HONG KONG (Reuters) – As the dust settles on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy ‘Occupy’ protests, China is likely to embark on a sweeping but covert campaign across the territory’s judiciary, media and universities to ensure there is no recurrence, activists and politicians say.
The surprisingly resilient, 75 days of protest for a fully democratic vote to choose Hong Kong’s next leader was the most serious challenge to China’s authority since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations and crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
To ward off future protests, activists say Beijing’s rulers are unlikely to embark on a harsh response that could pose a risk to stability and prosperity in Hong Kong, a financial hub that is the gateway to the world’s second-biggest economy.
Alex Chow, one of the student protest leaders, said “Chinese methods” could be applied in Hong Kong, a term he used to refer to pressure, intimidation and coercion against government critics in China.
“How long can we maintain Hong Kong’s judicial independence?” Chow said at the protest site before he was hauled away by police as they cleared the main protest site on Thursday.
“We’ve already seen judges make decisions that have been highly contentious. Beijing might be able to put pressure on Hong Kong to charge us (the protest leaders) with more serious offences to shut us up.”
China rules Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems” formula which allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms in the territory not enjoyed on the mainland.
“The illegal ‘Occupy Central’ actions did not enjoy popular support,” China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said on Friday.
“(We) hope that all sides in Hong Kong society take this as a lesson, reflect on it coolly, further correctly understand and follow the ‘one country, two systems’ policy.”
Beijing has never publicly signalled any potential consequence of involvement in the protest movement.
But in June, it bluntly reminded Hong Kong in a cabinet-level White Paper that China holds supreme authority over the city.