Hong Kong’s stunning election result was never going to go down well in Beijing. Now, the Chinese government has responded.
Beijing has responded to Hong Kong’s stunning landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates by reiterating that the city will always belong to China.
So far there has been no official statement from the Chinese government on the results, which saw a massive swing against pro-Beijing candidates in the southern territory.
But speaking from Japan, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said: “No matter what happens, Hong Kong is part of China. Any attempt to mess up Hong Kong, or even damage its prosperity and stability, will not succeed.”
Hours after Mr Wang’s comments, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang launched a fresh attack on the protest movement, although he did not address the results directly.
“The most urgent task for Hong Kong at present is to stop violence, control chaos and restore order,” Mr Geng said, according to state media reports. “The Chinese government is unswervingly determined to safeguard national sovereignty, and to oppose any interference in Hong Kong affairs by external forces.”
China’s state media has been largely silent on the election results. State media agency Xinhua reported that the votes had been counted, but did not detail the results, instead reporting that “rioters harassed patriotic candidates” and that the “most pressing task for Hong Kong at present is still to bring the violence and chaos to an end and restore order”.
The hawkish Global Times newspaper claimed “Western forces” had been supporting the opposition.
HOW DID HONG KONG VOTE?
Voters turned out in record numbers to give Hong Kong democrats a major boost, with pro-democracy candidates victorious in 347 of the 452 district council seats up for grabs.
A total of 17 of the 18 district councils are now controlled by pro-democracy councillors, while only one — the Islands district — remains in pro-Beijing hands.
Pro-Beijing seats won 60 seats, while independents — many of them pro-democracy — got 45.
The election yesterday saw an unprecedented 71 per cent turn out, with 2.94 million voting compared to 1.4 million in 2015.
The results were seen as a stinging rebuke of Ms Lam’s leadership and Chinese influence in the territory. In an online statement, she said she respected the result.
Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam says her embattled government will “seriously reflect” after local elections gave massive gains to pro-democracy candidates.
Ms Lam said many felt the results reflected “people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society”.
The government would “listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect”, she said.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR HONG KONG?
On the surface, the results may not look like much in pragmatic terms. The territory’s district councillors have little political power and largely focus on local issues, such as transport and rubbish collection.
But councillors also get to choose people to sit on the 1200-member committee that selects Hong Kong’s chief executive, who is then officially appointed by the Chinese government.
The results mean all of those 117 seats will likely now go to pro-democracy candidates, which will give them stronger sway over that decision, set to be made in 2022.
This could, in other words, officially mark the beginning of the end for Ms Lam, and will likely force the central government in Beijing to rethink its handling of the unrest.
The result also marked the first official opportunity for people to express their dissatisfaction with the Beijing-appointed leader.
Until this point, the Hong Kong and Chinese governments had been banking on a “silent majority” taking to the ballot box to express their disapproval for the pro-democracy protests, which have gotten increasingly violent over the past five months.
Instead, high-profile pro-Beijing candidates lost their seats, which were given to the activist movement.
WHY IS HONG KONG PROTESTING?
The Hong Kong people have been protesting for six consecutive months, since June 9.
The demonstrations started as a protest against a proposed extradition bill that would see criminal suspects sent to China, but have since become more widely about opposition to the mainland’s growing political influence.
When Hong Kong was handed over from Britain to China in 1997, it was agreed the territory would maintain its unique freedoms and civil liberties for the next 50 years — a deal the protesters believe has not been honoured by Beijing.
The protesters believe China has gradually whittled away liberties since the handover, including by suppressing the “Umbrella Movement” in 2014 and by kidnapping five Hong Kong booksellers.
With the ongoing protests, they are now pushing for the right to elect their own government, for an independent commission to investigate police brutality, and they want the territory’s leader, Carrie Lam — who was hand-picked by the Chinese government — to resign.
To date, Beijing has showed no signs it may soften its stance on the former British colony.