In 1989, millions of democracy and labor activists and other citizens throughout China demanded reforms. The leaders responded with tanks and violence and then attempted to silence demands for political reform with the benefits of economic liberalization. What the Chinese people got are unsustainable and inequitable development, growing social conflicts, and massive environmental and human costs.
Today, 25 years later, the people of Hong Kong are standing up and demanding that Beijing deliver on its “one country, two systems” promises. They are rejecting the August 31, 2014 decision of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on the “selection” of the Chief Executive, which requires candidates to be endorsed by a majority of a Beijing-controlled nominating committee. In the face of threats and Beijing’s hardline stance, the students, supported by Hong Kong labor unions and the public, have resorted to civil disobedience—class boycotts and peaceful sit-ins—to press for meaningful universal suffrage.
With developments still unfolding, one thing is clear: the people of Hong Kong have already succeeded in putting a spotlight on the anti-democratic nature of the current regime.
Leaders in Beijing now face a historic test and a historic opportunity to advance genuine social stability and democracy in Hong Kong. Will they make the same tragic mistake again or demonstrate true leadership by listening to the voices of the people?