China Uncensored: The Real Reason Hong Kong Never Had Full Democracy

November 24, 2014 Updated: December 16, 2014

Did Hong Kong have democracy during the 150 years it was a British colony? No, no of course it did not. So why are the students protesters of the Umbrella Movement suddenly protesting for democracy in Hong Kong? Isn’t the very limited democracy Beijing is giving Hong Kong still more than the British ever gave them?

That’s at least one argument being made against the pro-democracy movement of Hong Kong. In the early 1990s, the last British governor Chris Patten pushed for elections in Hong Kong that allowed Hong Kong citizens to elect half of their Legislative Council. But that is of course beside the point.

This argument is best summed up in an editorial by China’s state-run People’s Daily: “It was only after the handover—and thanks to none other than the Chinese central government’s diligence—that Hong Kong could begin to hope that within just two decades it would get to elect its chief executive through universal suffrage. Who has the real democracy, and who has the fake democracy—compare the two and judge.”

Article Quote: The Real Reason Hong Kong Never Had Full Democracy

Surely those arguments are indisputable. Yes, the democracy the People’s Daily is talking about involves Hong Kong residents getting to choose between candidates Beijing selected. But isn’t that still more democracy than the British Empire ever gave them?

Well, that might be true, but only because the Communist Party threatened to invade Hong Kong if they ever did move toward democracy. You see, in the 1950s, the British colonial government actually wanted to implement democratic elections in Hong Kong. But the Party made it very clear that would not be tolerated.

According to recently declassified British diplomatic dispatches, China has had a long history of squashing democracy in Hong Kong. In 1958, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai responded to the idea that Hong Kong could become self-governing by calling it “a plot or a conspiracy” that would be regarded as an “unfriendly act.”

Article Quote: The Real Reason Hong Kong Never Had Full Democracy

Then in 1960, a senior Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, Liao Chengzhi, said, if the British gave voting rights to Hong Kong, “We shall not hesitate to take positive action to have Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories liberated.” Courtesy of the People’s Liberation Army.

So if they were ready to invade, how come they never did? How come the Chinese regime preferred a British-run Hong Kong? According to these documents, it’s because they wanted the Brits to keep the economy going so the Party could “trade and contact people of other countries and obtain materials.” It was pretty clear that the communist economic policies of the times were, well…there’s a reason the years between 1959 and 61 were called the Great Famine. They wanted Hong Kong’s economy as strong as possible, not “in a state of ruin.”

And what happened when the two countries were negotiating the return of Hong Kong to China in the 1980s? Chinese officials continued to threaten the U.K. to make sure it maintained Hong Kong’s status quo. And when Patten tried to introduce democratic elections in the 1990s, one Chinese official called him a “serpent,” and a “prostitute for 1,000 years.”

Article Quote: The Real Reason Hong Kong Never Had Full Democracy

There’s an old Chinese saying, “the mountains are high and the emperor is far away.” A democratic, economically independent Hong Kong could give ideas to its neighbors in the mainland, like Shenzhen. (That’s where your Apple computers are made.) Not only is it an economic powerhouse in its own right, the whole Guangdong province is already linked by the same language as Hong Kong. And it’s pretty far from Beijing. If the Party ever started to lose its grip on China, it would probably be here first.

So let’s recap. The People’s Daily asked us to compare two governments. Let’s see, on one hand, British officials repeatedly tried to introduce democracy and self-rule to Hong Kong. On the other hand, Chinese officials repeatedly threatened to invade Hong Kong if that happened. Which one offered real democracy? Tough choice.

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Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.