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CHINESE PUZZLE

It is not easy to make sense of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Now, Beijing has offered what is being derisively called “democracy with Chinese characteristics”. In plain terms, though, the decision by China’s National People’s Congress about electoral reforms for Hong Kong is against all democratic norms. Beijing has stuck to its position that the candidates for the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive officer in 2017 will have to be chosen by a simple majority in the nominating committee and not through an open vote. Since the nominating committee is packed with Beijing loyalists, only a candidate of its choice can be elected to the post. Pro-democracy groups in the former British colony wanted an open vote on the basis of universal suffrage. The decision of the NPC, which is nothing but the rubber stamp of the ruling communist party, has angered Hong Kong’s democrats, but it could not have surprised many. Few among them had expected Beijing to choose a different course. Important Chinese leaders have alleged that ‘foreigners’ were trying to use the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong in order to infiltrate and destabilize the Chinese mainland. There was enough indication from Beijing that it would not make any real concessions to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy groups.

The big question now is how Beijing faces the consequences of its own decision. It is possible that the clamour for electoral reforms will actually grow louder in Hong Kong. The pro-democracy groups have threatened to stall life in the city with its ‘Occupy Central’ programme. It is not just a question of massive disruptions in the international financial services that give Hong Kong its lifeline. The situation could get much worse than that if the Chinese leadership uses force to put down the protests in Hong Kong. The patrolling of the city’s streets by units of the People’s Liberation Army in the past few weeks sends out ominous signals. Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, is known to have no love lost for political reforms. But he will also have to deal with international criticism of his actions in Hong Kong. In the United Kingdom, for instance, China is being increasingly censured for ‘violating’ the provisions of the Sino-British joint declaration regarding Hong Kong’s political future. How Mr Xi meets the challenge in Hong Kong could prove to be a measure of his leadership.