Wednesday May 27, 2020


October 3, 2014

This week, Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors took to the streets, occupying the city’s financial and political centers in Mong Kok and Admiralty. This round of protests began September 29 in response to Beijing’s August announcement that it will allow universal suffrage for Hong Kong in the 2017 election for its chief executive, but only on the condition that the candidates are first vetted by the Communist Party. The protestors argue that in attempting to exert control over Hong Kong’s elections, Beijing is overstepping its bounds as set by the “one country, two systems” policy. The movement, called Occupy Central With Love & Peace, attracted tens of thousands of people at its height, clogging the main shopping and tourist district and blocking transportation thoroughfares.

When police responded to the demonstration by lobbing tear-gas canisters into the crowds this past Sunday night, even more impassioned citizens joined the ranks of protestors, angered by what they considered the violent reactions of police to a peaceful protest. However, as the week draws to a close, Occupy Central appears to be losing momentum. Many of Hong Kong’s citizens returned to work on Thursday after the three-day holiday celebrating the China’s National Day. More left on Friday after Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung announced he would be willing to engage in talks with protest leaders. Although, he said he would not resign as the movement demanded. Student leaders are struggling to show they have control of the situation, particularly as clashes on Friday between Occupy protestors and those against the movement illustrated the protests may not have the overwhelming level of popular support the protest leaders claim.

Hong Kong’s protests have inevitably led to comparisons to the 1989 Tiananmen incident. Certainly, no one sees the specter of Tiananmen more clearly than Xi Jinping. With China firmly in the international spotlight and facing internal strife in Xinjiang, the Party cannot risk violence or coming across as overly forceful in its handling of Hong Kong. Taiwan factors heavily into Beijing’s decision-making as well. Xi Jinping has offered to accept Taiwan formally into the nation under the “one country, two systems” policy that governs Hong Kong, allowing Taiwan to keep much of its autonomy. Understandably, the Taiwanese people have not been impressed by recent events in Hong Kong.

No one really expects Beijing to make concessions to the protestors. Doing so would make the Party appear weak and perhaps encourage similar movements on the mainland in the future.  Beijing does not want to set a precedent for negotiation. On the other hand, to strike the protests down would be to invite international condemnation from western democracies, the United States in particular. While China and United States may not have the warmest of relationships, China will not risk alienating the largest economy in the world lightly. Yet, Beijing won’t have to worry about coming down too hard, or even taking any specific action at all, if its current strategy of waiting out the protestors works, as analysts and scholars seem to believe it will.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the best case scenario for Occupy Central may be to continue peaceful occupation until the movement gradually peters out. Reporter Steve Tsang writes that “rather than implicitly arguing with protesters about goals everyone knows are unobtainable, the government and protesters alike should focus on the more pressing issue of preserving the right to protest.” In this way, protesters can feel as though they have made progress on the democracy front, and the government can come away looking reasonable and as strong as ever. This peaceful outcome seemed possible after Thursday night, when student leaders agreed to engage in talks with Chief Executive Leung and protestors headed home.

However, Hong Kong citizens who had previously stayed out of events made themselves known on Friday when they confronted the protestors in an attempt to dismantle their blockade in Mong Kok. Many Hong Kong residents, especially business owners, see the protests as a disruption and a danger to Hong Kong’s prosperity.  To them, the city’s prosperity and growth is a sign of a system that works. The demonstrations, having already cost the city millions in retail sales and left many children and adults unable to attend school or work, threaten to break that system.

The presence of these anti-Occupy protestors and their attempts to pull down Occupy tents has led to small scuffles and confrontations between the two groups. It has also encouraged pro-democracy supporters to return to the site of the demonstration in a show of support for the movement, swelling the ranks of protestors once again. The presence of these opposing groups makes the situation much more volatile, and a peaceful atmosphere much more difficult to maintain. It has also sparked anger in the pro-democracy protestors towards Hong Kong authorities, who they accuse of failing to protect protestors from the anti-Occupy crowd. As a result, one of the student groups leading the protests has gone back on its agreement to meet with Chief Executive Leung to work out a solution.

For now, the Chinese government and the Occupy Central protestors seem content to play the waiting game. The best that either side can hope for is that cooler heads prevail.

For more information on this subject, consult the following sources:

Al Jazeera – “Hong Kong protests dwindle after talks offer”

BBC- “Hong Kong protests: Did China go back on its promises?”

BBC – “Hong Kong protests: Student leaders postpone talks”

Bloomberg – “Violence in Hong Kong Spirals as Protesters are Besieged by Foes”

China Daily“Hong Kong Chief Executive calls for peace after clashes”

CNN “China’s Hong Kong dilemma”

CNN “Protest group ditches talks with Hong Kong government; calls for more protest.”

Market Watch “Hong Kong protests, as seen by Chinese mainlanders”

People’s Daily“HK protests challenge supreme power organ”

Slate “The World’s Politest Protesters”

The Diplomat“Amid Violent Clashes, Hong Kong Government Tells Protestors to Disperse”

The Wall Street Journal “A Feasible Goal in Hong Kong”

The Wall Street Journal “Tiananmen Lessons Offer Perspective in Hong Kong”

The New York Times “Hong Kong and Tiananmen Protests Have Major Differences”

The New York Times – “Protest Camps in Hong Kong Come Under Assault”

Time “Government Waiting Game Tests Resolve of Hong Kong Protesters”

Time – “Hong Kong Stands Up”

USA Today “Hong Kong protesters shelve crisis talks with government”

Xinhua “Critics lash out at protestors for jeopardizing HK’s future”

China Daily (中国日报) – “港媒:三项决策及时有力 香港市民应予全力支持“

People’s Daily (人民日报)“国平:为香港特区政府守护法治点赞”

The New York Times (纽约时报中文网)“梁振英拒绝辞职,政务司长将与学生对话”

Xinhua (新化) – 梁振英吁市民不应使用暴力或破坏社会秩序

Compiled and edited by Molly Bradtke.