Since the end of last month, hundreds of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of Hong Kong to protest the Chinese government’s attempts to maintain its stranglehold on political authority there.
In 2017, Hong Kong is set to choose a new chief executive in the first ever democratic election for that position (all the chief executives up to now have been directly appointed by the Chinese government).
The only problem: Beijing wants the power to “vet” any and all candidates for the position, which would basically allow them to get rid of any candidates that they think might cause trouble for them.
Getting rid of this stipulation is the main goal of the protestors, but another one of their goals is to oust Hong Kong’s current chief executive Leung Chun-ying (CY Leung), who was hand-picked by the Chinese government in Beijing.
The protestors say that Leung is a Chinese puppet who cares little for the plight of the average Hong Kong citizen. Comments he made in a recent interview seem to completely validate that claim.
A few days ago, Leung gave an interview to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times at his official residence in Hong Kong (an ornate, colonial-era mansion complete with stone lions at the front).
In the interview, Leung stated (quite bluntly) that he thought allowing all of Hong Kong’s voting population to directly nominate candidates for the chief executive position was a mistake. Here’s his justification:
“If it’s entirely a numbers game—numeric representation—then obviously you’d be talking to half the people in Hong Kong [that] earn less than US$1,800 a month. You would end up with that kind of politics and policies.”
Leung was nominated to his position in 2012. In an attempt to further explain how preventing direct elections would somehow produce a more “broadly representative” government, he described how the selection process worked.
The selection committee is made up of 1,200 of Hong Kong’s most prominent citizens. Within the committee there are a number of subgroups that represent different segments of society: business, religion, economics, etc.
One of those subgroups represented Hong Kong’s sports interests. In his interview, Leung talked about how he had to woo the 20 members of this committee to win the 2012 nomination, and then said,
“If it was an entirely universal suffrage election, then the sports community would not count, they would not feature on my radar screen.”
I’m not sure if Leung actually meant to imply that sports are more important than the poor people who make up half of Hong Kong’s population, but that’s definitely how it came off to many of the protestors and those who support them.
Leung’s harsh comments shocked a lot of people, but those familiar with the social and economic dynamics of Hong Kong aren’t all that surprised.
Economic inequality is more drastic in Hong Kong than anywhere else in the developed world.
Despite the fact that Hong Kong has one of the largest and most lucrative financial sectors on the planet, a full third of its population lives in public housing, and one in five people there lives below the poverty line.