By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ANKARA (AA) – "Inequities" in Hong Kong forced China to bring in structural changes, a policy adviser and commentator said.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Einar Tangen, host of "Tangen on China" show on Beijing-based broadcaster CGTN, said socio-economic disparity and public disorder in the semi-autonomous region made it necessary to bring about a change in the system.
Britain handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997 under the "one country, two systems" principle until 2047.
But after violent pro-democracy protests in 2019 following a bill that could have allowed criminals to be extradited to mainland China, Beijing stepped up its influence.
In July 2020, it passed a controversial National Security Law, and has now introduced a new election system.
Critics say the new measures are aimed ending parliamentary opposition, and asserting more control over the special administrative region. But Beijing argues that the changes are necessary to maintain order.
“When you look at Hong Kong, it is run for the benefit of 2 million or so people, many of whom are foreigners," said Tangen, who has advised governments in the US, South Korea and China. “They live literally at the top of the hill, while five million others live down below them."
He added: “There's not much industry in Hong Kong. They simply work in restaurants, hotels, shops … shops coincidentally owned by the largest families in Hong Kong – the big five – who also own the real estate and who have for years prevented more land from being sold … thereby driving up the prices."
According to Tangen, Hong Kong was seized from China in the mid-1800s by the British using “gunboat diplomacy.”
“The issue was the right of the British to sell drugs in China,” he said. “When the Ching Dynasty said no, you don't have that right, the British marched on Beijing and in the ensuing peace, they took Hong Kong in subsequent actions … they took more territory and at different times forced, literally, using guns to acquire longer leases."
He argued that the British instituted "limited democracy" in Hong Kong “shortly before it became clear that they would have to leave."
“This democracy heavily favored representatives from the business community … the rest were disenfranchised. Roughly 40% of the people could actually vote for representatives for themselves. The chief executive was not elected. They used the same committee structure that is in place now, only the number of people involved was smaller,” he said.
The recent amendments brought by China affect the method for the selection of semi-autonomous region’s chief executive, and the formation of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, or LegCo, and its voting procedures.
Under the new system, a new committee will vet all candidates for future Hong Kong elections, as part of steps that “will weed out any non-patriots.”
The LegCo will be expanded to 90 members, from the current figure of 70.
However, the number of people directly elected to the council will be cut down from 35 to 20, while 40 members will be appointed by the Election Committee and 30 coming from “functional constituencies.”
The committee will get an additional 300 members, raising its total number to 1,500. This is because "they thought it would be better to have more representation,” said Tangen.
About the extradition bill, and the protests that followed, he said the select few wanted to "jealously guard all of the freedoms that they have," which include “preferential policies."
“Not one dime of tax has ever gone from Hong Kong to the mainland. Contrary, all the money has gone from the mainland into Hong Kong," he claimed.
"Hong Kong itself is dependent on China. It is a two-way door financially and physically to come in and out of China for businessmen and individuals. If you look at Hong Kong's gross domestic product, its enormous. It's one of the highest in a per capita basis in the world."
He said this led to a situation where an average lower- and middle-class Hong Kong person working a job, even with his wife, “would have to literally not eat and save all of their money for over 20 years in order to afford a very, very small modest apartment.”
"The inequities that are there are really the fuel, which led to all this, and the reaction is against the erosion of their lifestyle,” he concluded.