China brooks no opposition in Hong Kong clampdown

China brooks no opposition in Hong Kong clampdown
Former Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (R) speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong on September 3, 2014. Tung supported the standing committee of China's rubber-stamp parliament who on August 31 ruled out public nominations for Hong Kong's next chief executive in 2017, with candidates for the city's top job to be approved instead by a Beijing-backed committee.

BEIJING - Beijing's denial of open elections for Hong Kong's next leader demonstrates the ruling Communist Party's desire for complete political control and its resolve to quash any opposition, whatever the cost, observers say.

The standing committee of China's rubber-stamp parliament on Sunday ruled out public nominations for Hong Kong's next chief executive in 2017, with candidates for the city's top job to be approved instead by a Beijing-backed committee.

The move by the National People's Congress (NPC) drew fury and pledges of a mass sit-in by Hong Kong's pro-democracy campaigners, who say Beijing is working to weed out any potential critics of the Communist Party.

But the authorities dismiss such protestations, insisting that a popular vote between the chosen contenders fulfils their pledge of "universal suffrage".

Some experts say any expectations Beijing would loosen its grip in the former British colony - where London appointed its leaders, and which returned to China in 1997 - were unrealistic in the first place.

The decision came as Chinese President Xi Jinping rolls out a national crackdown on dissent since taking office last year, with authorities suppressing online debate and detaining activists.

"The mainland has its view, which will not be shaped by the Hong Kong people," said Shen Dingli, a professor at Shanghai's Fudan University.

Mainland authorities, he said, "want to have a person that will listen to Beijing". The pro-democracy activists, he added, "cannot persuade Beijing, because these people don't listen to Beijing".

China's political system is controlled by the Communist Party, and while it has long permitted elections at the village level, it typically keeps a tight grip on the process, with approved candidates often running unopposed. There are no direct polls at higher levels.

The State Council, China's cabinet, reasserted Beijing's control over Hong Kong in a policy "white paper" in June.

Jia Qingguo, associate dean of Peking University's School of International Studies, said the NPC decision was "absolutely necessary" to end debate in Hong Kong.

"If the NPC makes its decision very clear, this will help stabilise Hong Kong," he said. "The NPC is China's most powerful organ, so when it speaks, it speaks with authority."

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