China opens the doors to a ‘mysterious’ office — but still reminds Hong Kong who’s boss
The gulf between the interests of a massive state governed by a single party intolerant of dissent and a small, increasingly polarized territory proud and protective of its legal and free-speech traditions make Beijing’s task difficult.
China is “trying to get people in Hong Kong to fall in line without appearing as overbearing,” said Steve Tsang, director of the London-based SOAS China Institute.
“The problem really is that the way they are doing it will still be seen by people in Hong Kong as actually quite overbearing,” Tsang said. “And there’s practically no way of avoiding that.”
As part of the deal brokered between China and Britain for Hong Kong’s return, the territory was guaranteed certain rights and freedoms enshrined in a charter known as the Basic Law, with the system said to be secure for 50 years.
The central government, however, has been widely seen as eroding that regime.
Events came to a head during civil unrest and street protests in 2014 sparked by demands for more democracy in Hong Kong. Those were ultimately quashed by local authorities, exposing fissures within the territory over relations with the central government.
“The problem is they have very few tools or capability to influence a lot of Hong Kong opinion,” Summers said.
“People certainly don’t think something just because someone from Beijing says that’s what they should think,” he said, stressing that opinions in Hong Kong have become increasingly polarized on how to deal with Beijing.
Tsang said that Chinese authorities, who make no distinction between self-determination and independence, should avoid overreacting to calls for more of a say that have arisen since the 2014 crackdown.
“The more Beijing tries to actually control Hong Kong more tightly, the stronger the reactions they will find from the local political activists,” he said. “And Beijing does not understand that or accept that.”