Hong Kong’s district council polls last Sunday have dealt Beijing a demoralising blow. While Communist China does not care for democracy, it had accept a certain democratic basis in Hong Kong as this was part of the package under which the island, then under British rule, was returned to China in 1997.
It’s too early to say if the council poll results would lift the morale of the protesters and Beijing’s resisters in other parts of its Communist empire where the politburo — even under President Xi Jinping, who is acquiring a halo like Mao — finds itself embattled, as in Xinjiang and Tibet. It’s also yet to be seen to what extent, if any, the Hong Kong poll results would influence Beijing’s attitude toward Taiwan, which it regards as a breakaway province.
Beijing’s backers in Hong Kong were given a thrashing in the polls, especially by young voters, and the poll outcome has for the first time since 1949, when Communist power became victorious in China under the legendary Chairman Mao, put Beijing in direct confrontation with the beast called democracy.
Out of 452 seats, the Beijing lobby could win only 58 — and the polling percentage was as high as 71, the highest ever. In short, these polls have turned out to be a referendum on the six-month violent protest by pro-democracy elements.
The elections should not have mattered but for the backdrop of the fierce pro-democracy movement. District councils look after parks and local buses, and their polls are harmless things. But not this time. Should Beijing negotiate with the winners (and possibly embolden them) or crack down hard? The world is watching. China may at best hope that Hong Kong’s spirit does not catch on in the mainland.