China's Answer to the Hong Kong Crisis Must Be Political Reform | Opinion

China's answer to the Hong Kong crisis must be political reform

In its political strategy in Hong Kong, the Communist Party of China (CCP) is in the middle of committing a grave mistake. Their errors stem from a misunderstanding of the situation they are in and an underestimation of the people of Hong Kong. The survival of Hong Kong now depends on removing the two key things obstacles any progress: the violence of the police and the refusal of the CCP to admit that this not a simple insurrection but a complex political problem, for which the CCP has to take full responsibility. If the CCP don't admit complicity in what is happening, levels of violence and danger will continue to increase and no solution will be possible.

The protests were sparked by the extradition law currently on hold because of the tension – but the issues in Hong Kong amount to a much greater political crisis: the governmental structure of Hong Kong is on the verge of collapsing. Activists in Hong Kong are questioning the accountability of the government, the corruption of the police, and the bureaucratic futility of the CCP's Hong Kong Liaison Office. In short, the so-called "One Country Two Systems" policy which promises both stability and democracy is now facing self-defeat. Far from mere riots or a conspiracy by independence activists or criminals (as the CCP have claimed,) these protests are a genuine symptom of a system in crisis.

Specifically, the CCP representatives responsible for monitoring and influencing politics of Hong Kong fail to understand Hong Kong and its people. This is especially true about the Hong Kong Liaison Office, which has been suspected of having initiated the mob attacks on protesters in Yuen Long on the 21st July. If they thought they will defeat the protestors in Hong Kong in the same way they pacified revolts in the villages in Canton and elsewhere, with threats and violence they instead created sabotaged their own cause by indelibly allying pro-China patriotism with outright gangsterism.

This error join a string of missteps that together have led to the discrediting of the Hong Kong Police, HKSAR and the CCP. The only responses these official institutions have issues in the past month is a constant and delirious denial of the current crisis and an attempt cast themselves as victims in order to criminalize and demonize protesters. The Hong Kong Police in particular will not soon shake off the jarring contrast between their violence against the protesters, and their conspicuous absences during the mob attack against the protestors.

CCP officials watching from afar in the North appear to believe that Hong Kong citizens still live in their colonial past and are manipulated by the USA. This idea is bolstered when both the very visible British colonial flags and the American stars and strips flags appear during the demonstrations. Using this as evidence, many claim that the fights for freedom and democracy on the part of Hong Kong citizens are mere expressions of superiority over the mainlanders grounded in their colonial complex and their belief in Western capitalism as preferable to the Chinese mode of government.

This is another serious error. The truth is that the governance of Hong Kong has been in slow implosion since the 1997 handover and the solution that the CCP promised has now proven to be a failure. Most young people risking their life on the frontline and carrying British flags were born after the handover and have never experienced the colonial era. What they have witnessed in the past decade is corruption of governance, collapse of political promises, tightening of control, and the stagnation of democracy. The British and American flag then, serves less as a symbol of the UK or the West and more a symbolic reminder of the failure of the CCP and the HKSAR government that it appointed.

The only way to resolve the current crisis is a political reform which has to be initiated by the CCP itself. President Xi Jing Ping must understand that persistent confrontation will lead only to a deeper impasse and that the social, political and economic damages will be irreversible. The Hong Kong government will have to respond coherently to the key demands of the protesters, including an official withdrawing, rather than witholding, the extradition law, and appointing independent investigation committee into the violence of the police and the irresponsible officials. Both, obviously, are above the Hong Kong government's pay grade and will have to be authorized by the CCP.

In the short run, though, the legitimacy of the Hong Kong government now depends on stopping the violence of the police and then getting the CCP to reverse its line about the political convulsions being a mere uprising or disorder. Political reform doesn't mean a defeat for the CCP: on the contrary, it would allow China to maintain its integrity and respond to the democratic demands of the 21st century.

Alfie Bown is lecturer at Royal Holloway University London. He writes for The Guardian, The Independent and other places and tweets at @leftist_gamer.

Mou Ming is a writer from Hong Kong.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own.​​​​​