Hong Kong's 'Eternal Theme'

The operating assumption about China's Communist Party is that it will do anything to stay in power - even if it means catering to capitalists who want popular calls for democracy royally squashed.

On Monday, Beijing leaders told the people of Hong Kong - who thought they had a right to elect their chief executive - that universal suffrage is ruled out. Such a "political experiment," said Chinese Vice-President Zeng Qinghong, is too high a price to pay when Hong Kong's "eternal theme is developing the economy."

Hong Kong's business leaders readily admit they fear that direct elections would just lead to higher taxes. And under the Beijing-controlled electoral system in place since China took over from Britain in 1997, business "representatives" are ensured a set share of seats in a compliant legislature.

"Without protecting the balanced participation of the business sector, the original capitalist system in Hong Kong cannot be ensured," Qiao Xiaoyang, deputy secretary general of the Standing Committee of Beijing's National People's Congress, said on Monday. Hong Kong's democrats walked out on Mr. Qiao as he made his announcement, while Hong Kong's tycoons cheered him on.

China has taken a strategic gamble, both in Hong Kong and on the mainland, that the Chinese prefer prosperity over rights and stability over volatile democracy - even though recent polls and protests in Hong Kong, and elections in Taiwan, tell them otherwise.

Beijing makes a similar assumption in its difficult dealings with Taiwan and the United States. It regularly pressures foreign investors from those two countries to speak up on its behalf to influence their (elected) leaders to be more pro-China.

Co-opting capitalists has become a central theme for the Communist Party as it tries to make China rich. The party recently changed its rules to embrace capitalist entrepreneurs as members.

With communism itself now widely unpopular and discredited, the party is forced to defend its hold on power by keeping the economy humming (with occasional appeals to nationalism by bashing the US or Japan).

Hong Kong is a keyhole to see China's future, and it looks very dark.

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