China puts its foot down, but will Hong Kong obey? ProbablyBy Andrew Stevens, CNNUpdated 0807 GMT (1507 HKT) September 4, 2014Just WatchedHong Kong denied full democracy by ChinareplayMore Videos ...Hong Kong denied full democracy by China 06:03Story highlightsBeijing recently said no to Hong Kong voting for its leaders without approvalOne pro-democracy leader in Hong Kong admitted support for their campaign may be slidingIn 1997 Hong Kongers were frantic to get a passport before China reclaimed the territoryOthers talked about Hong Kong helping to encourage democracy in the mainlandBorrowed place, borrowed time. That was the mantra in Hong Kong as the clock ticked down to the British colony being handed back to China in 1997. And as the handover loomed, Hong Kongers were frantic to make money to get a passport before the communist mainland reclaimed the territory. They feared an end to the free-wheeling ways of capitalism where money brought power, prestige -- and if needed, an escape route. But there was a small, vocal minority who talked instead about the tail wagging the dog. Far from being subsumed by China's political system, Hong Kong would in fact lead it towards democracy. Why? Because, if this handover worked, it could lure a much bigger prize in the form of Taiwan. If democracy, prosperity and personal freedoms flourished in this territory, Taiwan could be induced to rejoin China after its seminal split in 1949.Opinion: Why Beijing is courting trouble But events of the past week have been a watershed in Hong Kong's political development. The ultimate goal of universal suffrage -- one person, one vote -- has been subverted. Yes, there will be one person, one vote, but Beijing has said they want to control who Hong Kong's voters are allowed to vote for. Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosPhotos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosAugust 31: Protesters denounce China's ruling – Hong Kong protesters denounce the Chinese government on August 31, 2014, after Beijing announced candidates for Hong Kong's next leader must be approved by a Beijing-backed committee.Hide Caption 1 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosAugust 31: Protesters denounce China's ruling – Hong Kong protesters say the Chinese government's proposal breaks the promise of full universal suffrage for Hong Kong, as agreed upon in 1997 when the British handed Hong Kong back to China.Hide Caption 2 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosAugust 31: Protesters denounce China's ruling – Police ready for demonstrations on August 31, 2014, following an announcement from Beijing that Hong Kong will not have fully open elections.Hide Caption 3 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosAugust 17: Anti-Occupy Central march – Tens of thousands of people marched through Hong Kong on Sunday, August 17 in support of China and to protest Occupy Central, a pro-democracy movement that says it will plan to stage a civil disobedience sit-in unless the Chinese government allows the Hong Kong public to nominate and vote for its next leader.Hide Caption 4 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosAugust 17: Anti-Occupy Central march – A group of pro-China protesters marches in downtown Hong Kong on August 17. Local media accused organizers of paying people to participate in the Anti-Occupy Central protest.Hide Caption 5 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched during a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong on Tuesday, July 1, to express frustration over the influence of Beijing on the city. More than 500 people were arrested during a sit-in after the march.Hide Caption 6 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – Demonstrators staged a sit-in on Chater Road in Central district after the march.Hide Caption 7 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – Policemen began clearing out protesters from the sit-in after midnight.Hide Caption 8 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – Demonstrators lingered in Central district the night after the march.Hide Caption 9 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – Protesters hold props as they marched on a street during the annual pro-democracy protest.Hide Caption 10 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – Organizers said 510,000 demonstrators marched, while police counted 98,000 people.Hide Caption 11 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – During the march, Joshua Wong, 17, the founder of pro-democracy student group Scholarism, announced he would stage an illegal sit-in on the night of July 1. "I may get arrested tonight. Will you all support me?" he yelled to the crowd.Hide Caption 12 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – A river of protesters, wearing white T-shirts to show their support for democracy, flowed through Hong Kong's Causeway Bay. Police counted more than 98,000 participants.Hide Caption 13 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – Demonstrators walked through downtown Hong Kong.Hide Caption 14 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – Rain poured down upon protesters intermittently throughout the day. Hide Caption 15 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – As rain begins to come down on the protesters, umbrellas fly open.Hide Caption 16 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – Policemen stood guard in front of a store in the Central district of Hong Kong during the rally.Hide Caption 17 of 18Photos: Political protests in Hong Kong 18 photosJuly 1: Rally draws mass crowds – Tens of thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong's Victoria Park before the march begins.Hide Caption 18 of 18EXPAND GALLERYJust Watched Beijing: No open elections in Hong KongreplayMore Videos ... Beijing: No open elections in Hong Kong 02:29PLAY VIDEOJust WatchedDemocracy for Hong KongreplayMore Videos ...Democracy for Hong Kong 01:39PLAY VIDEOChina's leadership has made it crystal clear that any form of democracy will only come attached to very powerful Chinese characteristics.Hong Kong's first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, who stepped down early after massive protests against his leadership, this week called Beijing's move towards democracy "real and substantive." It's hard to see how. If anything, Beijing has slammed the door on a true democratic process, one that allows anyone to stand for election.Hong Kong's pro-democracy politicians have said they will veto any proposal that doesn't allow for full suffrage, leaving the Special Administrative Region back at square one. Muted reaction Yet Hong Kong has hardly exploded in anger or frustration. In fact the reaction has been almost muted.Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a protest group committed to true universal suffrage, had threatened a campaign of bringing business in downtown Hong Kong to a standstill if China didn't allow for a more democratic process.In June, it conducted an unofficial referendum on the issue. Nearly 800,000 people out of a population of seven million took part despite, or perhaps because of, repeated and sophisticated cyber-attacks and overt criticism from Beijing.But the strategy of trying to win concessions from Beijing failed. And in an extraordinary admission just after Beijing made its ruling on Sunday, a leader of the Occupy movement, Benny Tai, in an interview with Bloomberg, conceded support for their cause was sliding."The number of people joining us (for a long-planned sit-in protest) will not be as big as we expect, because of the very pragmatic thinking of Hong Kong people," he admitted.Read: Hong Kong activists: Democracy isn't dead In many ways it comes back that same mindset in the run-up to the handover. Pragmatism wins over idealism. Before 1997, the pragmatists were doing what they could to have a Plan B -- a way of getting out of Hong Kong if they needed to -- or working hard to ingratiate themselves with Beijing.Game of 'chicken' Today they are apparently not prepared to take on Beijing in an eyeball-to-eyeball standoff. As David Zweig, a professor of political science at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said, "If this was a game of chicken, the mainland has said: 'we'll drive straight through this' and Occupy Central has pulled aside and replied, 'we aren't willing to destroy Hong Kong.'"But it may not be over yet. Hong Kong street demonstrations have a habit of morphing into a general protest against a range of issues from politics to working conditions to environmental concerns. Economics remain a powerful driving force. If the economy starts to fade, if unemployment starts to rise, it can become a catalyst for a much broader range of protesters. 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