Few things ruffle the Beijing regime’s feathers more than the idea of universal suffrage in Hong Kong. Beijing’s regime may tolerate Hong Kong’s capitalist reality in a business context, but the idea of a free election in Hong Kong is an anathema to it. When Christopher Patten, Hong Kong’s last governor-general before China’s takeover, loosened restrictions for the election of the 60 legislative council members, China’s state media accused Mr. Patten of trying to sabotage Hong Kong’s integrity and stability. When Hong Kong’s citizens went to the streets to demand a general election of their own Chief Executive and legislative council members, the communist-controlled media called the demonstrators "unpatriotic (traitors)."
The 1984 Sino-British Declaration, a treaty registered with the United Nations, guarantees Hong Kong with a "high degree of autonomy" except in foreign affairs and defense. The Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, empowers it to work out how the council members are elected after 2007 on its own. Of course, Beijing has its own interpretations and repeats two mantras through foreign ministry spokespeople: "Hong Kong’s elections fall entirely within China’s sovereignty. Hong Kong’s affairs are China’s internal affairs." Indeed, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress has already said no to universal suffrage in 2008.
In recent years, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China on July 1 has become an annual event for Hong Kong’s citizens to call for the free elections of their own leaders. The plot thickened when the pro-democracy faction won 114 seats on the Election Committee of the Chief Executive on December 10, 2006. Under the Basic Law, one must receive at least 100 nominations from the Election Committee to be eligible to run for the Chief Executive position, so this marks the first time that it could be filled by someone not designated by Beijing.
It is highly unlikely that Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp will succeed in winning the upcoming election, since a vast majority of the 800 members of the Election Committee were designated by the mainland and remain loyal to Beijing’s communist government. By stacking the Committee, Beijing’s communist regime has all but ensured that the Chief Executive will continue to be under its firm control. However, the recent development has emboldened Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists and sympathizers, which in turn could have ramifications for its mainland counterparts. With more support for Hong Kong’s efforts toward democracy from all corners of the world, universal suffrage may come sooner rather than later.