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2014-09-02

Hong Kong "Occupy Central" Protests Call for Political Freedom After China Rejects Open Elections

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Nineteen people were arrested in Hong Kong on Monday, one day after thousands protested calling for greater political freedom. The demonstration was organized by a group called Occupy Central after the Chinese government rejected demands for Hong Kong to freely choose its next leader in 2017. Under the new rules, Hong Kong voters will be allowed to choose the territory’s own chief executive, but all candidates must first be approved by a nominating panel. Activists fear the nominating panel will be controlled by pro-Beijing loyalists who will prevent opposition candidates from running. Protesters with Occupy Central are threatening to hold more demonstrations including a blockade of city’s central business district. We speak to Hong Kong legislator Claudia Mo, a former journalist who helped found the Civic Party.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to China, to Hong Kong, where 19 people were arrested Monday, one day after thousands protested calling for greater political freedom. The demonstration was organized by a group called Occupy Central a day after the Chinese government rejected demands for Hong Kong to freely choose its next leader in 2017. Under the new rules, Hong Kong voters will be allowed to choose the territory’s own chief executive, but all candidates must first be approved by a nominating panel. Activists fear the nominating panel will be controlled by pro-Beijing loyalists who will prevent opposition candidates from running.

Protesters with Occupy Central are now threatening to blockade Hong Kong’s central business district. Hong Kong was under British rule for over 150 years. In 1997, it returned to Chinese rule but has operated under different economic and political systems than mainland China as part of a policy known as "one country, two systems."

To talk more about the protests, we go to Hong Kong to speak with Claudia Mo, a Hong Kong legislator, founding member of the Civic Party, former journalist. She attended the protests on Sunday.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Claudia Mo. Tell us why the protests.

CLAUDIA MO: Well, China has practically shut the door on Hong Kong’s political reform, and instead they’ve announced this framework under which they will screen out any election candidates Beijing finds undesirable, unwanted by Beijing. This is fake democracy. We cannot accept any fake democracy. It’s going to be like North Korea. So, well, we have to take to the street to protest. And we’re fighting this battle, and we’ve been doing it for years and years. We may not win. We haven’t won it yet. But we will fight on.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong disrupted a speech by the senior Beijing official, Li Fei, of China’s National People’s Congress. They chanted slogans, waved placards accusing Beijing of breaking its promise to allow Hong Kong to select its leaders directly. After the protests stopped, Li Fei continued to defend Beijing’s position.

LI FEI: [translated] The goal of the nomination committee is to reduce the risks involved in universal suffrage. One, it reduces the risk of political confrontation. Two, it cuts the risk of a constitutional crisis. And three, it minimizes the risk of populism.

AMY GOODMAN: In mainland China, attitudes about the events in Hong Kong are reportedly mixed. On China’s Twitter-like platform, Sina Weibo, some users have criticized protesters in Hong Kong for pushing for democracy now, rather than while under British colonial rule. One user wrote, quote, "I just want to ask Hong Kongers: how is it that during British rule you didn’t ever bring up the 'one person, one vote' demand for Hong Kong’s Governor?" Could you respond to that, Claudia Mo?

CLAUDIA MO: Yeah, I mean, it’s a permanent question, but it’s also very ridiculous. It’s a no-brainer, really. When Hong Kong was under colonial rule, it’s colonialism. What do you expect? We are under—living under somebody else’s roof, right? It’s a colony. So, that’s it. And I have to add that the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, actually did a very good job about fighting for more democracy for Hong Kong at that time. But anyway, these days, after 1997, we’re supposed to come under "one country, two systems," and we’re supposed to enjoy a high degree of autonomy, i.e. except for defense, except for diplomacy. Hong Kong people should be allowed. We’re supposed to enjoy our own autonomy. We can decide on our future, etc. But Beijing now has turned back on its own word. It’s practically telling Hong Kong that it’s got complete jurisdiction over Hong Kong. "And democracy? We want to give you that much." It’s that much. And if we don’t like it, the idea, at all, that’s it. "That’s all you can get." And this is not fair. And I think the U.K. government, in particular, should at least say something. I know there’s very little that London can do, but it’s a moral obligation on London’s part that they should at least tell China not to go back on its word.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what Occupy Central is and talk about its plans to blockade the central business district of Hong Kong, Claudia Mo?

CLAUDIA MO: Yeah, Occupy Central, this idea, I think it was sparked by Occupy Wall Street. And, well, it’s not quite—what we’re fighting for is not exactly the same. In America, you’re fighting against a sort of established capitalism and vested interests, "greed is good" and so on and so forth. But in Hong Kong, we’re fighting against this established political might called the Chinese Communist Party. And we use the Central district, which is our CBD, as the equivalent, and we’re going to be there to, well, I mean, sort of block traffic and—not exactly to try to scare Beijing, but to show the rest of the world, the international community, that we have loads of grievances, particularly on this political front, and we need international attention on our plight.

AMY GOODMAN: What exactly are you calling for, Claudia Mo?

CLAUDIA MO: We are not pro-any Western country. We are pro-universal human rights. We’re just asking for the basic, not just "one man, one vote" kind of election, but we have genuine choices of candidates. Beijing can handpick a couple of candidates, or maybe three, up to—candidate A and then B and then C. All their appointees, it’s all Beijing’s loyalists, Beijing lackeys, basically. And you ask Hong Kong people to vote, and you claim it’s "one man, one vote," and you can pretend that Hong Kong is running, enjoying some kind of democracy. I don’t want to particularly sound grand, but all democrats in Hong Kong, we realize we’re answerable to history, and we’re responsible for our next generations. If we cannot get genuine democracy at this stage, we’d rather keep the status quo, and we’ll soldier on.

AMY GOODMAN: Claudia Mo, Hong Kong legislator, Civic Party founding member, attended the protests on Sunday, former journalist. Thanks so much for joining us, speaking to us from Hong Kong.

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