What is Next for Hong Kong Protesters?

The July 1 protest march in Hong Kong was one of the largest in the territory’s history, with up to half a million people participating. Many protesters were students and young people who have previously not been politically active in Hong Kong. With growing concern that the 2017 election for chief executive needs to be more democratic, many people in Hong Kong and mainland China are wondering what is next for the nascent protest movement. Keith Bradsher of the New  York Times reports:

The protesters did not resort to violence, which would have given the local government a pretext to respond much more firmly and probably would have hurt broader public support. But at an overnight sit-in after the march, the police removed and arrested 511 protesters in less than four hours — a brisk pace suggesting that they may be ready to respond to the larger sit-ins that some democracy advocates are contemplating for this year.

But while the protesters disproved government warnings that their activities would lead to chaos, their civil behavior could also lead to an impression that they are manageable, which could limit the pressure they are able to bring to bear.

The youthfulness of the demonstrators may also make it harder to reach any compromise with the local government and its backers in Beijing. The main question is who can run to become the territory’s chief executive in the next elections, in 2017. That issue was front and center for Tuesday’s march, as was the subject of an informal vote last month in which nearly 800,000 Hong Kong residents participated, and which Beijing dismissed as illegal. [Source]

While more than 500 participants were detained, some protesters expressed optimism that their peaceful manner would attract more supporters in Hong Kong. From Ned Levin, Chester Yung, and Edward Ngai of the Wall Street Journal:

Participants in the sit-in on Central’s Chater Road, organized by the pro-democracy Hong Kong Federation of Students, said that despite the arrests they felt encouraged by the demonstration, which they deemed a success.

“We are more hopeful now,” said Jack Lee, a Hong Kong University student who participated in the Chater Road protest but wasn’t arrested. “We have sent a clear message to all Hong Kong people, that civil disobedience can be peaceful and rational.”

“It’s certain that we can win more support from this,” Mr. Lee said. [Source]

At Time, Emily Rauhala reports that the protests are the culmination of growing frustration at the lack of progress in a number of areas since China took over control of Hong Kong in 1997:

The hundreds of thousands who marched on July 1 — some are calling it Hong Kong’s biggest political protest in a
decade — are left wondering just how long they will have to wait before somebody asks them how they would like to shape their city’s future. They are frustrated with a lot of things, from land-use policy, and a border with mainland China they regard as far too porous, to freedom of the press, appalling income inequality and a lack of social mobility — the latter an especially distressing development for a people raised on entrepreneurship and the examples of the city’s rags-to-riches billionaires.

Most of all, these politically sophisticated and well-educated citizens are outraged that they still have to agitate for these issues to be addressed, instead of being allowed to resolve them through a genuinely democratic legislature and through a leader who has a popular mandate. Nearly 800,000 Hong Kongers vented their constitutional frustrations in a recent informal, civil-society backed poll on how the city’s top official, known as the chief executive, should be elected. (The post is currently filled by a 1,200-strong electoral college of mostly pro-Beijing voters.) Local authorities refused to recognize the results. China’s state-backed press dismissed it as a farce.

The July 1 protest was meanwhile largely peaceful, though it ended with the arrest of several hundred people, mostly students, who occupied parts of the city’s financial district overnight. The Hong Kong government struck a cautious response, telling media that it respected people’s right to protest, but holding firm against the idea of allowing the public to nominate chief-executive candidates in 2017 — a key demand of many demonstrators but a red line for Beijing. [Source]

While some viewed the police response as “cautious,” others believe it reflects an inability to manage larger protests that may come in the future. From Emily Tsang and Jessie Lau at the South China Morning Post:

[Deputy secretary- general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students Chan Shu-fai] said the alleged maltreatment of protesters had laid bare the police’s lack of manpower and the force’s lack of ability to handle larger scale civil disobedience actions.

Chan and other student leaders were arrested for unlawful assembly and for aiding and assisting an unlawful assembly.

Eric Lam Lap-chi, a Kwai Tsing district councillor, said officers grabbed him by the neck and twisted his wrists as they dragged him away at about 3am, leaving him with scratches and bruises.

By 10.30pm yesterday, all of those detained were released with 25 given bail and 486 given warnings. [Source]

The rising political frustration in Hong Kong has been accompanied by a growing animosity between local Hong Kong residents and mainland visitors, which has been made evident during recent well-publicized conflicts between members of the two groups. At Bloomberg, Adam Minter writes:

Hong Kong’s camera-toting vigilantes remain perpetually vigilant for uncouth mainlanders worth shaming online. The most notorious of these videos emerged this spring, showing a mainland child urinating on a Hong Kong street. The subsequent, predictable debate became so heated, and the hate so palpable, that People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, offered an exasperated editorial calling for both sides to calm down. It was a good idea. But about six weeks later, China issued an official policy paper reminding Hong Kong’s residents that their rights exist only insofar as China grants them.

Tuesday’s massive pro-democracy protest was in direct response to that paper and was assuredly political in nature. But if the spark was provided by China’s attempts to control the city’s politics, years of accumulated social resentments are fuel. It’s a toxic combination, with no apparent solution. Even if China’s leaders offered Hong Kong total independence, the culture war would continue. [Source]

Mainland media, for its part, has condemned the protests and insisted that forces loyal to Beijing must run Hong Kong. Propaganda officials even ordered deletion of two music videos of songs that have become emblematic of the protests.

Read more about the rally, and about the Occupy Central movement which organized the referendum, via CDT.

July 2, 2014 8:47 PM
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