Hong Kong's Moment in History

by Daniel Wagner Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions and author of "Managing Country Risk". 07.10.2014

The stunning events of the past week in Hong Kong are a reminder that the desire for basic freedom and liberty is a powerful aphrodisiac. The protestors appear mesmerized by what they have thus far accomplished -- and they should be. What is at stake is much more than simply the manner in which Hong Kong will be governed in the future -- it is about the longer term direction of China, the People's Liberation Army, and the Chinese Communist Party.

What is equally stunning is the time warp and apparent coma that the CCP appears to be in. To imagine that issuing edicts from Beijing will pacify the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong is to exhibit a complete and utter failure to grasp reality. Beijing clearly believes that the people of Hong Kong, who have lived with basic freedoms for generations, will sit idly by while those freedoms are gradually stripped from them. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Of course, Beijing fears that its own grip on Hong Kong will gradually be eroded, in return. As long as it attempts to govern as if today were the 19th century, that may indeed become true, and deservedly so. When will the CCP learn that if it wants to maintain its predominance in China, it must gradually lift its vise-like hold on the Chinese people.

As the economic and political aspirations of the Chinese middle class become even more pronounced in time, the CCP's ability to fulfill their expectations will become even more limited, as the gap between what the people want and what the government delivers, widens.

If the CCP was smart, it would change entirely the manner in which Hong Kong's chief executive is chosen, to give the people of Hong Kong genuine choice in the selection process -- and do it now. The current process is exactly what the protestors wish to change. Doing so would not only lend some legitimacy to Beijing, it would also send an important message to the Chinese people about the Party's willingness to compromise. In the absence of that, the very outcome it fears -- long-term political instability -- is instead likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy in due course.

That approach is unlikely, however. The CCP continues to see itself as a supreme being that can wave a wand over the Chinese people and expect them to snap to attention. The rest of the world is marching to another tune now. Unless Beijing truly is in a coma, it must realize that current global political sentiment is to oppose authoritarianism and embrace freedom.

This is an important moment in history. The Hong Kong protesters must stand their ground. This is not 1989, nor is it Tiananmen Square. The people of Hong Kong represent the future of China -- not the other way around.

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Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions, senior advisor with Gnarus Advisors, and author of the book "Managing Country Risk." - pictured first in the text.

You can follow Daniel Wagner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/countryriskmgmt

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