Pro-democracy protestors took to the streets of Hong Kong on July 1 marching for universal suffrage, the right to vote.
This came on the back of an informal referendum held by pro-democracy group Occupy Central in which nearly 800,000 Hong Kong residents voted to make the process of selecting top officials in the 2017 election more democratic.
Beijing is willing to let Hong Kong elect its next Chief Executive but from a list of candidates that it chooses, which is far shy of the democratic election that Hong Kong residents want.
The protests also came after the release of a 14,500 word white paper from the State Council Information Office in China in June, that stated that there are “many wrong views are currently rife in Hong Kong” as concerns the “one country, two systems.”
Protests on the first of July are not uncommon in Hong Kong. but it was the sheer scale of these protests that drew a lot of attention.
The number of protestors hit 510,000 according to the organisers, but officials put the number closer to 98,000. And police arrested 511 people at an overnight demonstration.
Possibility of Chinese military involvement
Even as the protests have abated, there have been concerns that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could intervene in Hong Kong to maintain the peace.
Bill Bishop, author of Sinocism, told Business Insider he didn’t think a PLA intervention was a “low military event” because it “would have significant consequences in Taiwan and it would destroy business and investor confidence in Hong Kong.”
While it doesn’t seem that the Chinese military would step in now, it doesn’t mean that Beijing isn’t taking serious note.
“Beijing is also acutely aware that if Hong Kong were to go completely democratic, there will be other states within the realm who will also ask and or demand the same,” Arthur Dong, professor of strategy and economics at Georgetown University told Business Insider in an email.
“If it were only about HK this would be an easy thing to resolve. Policymakers in Beijing are worried about the big picture implications of liberal statehood for Hong Kong. If push came to shove, I wouldn’t rule out a greater show of force from the PLA in Hong Kong.”
Economic discontent in Hong Kong
One of the themes to emerge from these protests has been the growing economic discontent among Hong Kong residents. “The discontent is attributed to many causes including the flood of tourists visiting from the mainland who some have said impacted the quality of life for Hong Kong-ers for the worse,” Dong said.
“In addition to that, the crowding-out of the real estate market as investors from the mainland have pushed up property prices making an unaffordable city more so as housing gets further and further out of reach for average families. The crowding out of places in Hong Kong universities by mainland applicants has also been a source of tension as demand for college education far exceeds the available supply in Hong Kong.”
While the protests aren’t expected to bring about a lot of political change, “there could be a greater focus on economic issues (Beijing tends to see social disorder as a result of economic problems),” Alaistair Chan at Moodys told Business Insider. “So greater efforts to improve housing affordability, reduce income inequality etc could be seen.”
While the mass protests may have abated for now, Hong Kong’s demand for universal suffrage will likely continue.