Thousands of Student Protestors March on Hong Kong's Business District

In the latest flare-up of tension between residents of Hong Kong and the Chinese government, an estimated 50,000 protestors have gathered in the city’s central business district to protest China’s proposed plan to vet candidates for Hong Kong’s 2017 Chief Executive elections.

Earlier in the year, Beijing announced in a white paper that all candidates for the upcoming elections of Hong Kong’s leader will be approved by a Communist Party nominating committee. This enraged democracy advocates in the Asian financial hub, and a staggering 160,000 people took to the streets in July to demand greater autonomy from Beijing.

With the ebb and flow of protests in the following months, Hong Kong’s most prominent business leaders, including Li Ka-shing, severely condemned the protests, warning that any disruption of the status quo in Hong Kong could stifle tourism and threaten the city’s status as a stable international financial center. The current rush of students and activists on Hong Kong’s financial district is the largest since the July pro-democracy marches, and in addition to clogging public transport, the protests risk easy escalation — police have already arrested over 60 people in the past two days, and have had to use pepper spray to subdue certain protestors.

Beijing so far has sent only thinly masked messages to the residents of Hong Kong stating that the city’s government derives power not from its own pseudo-constitution, but from China’s Communist Party. These same messages purport that China “unwaveringly supports Hong Kong’s democratic development.”

Hong Kong will continue to operate under the “One Country, Two Systems” method of government until 2047, at which point the city will fall under the rule of the Communist Party. What happens between now and then — the elections, Hong Kong’s and China’s own relation reforms, and China’s policy adjustments towards capitalism and governmental transparency — will indicate what kind of transition Hong Kong will experience.

While the complete unification of Hong Kong and mainland China remains far off on the horizon, the upcoming elections, and more pressingly, the official reaction to growing civil unrest, will be a closely watched signal of whether the “world’s freest economy” will eventually be swallowed up into the politically and economically opaque mainland, or whether Beijing’s ongoing political and economic reforms will make for a smooth assimilation.

While tensions are high at the moment, China's ongoing economic liberalization efforts and anti-corruption campaign both point to Hong Kong remaining a success story in the long-term despite these political spats, though quelling protestors and keeping confidence high in Hong Kong in the meantime should be Beijing's top priority.

-Mitch Lagrasta