Who Loves China?

NEW YORK – Tens of thousands of people have been “occupying” the tear-gas-filled streets of Hong Kong’s Central district to fight for their democratic rights. Many more may soon join them. Though some businessmen and bankers are annoyed by the disruption, the demonstrators are right to protest.

China’s government has promised Hong Kong’s citizens that they can freely elect their Chief Executive in 2017. But, given that candidates are to be carefully vetted by an unelected committee of pro-Chinese appointees, citizens would have no meaningful choice at all. Only people who “love China” – that is, love the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – need apply.

One can almost understand why China’s leaders should be baffled by this show of defiance in Hong Kong. After all, the British simply appointed governors when Hong Kong was still a crown colony, and nobody protested then.

Indeed, the deal that Hong Kong’s colonial subjects appeared to accept – leaving politics alone in exchange for the opportunity to pursue material prosperity in a safe and orderly environment – is not so different from the deal accepted by China’s educated classes today. The common opinion among British colonial civil servants, businessmen, and diplomats was that the Chinese were not really interested in politics anyway; all they cared about was money.