The growing protests in Hong Kong have gripped the world’s attention.
Extending their protests into the workweek, Hong Kong democracy activists continued occupying major thoroughfares Monday, forcing the closure of some schools, banks and other businesses in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Due to the demonstrations, government officials said they would cancel a major annual fireworks celebration scheduled for Wednesday — China’s equivalent of the Fourth of July.
After firing 87 volleys of tear gas at protesters at nine locations on Sunday evening, police backed away from engaging directly with the demonstrators on Monday.
Thousands of activists took to the streets in neighborhoods on both sides of Victoria Harbor, sitting down in intersections and setting up barricades. Protesters wore goggles or masks and raincoats, and many held umbrellas to protect against the possible use of pepper spray.
Despite warnings that the demonstrations could seriously damage Hong Kong’s economy and reputation as a stable Asian financial hub, workers went on strike, including employees at Coca-Cola Hong Kong.
A number of businesses opened late or closed early, but in many parts of the city commerce continued as usual.
No one seemed sure what would happen next, in part because the movement has become diffuse and spontaneous and attracting a wide cross section of participants. Without a cohesive group of leaders directing things “it’s very difficult to predict” how the situation will evolve, said Chi-Keung Choy, professor of comparative politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“It is no longer a movement initiated by the group Occupy Central, or the student strike. It became a self-initiated movement,” he said.
Government officials in Beijing and Hong Kong will need to extend a significant olive branch to get marchers off the streets, Choy added. “They need to have major concessions from the government. No one can convince them, unless the government makes big concessions.”
The demonstrations have burst forth in response to China’s decision to allow only Beijing-vetted candidates to be nominated in the city’s elections for chief executive, Hong Kong’s top civil position.
Protesters shouted slogans demanding full democracy in 2017, calling for the open nominations of candidates so that anyone, including China critics, can run for office. But Chinese officials have rejected that, stating nominees must be endorsed by a 1,200-strong election committee which is stacked with Beijing loyalists.
“There’s more and more interference from Beijing,” said Tsang Fan-yu, a designer who was at Wednesday’s protest with his seven-year-old son for their sixth consecutive year.
“We have to come out to make our voices heard. The form of democracy Beijing wants is unacceptable. It’s fake.”
But also underlying the unrest is unhappiness in Hong Kong over a range of issues: high housing prices, a growing income gap, and an influx of mainland visitors whose customs and habits have struck locals as uncouth. In addition, many of the youths who make up a forceful component of the demonstrators have little sense of connection to mainland China and instead embrace a strong identity to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong, a longtime British territory, reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 under a Basic Law that embraced a framework known as “one country, two systems.” Communist authorities in Beijing essentially agreed to allow the territory of 7 million a high degree of self-rule for 50 years except for matters of national security.
The situation in Hong Kong has drawn the concern of Western governments, but they have been unusally tepid in their support for the demonstrators. Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned Monday that foreign interference in the situation was unwelcome by Beijing.
“Hong Kong belongs to China. Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s domestic affairs,” she said in Beijing. “We strongly oppose any countries interfering or supporting Occupy Central by any methods. We wish these countries to be cautious.”
The US consulate general in Hong Kong said the US “does not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development, nor do we support any particular individuals or groups involved in it.”
But some Hong Kongers are calling for greater expressions of support from overseas. A group of Hong Kong-based employees of Apple wrote to Chief Executive Tim Cook, calling for active support of the civil disobedience campaign.
“The people of Hong Kong are now under the violent treatment of the Central government while fighting for the human rights and democracy of Hong Kong,” they wrote. They asked Apple, as “the most humanized and the most respectful company, to support and help our civil disobedience campaign and also to respond to the fight of Hong Kong people.”
Hong Kong has a rich tradition of protests, but demonstrations are typically well organized and calm with people gathering in designated parks and marching along pre-planned routes with official permits. The free-form and unpredictable nature of the last few days’ protests have surprised local residents — and spurred many of them into the streets in solidarity.
Riot police remained on guard on the sidelines of the main protest area near the government headquarters, although not in large numbers.
The government urged the demonstrators to disperse to allow emergency vehicles, public transport and other traffic to pass. Its statement followed calls from some protest organizers for people to return home.
But with thousands of demonstrators continuing to jam streets in key financial and commercial districts it appeared unlikely that the extraordinary protest movement would end anytime soon.
“It’s shocking to see armies of police equipped with tear gas guns, rifles and batons,” said Nan Hie In, who joined demonstrators on the streets Sunday night. “Amid the madness, the crackling sounds from police firing tear gas and the protesters running away to evade the chemical haze, I thought: Are we in Syria or Hong Kong?”
After he and a few friends were ambushed inside a public square by police with a volley of tear gas, Jerry Ip, 25, said, “I felt like I’d die.” Even so, Ip said he was undaunted because “we’re fighting for the future of Hong Kong. This is our homeland.”
After the tear-gas confrontations Sunday night, Hong Kong government officials sought to take a more conciliatory approach. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying appeared on television after midnight promising that police would use “maximum discretion” and saying that he hoped people would “keep calm” and not be misled by “rumors.”
At a gathering outside the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Monday afternoon, a group of protest supporters urged office workers to show support for the demonstrations after business hours.
Students and protesters, meanwhile, are preparing for a new night of clashes and tense standoff with police.
“Hong Kong people are not going to take this lying down,” said local legislator Alan Leong. “This is a people’s movement.”
And like Tiananmen Square, the whole world is watching.
~Via Google News, CNN, LA Times, UK Daily News, YouTube
by Skippy Massey
This post originally appeared at the Humboldt Sentinel. Reprinted with permission.