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May 29, 2017

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Beijing unwise to clamp down on Hong Kong's democracy

Yesterday's announcement of the framework of reforms for the "direct election" of Hong Kong's chief executive in 2017 disappointed a large portion of Hong Kongers. For many, it was another severe blow to the prospects for democracy to flourish in the city. Now, prospects for the successful introduction of democracy to the economic hub and center of Chinese society are uncertain, and, more broadly, the implications for reforms in mainland China are grim.

The mainland's Standing Committee of the People's National Congress announced the rules in which a nomination committee continues to exist in the nomination procedure. A 50-percent threshold of approval by the pro-Beijing committee must be reached for any candidate to be approved on the ballot.

And thus, the dreams of the pro-democracy camp were dashed, at least in the short term. The elections committee is divided into categories based on employment, supposedly drawing upon different sectors of society.

Beijing's behavior is causing unrest in much of the populace. In the run-up to the announcement, Beijing escalated its rhetoric against its perceived threats, on Saturday condemning actions by foreign forces that it says are attempting to turn Hong Kong into a "bridgehead" for "undermining mainland China."

Several different options were presented by the pro-democracy camp. The moderate "18 scholars" camp proposed a requirement to get the signatures of 70,000-100,000 residents prior to approval by one-eighth of the nominations committee. The Alliance for True Democracy proposed an "A or B" version in which either approval by ten percent of committee members or a certain number of citizens voicing their approval can lead to nomination. Both were rejected.

Earlier in the week, pro-Beijing scholar Wang Zhemin, the dean of Tsinghua University's law school, called on the Hong Kong people to accept "imperfect democracy," touting the introduction of general elections as a milestone in the city's political evolution. And it is true that the current standoff may very well lead to the forfeiture of general elections in 2017 because the pro-democracy camp has threatened to sink the package in Hong Kong's legislative council. In that case, the current rules for electing the chief executive would continue to apply.

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