Hong Kong Protesters Seek a New Strategy
Following a February 1 protest march, which drew a smaller crowd than expected, participants in the Hong Kong movement that occupied public streets for more than 70 days this fall have sought new ways to engage a public that many say are suffering from “protest fatigue.” For Forbes, Bong Miquiabas reports that police took a firm position on the February 1 gathering before they even started:
Without precedent, the Hong Kong police told rally organizers they had to arrange their own security beforehand to prevent the occupation of streets afterward. If they failed to comply, organizers risked prosecution.
Organizers cried foul, and a rep from Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, an independent NGO that observed the rally, called the stipulation “absurd and unreasonable.” Ultimately, it went unenforced and nobody occupied.
Police estimated that up to 9,000 people marched. Organizers counted 13,000. All agree turnout was lower than expected. Some cited “protest fatigue.” An aversion to arrest or conflict also might have blunted participation. Hong Kong is witnessing a rising intolerance of disagreement. [Source]
The fall protests focused on new rules which would allow election of the chief executive by universal suffrage, but only after all candidates were approved by a panel aligned with Beijing. AFP reports that now protesters have to decide how far they will carry their demands:
The city is now divided over whether to accept Beijing’s version of universal suffrage – which will go before Hong Kong lawmakers this year – and hope for improvements later, or to veto the plans, said Lam, who added that a “tangible roadmap” from the democracy camp could help galvanise public support.
With little chance of a sudden change of mind from Beijing on reforms, student activists and campaigners are advocating longer-term strategies. The founders of the Occupy Central group have said they are now pushing for greater education about the democracy movement and a social charter.
There is also a drive to get young voters to the polls and student leaders elected.
“The movement should be done in a different way if going to the streets to protest doesn’t work,” says 33-year-old computer programmer Robert, who was a regular at the protest camps but who did not attend Sunday’s march. “We can try to make a difference within the system. Can student activists try to influence others by joining lower level elections, then make changes as they move up the ranks?” [Source]
Meanwhile, Beijing’s top representative in Hong Kong has indicated that the government will not accede to the protesters’ demands nor ease up on tightening political restrictions in Hong Kong:
In his most extensive comments since police cleared pro-democracy protesters from the city’s highways in mid-December, Zhang Xiaoming made clear that Beijing is moving toward tighter control of the global financial hub.
“We could not allow any attempt to reject the central authority’s jurisdiction over Hong Kong under the pretext of a high degree of autonomy, to advocate ‘Hong Kong independence,’ or even to overtly confront with the central government through illegal ways,” Zhang said on Wednesday at a reception attended by top officials, according to Xinhua.
There is no mainstream independence movement in Hong Kong, although some activists want a continued campaign of civil disobedience this year to force Beijing to accept fully democratic elections.
[…] Democratic lawmaker Emily Lau said Zhang’s comments were “improper and inappropriate” for a mainland official and blurred the boundaries between Hong Kong and China’s governance systems.
A key arena where many have felt Beijing’s stronger hand in Hong Kong is the media. The Hong Kong Journalists Association called 2014, “the darkest for press freedom in several decades.” For Foreign Policy, Suzanne Nossel, executive director of the Pen American Center, writes:
Hong Kong has long been a bastion of press freedom. Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the island’s constitution, guarantees freedom “of speech, of the press and of publication.” And the 1984 agreement governing Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from the United Kingdom to China likewise guaranteed that press freedom would be protected. Hong Kong offers a vital portal for coverage of its mammoth neighbor to the north, a vantage point that becomes more important as China’s economy and global influence grow. Correspondents based in Hong Kong have long worried about the dangers of reporting in the region and the challenges of covering China, a sometimes maddeningly opaque nation.
But now, Hong Kong’s press corps are becoming increasingly concerned about the treatment of reporters in the city they have always considered a safe harbor from the wider region’s woes. Encroachments on press freedom in Hong Kong center not on foreign journalists, but on the vibrant and diverse local press corps. Beijing seems increasingly focused on controlling messages directed toward the people of Hong Kong and punishing those who get in the way.
Compared to the detentions, arrests, cruel sentences, and pervasive censorship on the mainland, Beijing’s shadowy interferences with press freedom in Hong Kong look almost subtle. Yet the recent interference — ranging from attacks to threats to secret directives to commercial pressure — risks steadily reshaping Hong Kong’s freewheeling media landscape in Beijing’s image. [Source]
Ming Pao newspaper has been at the center of the fight over Hong Kong’s press freedom, as its editor, Kevin Lau, was brutally stabbed almost a year ago in what police called a, “classic triad hit… designed to send a warning.” Now, Ming Pao journalists are protesting against another editor for his decision to deemphasize a story about leaked cables from the Canadian embassy in Beijing following the June 4th crackdown. (Read more about the cables via CDT.) Chris Buckley reports for the New York Times:
Ming Pao’s staff association denounced the editor’s decision to give more prominent space to a report about a fund for young entrepreneurs in Hong Kong started by Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire who founded Alibaba, the e-commerce company. The association asserted that the decision was a backhanded attempt to muffle the impact of the report on 1989, still a highly sensitive subject for the mainland government.
“In our view, a newspaper’s daily choice of its leading story reflects the principles and values upheld by the newspaper,” Nick Kwok, the chairman of the Ming Pao Staff Association, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
“In Hong Kong, readers care deeply about stories about June 4th, and they are of historical significance,” Mr. Kwok said. “No matter how you weigh it, it’s obvious that the story about the witness account of machine guns firing at students has to lead.”
The controversy over the June 4 story has distilled the tensions over the future of journalism in the semiautonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong, where commercial and political pressures from mainland China have fed fears that the former British colony’s tradition of press freedom and diversity is imperiled. [Source]