Experts: Hong Kong protest movement success highly improbable
31 October 2014. PenzaNews. The students taking part in the large-scale protests in Hong Kong that began on September 28 have no intentions to leave the streets, says an informal Reuters survey taken one month after the first day of disobedience.
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According to the results, 87% of the so-called “Umbrella Movement” participants said they plan to stay on the streets for more than a year, while 93% expressed their readiness to move their tents to a different location if the police chase them away.
The protesters have been blocking several main districts of Hong Kong island and Kowloon peninsula, such as Mong Kok, Causeway Bay and Admiralty, for several weeks by setting up barricades and tent camps on the streets.
Despite the attempts to find common ground with the officials, the activists from Occupy Central and several student groups still fail to achieve the compromise. The protesters stand against the proposed electoral reform that would allow the citizens to vote only for pre-screened candidates, and demand Leung Chun-ying (CY Leung), the current Chief Executive of Hong Kong, to resign. However, Beijing made it clear that it will not yield to the marchers on any of these issues.
According to François Godement, director of the Asia and China program and senior research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, it was obvious from the very beginning that the Hong Kong marchers and the PRC authorities will not be able to achieve a mutually beneficial solution.
“On the one hand there is a top-down government, on the other poorly organized crowds — there will never be a neat agreement with 100 percent of the protesters,” said the expert in an interview to PenzaNews agency.
At the same time, he pointed out that the protesters went out to the streets not only for political, but also for economic reasons.
“Even if Hong Kong as such is prosperous, Hongkongers are swamped by Mainlanders who buy real estate, come as tourists and dominate the financial scene along with Hong Kong millionaires,” François Godement explained.
At the same time, he pointed out that it was the protesters’ own pro-democratic vision, not an intervention from abroad, that became the motivation for the people.
“The Hong Kong system offers legal guarantees, free speech and large individual rights – it has brought up a generation of Hongkongers,” the expert argued.
Meanwhile, Xin Liu, Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology at UC Berkeley, suggested that the protest movement gathered popularity due to several relationship issues with the Mainland China that had been ongoing long before the 2014 civil disobedience acts.
Among other things, he pointed out the cultural differences between the Hongkongers and the Mainlanders that only made the tensions grow and electrified the politically active population.
“It is true that there are always outside influences for this kind of demonstration, but it is not true that the outside influences are crucial for its development; the internal force at play is perhaps more relevant than anything else,” the analyst suggested.
However, he questioned the notion that the October 2014 events pose danger to the state that has survived many such protests in the past.
Moreover, according to him, very few Hong Kong citizens are interested in continuing the demonstrations.
“It is like allergy rather than any deadly disease,” Xin Liu noted.
In his opinion, one more point that speaks of the current state of affairs is the fact that Beijing quickly chose to solve the issue in a peaceful manner, playing its pieces carefully, while the protesters had almost no understanding of what they are really trying to achieve.
At the same time, Jasper Becker, journalist and writer, author of books on China, Mongolia and the DPRK, hypothesized that the PRC and the rest of the world also had no clear vision of the reasons and the mission behind the demonstrations, which made the talks even more complicated.
In his opinion, a full-fledged compromise on the terms the “Umbrella Movement” had brought up during its first days was unreachable from the very beginning. According to the analyst, a democratic system in Hong Kong would become a one-of-a-kind political precedent that Beijing is anxious to avoid.
“They have been trying to gain control over the media in Hong Kong, and harassing opponents of the Communist party, but Hong Kong is a very open city,” the expert said.
From his point of view, the October 2014 events disprove the common notion that the Chinese population will continue to support the current policies as long as the economic growth persists.
“I think it’s clear that many people in China, in Hong Kong and in Taiwan are anxious to have a democratic system to have free elections irrespective of whether there is economic prosperity or not,” Jasper Becker said.
Musing on the possible future developments, he suggested that the events in the former British colony will affect the political climate of the whole region.
“The way the Party has responded to Hong Kong will have a big knock-on effect on Taiwan, where people are more likely to vote for the opposition party in the coming elections,” he explained.
At the same time, Andrei Ostrovski, Doctor of Economics, professor and vice-principal at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies (IFES), completely ruled out the possibility that the Hong Kong protests may spread to the Mainland China.
“They are separated from each other. There are borders between them,” he explained.
The researcher stressed that the possible protests in the rest of the China may occur only due to other reasons, such as graft issues, seizure of land, or bureaucratic misconduct; however, he noted that Beijing quickly reacts to signs of public outrage in the Mainland China.
At the same time, the expert pointed out that the protest movement broke the usual life of Hong Kong and thus became highly disadvantageous to its own citizens.
“A significant part of the population gains its enormous profits on par with Britain, New Zealand and Canada due to the role of Hong Kong as a link between Chinese and worldwide economies. Of course such things [as disobedience acts] are nothing for them to like, since instability makes Hong Kong as one of the leading East Asian trading venues to lose its face, therefore incurring great losses to the people who make big money on it,” he stressed.
Dwelling further on the financial issue, Andrei Ostrovski added that the student groups involved in the acts of protest were instigated by the United States in order to undermine the Chinese economy that keeps relentlessly beating all the records.
“Hong Kong is a vital point for economic relationships between China and other countries. A significant part of China’s foreign trade and finances pass through Hong Kong. It has an enormous stock market, a large shipping harbor and a multitude of banks,” he said.
However, Michele Penna, journalist of “Asian Correspondent” news website, questioned the idea that external instigation of the protesters could have caused any beneficial effect.
At the same time, he circled out three main reasons behind the protests: the issue of universal suffrage, economic difficulties and growing property prices, and the Chinese influence that many Hongkongers find detrimental.
At the same time, Michele Penna described the current situation as a stalemate for the activists. According to him, while the authorities can reduce popular dissatisfaction by addressing certain issues, many of them are linked with the structural developments that have taken place since the former British colony had become a part of the PRC in 1997.
“The influx of Mainland tourists and Chinese companies investing in the city as well as the impossibility of a fully democratic system are all linked to Hong Kong’s new status as a Chinese city,” the journalist explained.
From his point of view, the current state of affairs allows only one party to emerge victorious from the standoff.
“The protesters do not want to leave without some real gains, which the local government is not in a position to grant,” Michele Penna elaborated.
He also hypothesized that the protests will soon fade away – either by themselves, or after minor concessions from the authorities.
At the same time, the expert expressed his doubt that the events in the former British colony will be able to significantly affect the rest of China.
“There are two reasons for that. First, censorship is keeping much information from spreading to the Mainland, while the ‘foreign forces’ argument holds some sway. Second, if you exclude activists, Chinese on the Mainland do not have the same perception of politics as their fellow citizens in Hong Kong do. They do not appear to be too concerned with democracy and recent polls show that the number of people satisfied with the government is actually quite high,” the journalist explained; however, he also added that the public opinion is not set in stone.
At the same time, he found it difficult to predict the future of Hong Kong, saying that much depends on the way the disobedience acts end.
“What seems to be quite clear is that these new developments have changed the political climate in the city, showing that there is a real political problem,” Michele Penna concluded.
The protests in the center of Hong Kong began on September 28, 2014. Occupy Central movement, as well as several student groups led by Joshua Wong, Alex Chow, Lester Shum and other youth activists, organized the movement.
The protests were originally scheduled for October 1, 2014. However, arrests of several youth activists, including student leaders, prompted Benny Tai, associate professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong and leader of Occupy Central, to begin the civil disobedience campaign two days earlier.
The protests were marked by numerous clashes with pro-establishment activists, as well as with the police who used tear gas, smoke bombs and batons against the marchers.
The protest movement was dubbed “Umbrella Movement” by the media, due to umbrellas the protesters used to shield themselves from sun and tear gas.
According to several reporters, the Hong Kong demonstrations presented the most concerted act against the Chinese authorities since the Tiananmen events in 1989.