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A succession of Chinese leaders from Mao zedong (far left) to Hu Jintao (far right).

Hopes and fears

The fears of Hong Kong citizens lie within the hopes of the Chinese population. I made this discovery when I…

By Aaron Tam , in A Lighter Shade of Red: Hong Kong politics , on February 5, 2009 Tags: ,

The fears of Hong Kong citizens lie within the hopes of the Chinese population.

I made this discovery when I was having dinner with a friend of mine, Junning from Kunming, China.

“Do you think that China will have universal suffrage within your lifetime?” I asked.  Junning’s answer was completely unexpected: “Yes.”

A succession of Chinese leaders from Mao zedong (far left) to Hu Jintao (far right).
A succession of Chinese leaders from Mao zedong (far left) to Hu Jintao (far right). Photo by !/_PeacePlusOne

To him, it was quite simple.  The future changes in leadership will bring about new ideas and will provide for a natural departure from the country’s conservative past.

Junning argues that China’s modern history has progressed towards a more liberal society.  “Look at the Cultural Revolution, that was Mao’s doing, Tiananmen was Deng Xiaoping.  Now, the two latest presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, they’re opening up China’s economy.”

According to Junning, the next generation of Chinese leaders will be a lot different than the ones preceding them.  “They will be more liberal,” he said.

Ever since that conversation a week ago, I couldn’t get over the fact that he was that optimistic about the political situation in China.

My pessimism is derived from the Communist Party’s efforts to continually push back the date of universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

Having been pushed back from 2012 to 2017, the issue of Hong Kong’s universal suffrage will be the major political issue that will be dealt with by China’s future generation of leaders.

With pressure from Beijing, many in Hong Kong fear that universal suffrage will go unrealized even with new leadership.

However, if things in the political realm turn out the way Junning expect them to go, then Hong Kong will act as successful model for Chinese democracy.

In this scenario, the new generation of liberal leaders of China will speed up the process of political reforms in Hong Kong.  The city would then translate into a test bed for Chinese democracy.  Sooner or later, universal suffrage would be implemented in China.

There however, aren’t many signs pointing in this direction.

My greatest fear as a Hong Kong resident is that I won’t have a place to call home 38 years from now.

2047 is the year that marks the end of the ‘one country two systems’ arrangement.  This treaty is the reason why pro-democracy advocates can still push for universal suffrage and for journalists, to be critical towards the government without the fear of prosecution.  Without it, Hong Kong’s legal, political and economic qualities will be no different from any other large city in China.

The success of Hong Kong’s proposed 2017 vote will depend on the next chief executive’s ability to win over both the majority of the legislative council and future CCP leaders.  Here is where I wish that Junning’s predictions would be realized.

For now, we can only wait and see.