Hong Kong Activists To Counter China's Electoral Interference

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Don Gonyea talks to Anson Chan, former chief secretary of Hong Kong, about China exercising control over Hong Kong's next leadership election. Pro-democracy supporters are outraged.

DON GONYEA, HOST:

When Hong Kong was handed back to China from the United Kingdom almost two decades ago, Beijing promised to guarantee autonomy and basic freedoms to people living there. Now China is trying to limit democracy in Hong Kong. China's legislature has ruled that only candidates who have their approval can run for the territory's highest political office in the next election; that's in 2017. Democracy supporters have vowed to fight the ruling. One of them is Anson Chan. She served as chief secretary, the second-highest political post in Hong Kong, under both British and Chinese rule.

ANSON CHAN: I would like to see us exercising a free choice. I would like to see Beijing deliver on its promise to the people of Hong Kong, which is every person has the right to vote and to stand for election. And the nomination has to be through a democratic process.

GONYEA: But even within the democratic activist community, I understand there are very different points of view about how to push back against these changes coming from Beijing?

CHAN: The moderates who were advocating engagement and dialogue have had all their hopes dashed. This latest decision from the standing committee makes a mockery of the so-called consultation and negotiation. So those who are advocating more extreme action, I'm afraid, are going to garner support from a community that is fed up. We've waited for universal suffrage, and it doesn't look as if we're going to get it in 2017.

GONYEA: Many democracy activists are threatening, as you said, civil disobedience. Some are calling for the shutdown of the financial center. They want to push back hard, peacefully, against the changes that the government is making. There's one prominent group - Occupy Central. Their name, of course, comes from the Occupy movement in this country. Would you advise them to approach things the way they are?

CHAN: The government has deliberately demonized the entire Occupy Central movement. You had it in your country - has it really paralyzed the country? Of course not. But the government was determined to make a monster out of Occupy Central, even though the architect stressed it is civil disobedience. It will be done in a peaceful manner.

GONYEA: What interest does China, the government, have in engaging with moderates or anyone from this movement?

CHAN: Well, I don't think they are in a frame of mind to engage at all. They are determined to show they are the master, they are the parent and they're telling Hong Kong, forget about one country, two systems and the promised degree of higher autonomy. We're telling you now that what little autonomy Hong Kong enjoys, it's for us to give and take away at our leisure.

Now I want to ask, is America and the rest of the world going to stand by and see China get away with this? If China doesn't honor its international obligations to Hong Kong, can the rest of the world expect China to honor its obligations to your country? I think the rest of the world should see Hong Kong in this framework of a larger picture.

GONYEA: You have a long history in Hong Kong. You've worked with your counterparts in China. What do you think it'll take for there to be some sort of a meeting of the minds here, if it's possible at all?

CHAN: Well, I'm afraid not until and unless China realizes that the best way to create true harmony and stability is to be supporting community aspirations and to acknowledge that in Hong Kong, we have been ready for democracy for a long, long time. Why don't you simply just trust Hong Kong people to do the right thing? And I can guarantee you if you give us the vote tomorrow, we will elect a chief executive who can, on the one hand, work with Beijing, but on the other hand, be seen in the eyes of Hong Kong people to be defending one country, two systems, protecting the rule of law and our rights and freedoms.

GONYEA: Anson Chan is former chief secretary of Hong Kong. Thanks for joining us.

CHAN: Thank you.

GONYEA: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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