In what many see as as an attempt to reassert control over semi-autonomous Hong Kong, China’s mainland government this week released a policy paper arguing that Hong Kong’s independent streak is a threat to China’s national security, as well as its economic and political strength.
Beijing’s release of the white paper Tuesday prompted thousands of Hong Kong residents to take to the streets, where they burned copies of the document and called for greater autonomy from China’s central government.
The British handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, but the city has been allowed to remain a special administrative region exempt from many of China’s anti-democratic laws until 2047, under a policy known as “one country, two systems.”
Tensions have grown in recent years between the government in Beijing and Hong Kong, where citizens can elect some leaders leaders through voting, and where there are extensive freedoms of expression and the press.
Later this month, the activist group Occupy Central plans to hold more protests focused on the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive, who is seen by some as too closely aligned with Beijing.
Beijing's white paper echoes what some Chinese leaders have been saying for years: that while Hong Kong is free from some of the mainland’s constraints, those freedoms are controlled by China’s politicians.
“The high degree of autonomy enjoyed by Hong Kong is subject to the central government’s authorization,” the paper reads. “There is no such thing called ‘residual power’ for the special administrative region.”
The paper also warned that if Hong Kong allowed itself to stray too far from mainland policies, it could open itself up to “outside forces” who could meddle in the affairs of Hong Kong and China.
"[Beijing is] trying to scare Hong Kongers into silence," Occupy Central organizer Benny Tai Yiu-ting told the South China Morning Post as he protested outside the office of Beijing's liaison to Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Protesters may have a tough road ahead in Hong Kong. Despite increasing support for democratic reforms, the city’s large international business community largely sides with the government, seeing the protesters as a potential threat to commerce.
Several of the city’s billionaires as well as foreign business associations took out an ad in local newspapers Wednesday, pleading with Occupy Central to rethink its plan to blockade central Hong Kong later in June.
"Occupy Central could potentially cripple commerce in the Central Business District, impacting small local businesses and large multinational operations," the ad said.
Al Jazeera and wire services