MERICS Blog, European Voices on China, Header


When Hong Kong voters take to the ballots to elect their parliament, they are bound to change the political dynamics between their city and Beijing. No matter which camp wins, tensions in Hong Kong are likely to flare up again.

Blog Image: Protests in Hong Kong
image 1

This year’s Legislative Council elections are the first since the Umbrella Revolution rocked Hong Kong in 2014. The protests of many tens of thousands have mobilized an entire generation against what is perceived as a Beijing-controlled city government. Outbreaks of violence between protesters, Hong Kong police and mysterious agents-provocateurs rumoured to have been sent in by Beijing left the city’s political atmosphere tense and unstable: in February 2016, riots in Mong Kok left 130 protesters and 90 police officers injured.

Some of the political momentum has resulted in the creation of new, Beijing-sceptic parties, whose goals reach from electoral reforms and universal suffrage to more autonomy from Beijing or even formal independence. But even if some of these ‘localist’ parties win seats – which according to rolling polls conducted by Hong Kong University is not unlikely – their rise would not necessarily weaken the dominance of the pro-Beijing camp which is  ‘built into’ Hong Kong’s rigged voting system.

Instead, it might have just the opposite effect: in the current LegCo, the three largest pro-Beijing parties hold more seats than all nine parties of the pan-democratic camp combined. As support for the localists is likely to come from former supporters of the more moderate pan-democratic parties, the rise of new players such as Demosistō or Hong Kong Indigenous may further balkanize the pan-democratic camp and indirectly strengthen the pro-Beijing camp.

If localist candidates win seats, they will take the pro-independence agenda into the Legislative Council. This would severely strain the relationship with Beijing, which does not want to see pro-independence forces gain this new platform. If the pro-Beijing camp carries the day and tries to translate its success into reforms that would further restrict Hong Kong’s freedom and independence, we can expect a strong backlash within the city from a population that is already angry about excessive interference from Beijing. Either way, Hong Kong is heading for an escalation of existing tensions.

Image in preview by Studio Incendo via Flickr/ CC BY 2.0