Unrest in Hong Kong

Hong Kong was promised universal suffrage by 2017 under the Basic Law, a mini-constitution in effect since the official handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The Chinese National People’s Congress is expected to endorse a framework for the first direct vote by a Chinese city to choose its leader. However, it is feared that Beijing will filter out any candidates deemed unacceptable. Only two or three nominated “patriotic” candidates, who are backed by at least 50% of the 1,200 elite “nominating committee” members, will stand for election. Pro-democracy activists and many locals are increasingly concerned about the growing influence of China on Hong Kong’s media – and in June, China published a “white paper” on Hong Kong which sparked concern by suggesting that Hong Kong judges needed to be “patriotic”, raising questions about judicial independence.

HONGKONG JULY PROTESTFormer head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen (centre), 82, took part in a ceremony urging people to vote

Thousands protested in Hong Kong on Sunday against a Chinese plan for electoral reform that would prevent critics of Beijing from running for chief executive in the former British colony.

The FT reported in July that pro-democracy group Occupy Central ran an unofficial 10-day poll offering three different options for how a candidate for chief executive might be chosen. Beijing described it as “illegal”. Organisers put the total number of votes cast just short of 800,000, 22% of Hong Kong’s registered voters.

Hong Kong geared up for street protests on July 1 – a national holiday; campaigners were pressing for the direct election of the next leader by the public. The organizers estimated that 510,000 people took part; the crowd was fluid, with a continuous stream from Victoria Park to the heart of downtown for nearly eight hours.

HONGKONG JULY PROTEST crowd

Earlier, the FT reported that the big four global accounting companies took out press advertisements in Hong Kong stating they are “opposed” to the territory’s democracy movement, warning that their multinational clients may quit the city if activists carry out threats to disrupt business with street protests.

After a devastating account of the misdeeds of the ‘Big Four’ all over the world, Prem Sikka, Professor of Accountancy at the University of Essex added: “these adverts show the length to which big accountancy firms go to cultivate profitable relationship with authoritarian regimes”.

Kenneth Leung, a Hong Kong lawmaker representing the accountancy profession, said that it was “not a tradition” for Hong Kong’s business people to involve themselves in politics: “I was shocked to see that advertisement. The big four’s partnership and management have no interest in local politics or political debate at all. It’s mainly about their commercial interest and operation in [mainland] China.” Ernst and Young, KPMG, Deloitte and PwC all declined to comment.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists plan to blockade the city’s Central business district in the coming weeks and public broadcaster RTHK said 5,000 police will be deployed for the “Occupy Central” protest; the city’s 28,000-strong police force is already on high alert. 

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