Pro-democracy activists swarm Hong Kong on anniversary of Chinese takeover

BY Ruth Tam  July 1, 2014 at 3:37 PM EST
Activists in Hong Kong march in demand of greater voting rights. Photo by Flickr user larique

Activists in Hong Kong march in demand of greater voting rights. Photo by Flickr user larique

At the peak of a stifling hot Tuesday, a historic number of Hong Kong activists marched more than three miles in support of elections free from Chinese oversight.

Protesters gathered at Victoria Park, where annual vigils for the Tiananmen Square victims are held, and walked west to the city’s central financial district. Several of the activists were among the 787,767 participants of an unofficial referendum calling for candidates for Hong Kong’s leader be nominated by the public instead of Chinese officials.

Beijing-allied authorities have characterized the referendum as unlawful. In response, the pro-democracy group threatened a sit-in of the city’s financial district if the existing government fails to provide basic voting rights.

Under China’s “one country, two systems” rule of law, Hong Kong was grafted into China in 1997, yet allowed autonomy. But a “white paper” from Beijing has recently clarified that this autonomy is not “full” autonomy:

Today’s march was peaceful, but frustrations over Hong Kong’s Chief Executive have been simmering for years. In 2012, Beijing-backed Leung Chun-ying won 689 votes from 1,193 society representatives to become Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. These representatives are largely business executives and existing politicians with connections to mainland China.

For the tens of thousands of Hong Kong activists, this authorized autonomy falls far short of real democracy. While participants (ranging from 98,000, according to police, and 510,000, according to organizers) hope they will be able to choose their own leadership by the 20th anniversary of China’s takeover in 2017, mainland China representatives assert that only leaders who “love the country and love Hong Kong” should be on the ballot.