Occupy Central movement founders Benny Tai Yiu-ting (centre), the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming (second right) and Chan Kin-man (right). Photo: Felix Wong
Frank Ching
Frank Ching

Beijing must avoid paranoia over 'hostile foreign forces' in Hong Kong

Frank Ching says Beijing must not let paranoia undermine its promise of a high degree of autonomy and universal suffrage to Hong Kong

There are signs that the central government is increasingly anxious about developments in Hong Kong. The meeting between a leader of the Occupy Central campaign and Shih Ming-teh, the former chairman of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan, touched a raw nerve in Beijing, and the state-run newspaper has warned that Hong Kong's opposition is in danger of turning itself into an "enemy of the state".

At the same time, an alarming video produced with the backing of the People's Liberation Army accuses the US and British consulates in the city of supporting subversion against the mainland.

The Chinese reaction to the Shih meeting reflects Beijing's extreme sensitivity to the possibility of Hong Kong political activists linking up with pro-independence Taiwanese political forces.

The video, , is aimed squarely at the US and revives fears of a campaign to bring about "peaceful evolution" in China.

Recently, there have been warnings that events could get out of hand if the organisers of Occupy Central go ahead with their plans. There is a fear that the PLA would move in to restore order and that Beijing might then go so far as to cut short the 50-year period promised to Hong Kong in the Basic Law under "one country, two systems".

Both sides ought to exercise a little common sense. What did the Occupy Central leader think it would achieve by meeting Shih? It's simply not worth getting Beijing riled and suspicious.

Yet Shih is by no means an independence zealot. In fact, he resigned from the party in 2000 and, in 2006, organised a massive sit-in to call on the then president, Chen Shui-bian, who was ardently pro-independence, to step down because of corruption.

The Taiwan meeting is only a distraction. The PLA video is more disturbing since it reflects Beijing's paranoia about the presence of "hostile foreign forces" in Hong Kong and their supposed role in the pro-democracy movement. Beijing sees a "silent contest" with the US being conducted around the world in many spheres and at many levels.

But this "contest" should not prevent Beijing from honouring its promise to allow the city democracy.

The people of Hong Kong trusted the Chinese government when it introduced the policy of "one country, two systems", with "Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong" while enjoying a "high degree of autonomy".

Part of that promise was the eventual election by universal suffrage of the chief executive and the entire legislature. There is little point for Beijing to play lawyers' games with words and argue that, strictly speaking, suffrage only has to do with the right to vote and not the right to run in an election.

People in Hong Kong were led to believe that there would be genuine democracy in 2017. If that does not happen, many people would be so disappointed that they may no longer trust the central government. If Beijing does not deliver what it promised, people are likely to lose faith in it. It is that simple.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Anxiety attack