Walter Bhengu

Why Beijing is likely to continue pushing a hardline stance

By Walter Bhengu

The recent student-led protests in Hong Kong have been massive, the streets of Hong Kong have been in disarray and the Chinese government is not impressed. The so-called Umbrella Revolution has been gaining momentum on the streets of Hong Kong and has captured the imagination of many around the world. Beijing has done its best to ensure that its citizens in mainland China do not follow the protests on social-media platforms by blocking such sites.

Independence and secession seem to be buzz words engulfing modern-day Weltpolitik. The Scots came within a few percentage votes of independence, Crimea voted for secession in a hotly disputed referendum and South Sudan in recent history has successfully broken away from Sudan with civil war continuing unabated. Even the tiny country called Spain is grappling with the Catalan region seeking secession for the umpteenth time.

Such incidents have raised questions around borders and boundaries mainly carved up in the 1800s and 1900s and whether or not such boundaries still need to exist in their current form. Some are a result of conquests and some due to consented annexations. Even South Africa has had calls by some to swallow up Lesotho and Swaziland for a variety of vague reasons.



The Hong Kong inhabitants seem determined now more than ever to break away or to be in charge of their political destiny without China having the overbearing presence it currently has there. I only found out this week that Hong Kong is actually run by a chief executive and Beijing decides which public representatives will run for election. China has not been known to tolerate dissent in any form. Protests in mainland China at Tiananmen Square in 1989 were decisively dealt with and mention of that day in mainland China is viewed as a serious crime. The Tibetan cause is another example which shows how decisive China is in dealing with dissent to the extent that China “dictates” other countries’ foreign policy with regards to those who recognise the Dalai Lama. Hong Kong is no exception and I think its economic potential plays a big part in China wanting full and unfettered control over it.

China is one of the two largest countries when it comes to its economic muscle and is also the world’s most populous country. The power it wields globally is immense. Beijing finds yielding to the protestors in Hong Kong as a sign of weakness and that is not tolerated in China. Beijing has always liked order and discipline and this can be traced back to the days of the ancient Chinese dynasties through to the days of Mao Tse-tung all the way to modern day times as seen by how the Communist Party handles election of their top office bearers.

Will the Hong Kong protestors and Beijing come to a substantial compromise? I highly doubt it, as such a compromise might be the springboard for other regions that have been dissenting for years seeking democracy and autonomy but have been clamped down. Already Beijing has threatened to “deal” with anyone who storms government buildings. Such actions will be reminiscent of what happened in Ukraine only a few months ago. Small concession may be made as Hong Kong is one of the wealthiest economies in the world and Beijing would not want to lose it but Beijing will remain with the upper hand with regards to whichever compromise is reached.

Image – Pro-democracy activists are pushed through the crowd to safety after clashing with local residents and pro-government supporters on October 3, 2014, in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. Fights broke out between local residents and pro-government supporters when they attempted to force pro-democracy activists from their protest site. (Getty)

Walter Bhengu is a non-practising attorney and aspirant academic whose interest in international affairs was sparked during his time studying a master’s degree in international trade law at Stellenbosch University.

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