Hong Kong: As protests continue, will civil unrest spread to mainland China?

Jason Hollands, managing director at Tilney Bestinvest, says Yes.

Sympathy with the Hong Kong protesters is likely to be in short supply on the mainland (residents of the territory are often seen as privileged), but the standoff presents a real dilemma for the Communist Party, which is going to extraordinary lengths to prevent the news from reaching mainland cities.

Greater economic freedoms and the spread of wealth in China have led to pressure for more political, personal and religious freedoms, with rising reports of industrial and political dissent.

If the authorities are seen to buckle and give way to full, un-tampered democracy in Hong Kong, this will undoubtedly embolden dissidents on the mainland, especially at a time when Chinese growth is slowing.

Through the prism of China’s one-party state, this will be seen as a long-term existential threat to Communist rule.

There’s a clear historical correlation between rising affluence and the urge for personal and political liberty. Why would China be any different?

Shaun Breslin, professor of politics and international studies at the University of Warwick and an associate fellow at Chatham House, says No.

Despite its economic success in recent decades, there’s a considerable degree of discontent in mainland China, which is often manifested in protests.

But they are typically responses to low-level issues, like local officials seizing land and selling the leases to new bidders. It’s not the system that’s seen to be failing, but “bad” officials.

Hong Kong is different.

The focus of the protests is the vetting and pre-selection of potential candidates for the 2017 chief executive elections, and the feeling that Beijing’s promises have been broken.

Frustration with China is manifest in the growing resentment towards mainland Chinese tourists, derogatorily referred to as “locusts”. But the protests are about more than just one issue – they are about the very nature of Hong Kong’s politics under Chinese sovereignty.

That makes them different from Chinese protests, and also much more difficult to resolve.

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