- - Thursday, July 4, 2013

About 430,000 Hong Kong residents braved heavy rain Sunday to demand the direct election of local leaders. Demonstrators filled the main streets in defiance of the Chinese communist government.

The pro-democracy protest was held the day of the 16th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China from British colonial rule, as well as China’s most political national holiday — the birthday of the Chinese Communist Party, founded in 1921 under the aegis of Vladimir Lenin’s Communist International in Moscow.

On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China after 155 years of British rule. According to a negotiated document known as the Basic Law, Hong Kong would enjoy basic freedoms as they existed under British rule, but without true democracy.

Beijing insists that the chief executive of what it is now called the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region would be “elected” by an elite committee of 400 to 1,200 members. Many of these committee members are business tycoons whose commercial and political fate is in the hands of Beijing, and the “elected” chief executive must be approved by China’s government.

While Hong Kong continues to enjoy a high degree of economic freedom, many residents are pessimistic about eroding press freedom, growing intimidation by the Chinese government, and increasing self-censorship and restraints against many of Hong Kong’s basic rights.

Many regard the direct election of political leaders as a guarantee of continued prosperity, confidence in Hong Kong’s future, and true autonomy and independence.

To counter the eruptive surge of popular protest, Beijing and pro-China Hong Kong officials organized an all-out campaign that consisted of events to illustrate how much the Hong Kong people love the motherland and the Chinese Communist Party.

Officials said 220,000 Hong Kong “patriotic residents,” about half the number of the demonstrators, took part in all the government-organized events celebrating the return of Hong Kong to China.

An elite unit of the Chinese army in Hong Kong wanted to send a message too: The army opened for public viewing all weapons storage sites, including several Type 056 warships that had been dispatched to Hong Kong for the occasion — a major show of force.

FOREIGN COMPUTER CONTROL

Bolstered by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s disclosures about surveillance programs, the Chinese government announced that it is now time to play the victim of international cyberintrusions: Beijing claims that millions of mainframe computers inside China are “controlled” by foreign countries.

“According to statistics, in 2012 alone, about 14.2 million Chinese mainframe computers were controlled by foreign countries,” government spokeswoman Hua Chunying said June 28 during a Foreign Ministry news conference. “These computers under attack not only impacted a large number of Chinese Internet users but also pertained to sectors such as finance, transportation and energies, which has greatly harmed the economic development and people’s normal life in our country.”

The assertion comes as nearly every Western country accuses China of having the world’s most active cyberarmy attacking the West’s economic, defense, energy and security infrastructure. For years, China has been unable to provide any meaningful rebuttals to such charges.

The Snowden disclosures have given Beijing an opportunity to counter evidence of its hacking empire.

Ms. Hua implicitly attacked the U.S. in her remarks: “We, the Chinese side, hope that a certain relevant foreign country would stop issuing irresponsible attacks and accusations against China, but instead it should correct its own mistakes by taking specific actions to promote mutual trust and cooperation, jointly maintaining peace and security of the cyberspace.”

The official China Daily put it more bluntly: After the Snowden disclosures, U.S. accusations of Chinese hacking have become “a case of the thief crying ‘Stop! Thief!’”

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @yu_miles.

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