The Democratic Thorn in Beijing’s Side

February 28, 2012 Updated: August 13, 2013

Taking aim at some of Hong Kong’s leading academics, Beijing is pressuring the critics to halt their calls for independence ahead of the crucial Chief Executive elections on March 30.

Robert Chung Ting Yiu, head of Hong Kong University’s Public Opinion Programme, is one such academic. He recently came under fire when he released a poll that revealed a 12-year low in the number of Hong Kongers who identified themselves as Chinese citizens.

Chinese officials immediately blasted Chung’s work as “unscientific” and “illogical”, while mainland media called the scholar a “traitor” and a “running dog”.

However Chung argues in the Straits Times Indonesia that the attacks on him are clearly linked to a democratic project he is planning to initiate called PopVote. Essentially a “civic referendum”, it will allow for up to 80,000 Hong Kongers to cast their symbolic vote two days prior to the selection of the Chief Executive in the March elections.

The Chief Executive vote has been labelled a farce for years, since Hong Kong was handed back to Mainland China in 1997. The election takes place once every four years, with votes cast among a pro-Beijing committee of 1200 people. The process is not open to a public vote.

Should Chung’s referendum results differ to that of the selection committee’s, it will certainly lead people to question the legitimacy of the eventual Chief Executive.

Chung also does not dismiss the possibility that his PopVote initiative may inspire mainlanders to attempt a similar referendum. The one-party communist Chinse state has not had free public elections in over 60 years.

Dixon Sing of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has also come under Beijing’s hammer. He has been labelled a “Western-trained vicious dog” for talking to independent media not affiliated with Beijing.

Sing expects the pressure on academics to stay silent on pro-democracy issues to continue over the next month.

“Beijing likes to impose a pseudo-democracy on Hong Kong by forcing pro-democracy scholars into silence and marginalising pro-democracy political parties,” said Sing to the Straits Times Indodesia. “We can expect Beijing to exert more pressure, as pro-democracy academics won’t succumb so easily.”

Both Chun and Sing also believe that stepping up attacks on Hong Kong’s scholars will further fuel a growing divide between Hong Kongers and mainlanders.

“There was a divide, but it wasn’t caused by us,” he said. “In fact, we have contributed ideas to address it. The messenger should not be cursed, but appreciated for identifying the problems.”

In recent weeks, the streets of Hong Kong have seen a series of initiatives that are unsettling to the Communist regime in Beijing. There was a full page colour advertisement depicting mainland tourists as locusts in the Apple Daily.

Other incidents include a Facebook campaign and protests to stop the huge influx of pregnant Mainland Chinese women from overrunning Hong Kong’s hospitals to secure welfare rights for their children, thousands turned out to protest against Dolce and Gabbana store’s favouritism to Mainland Chinese tourists, and hundreds protested against the plan to allow mainland cars into the territory.
While protests, rallies and political advertisements are often seen as indicators of a thriving democracy, in Hong Kong they are proving to be a thorn in Chinese Communist Party’s side.

Primarily, this is because the common denominator to each of the protests has been the anti-mainland sentiment.