- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

The Chinese Communists have decided that enough is enough in Hong Kong. Last Wednesday, Beijing ordered a naval battle group into Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor for the first time since the colony’s 1997 handover from Britain. Made up of two submarines, four frigates and two destroyers, the group of warships sailed slowly through the world’s busiest port and passed the skyscrapers of Asia’s economic hub. Hong Kongers crowded the shoreline to gawk unbelievingly at a show of force that could only mean one thing: Beijing is threatening the use of military force to kill Hong Kong’s yearning for democracy.

Over the past few months, Communist rulers from the mainland have made it increasingly clear that they will not allow the people of Hong Kong to choose their own government representatives any time soon. On April 26, Beijing ruled out universal suffrage for chief executive in 2007 and the legislature in 2008. One mainland official said direct elections might not be possible until 2050. On Saturday, Beijing went so far as to state that the Hong Kong legislature did not even have the right to debate or consider resolutions regarding the topic of direct elections.

The release by Beijing’s Hong Kong representative said that “any move by Legislative Councilors in Hong Kong to advance motions to voice discontent or condemn the April 26 decision is against the law … [It] cannot be questioned or challenged.” Both sides of the argument concede that this statement makes clear that the Communists are willing to arrest pro-democracy politicians for speaking out in favor of reforms. Reformers are planning to appeal their to case to the courts, but the Communist leadership clarified a month ago that Beijing was the final arbiter of all legal disputes pertaining to Hong Kong’s constitution, the Basic Law.

Pro-democracy demonstrations have been growing for more than a year, with some protests bringing out as many as half a million people — a huge percentage for a city of 7 million. Discontent is likely to grow as the People’s Republic continues to clamp down. Pressure has already been applied to businesses that oppose Beijing policies. For example, Chinese companies and businesses with large contracts in the mainland have boycotted advertising in Hong Kong’s influential pro-democracy Chinese-language newspaper, the Apple Daily.

Thousands of Chinese pro-democracy activists disappeared in 1989 when the Communists sent in tanks to break up peaceful demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The world, which hoped that Chinese economic reforms were leading to a more open political system, was shocked. After living under the peaceful and prosperous rule of the British Empire for 150 years, Hong Kongers believed that Beijing would never use the military against them, especially given their business ties to the West. The Chinese battleships that sailed through Hong Kong Harbor last week have many in Hong Kong fearing that they were wrong.

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