference in Hong Kong’s affairs? Of course it is. And now we see that Hong Kong is still a somewhat recalcitrant subject, if not openly rebellious.
Given all this, what is next? China cannot and will not tolerate open insubordination. China is willing to allow a semblance of autonomy in Hong Kong. But only as long as a large majority there recognizes Beijing’s ultimate supremacy.
What will China do next?
The tricky question now is how will China reassert its authority without resorting to the use of force. Needless to say, there are means, most of them covert, to bring recalcitrant Hong Kong politicians back in line.
Nonetheless, many people will remember this episode of open defiance. And who knows what its long term effects will be.