The Huge Protests In Hong Kong

The FT relays the latest:

The Chinese government faces its biggest challenge since Tiananmen, as tens of thousands of people on Monday joined the huge democracy protests in Hong Kong. Peaceful protesters poured into Admiralty – the scene of Sunday’s tense stand-off – on Monday after the Hong Kong government withdrew platoons of riot police whose use of tear gas generated sympathy for the demonstrators.

The BBC is live-blogging. Rachel Lu describes yesterday’s events:

Tens of thousands of protesters, calling for “true democracy” – that is, no Beijing-led nomination process in the planned 2017 election for the city’s chief executive, its top government official – confronted the police in the heart of Hong Kong. The smell of tear gas hung in the air near Prada and Gucci shops in glitzy Central area. Police in full riot gear marched on thoroughfares normally congested with traffic in the Admiralty district, where the government is headquartered. By midnight, hundreds of protesters blocked the main roads in Causeway Bay and Mongkok, two bustling shopping areas favored by locals and tourists alike.

A Hong Kong resident sounds off over at Fallows’ place:

When the police decided to retake the street, they sprayed chemicals in our faces, pointed rifles at us, smashed our limbs with batons. While they were throwing tear gas with reckless abandon, our side threw not one rock, not one bottle, not one egg, nothing. None from our side brandished a firearm, a knife, a club, anything at all. I have neither seen nor heard any reports of protesters looting, burning cars, destroying property, or intentionally injuring police.

Young women felt safe enough to doze off during the lulls. In what other city would tens of thousands of ‘rioters’ act with such restraint?

The government warned against the chaos Occupy Central would cause. It’s all too clear to me which side is supplying the chaos and which side is conducting itself with dignity. These demonstrations may have been sparked by anger, but they’re sustained by compassion and love.

Max Fisher identifies the primary purpose of the protests:

That public opinion split among Hong Kong residents is what makes this week really important. The protesters were hoping to galvanize public opinion against Beijing’s plan for the 2017 election, and against China’s more gradual erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms. But Beijing (and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive) seemed to hope that, by unleashing this highly unusual crackdown, they could nudge Hong Kong’s ever-conservative mainstream against the protesters and in favor of the status quo.

In other words, both the pro-democracy protesters and Beijing are hoping to force Hong Kong’s public to choose whether or not to accept, at a fundamental level, China’s growing control over Hong Kong politics. If the public tacitly accepts Beijing’s terms for the 2017 election, it will likely be taken as a green light for more limits on Hong Kong’s democracy and autonomy, however subtle those limits end up being. But if Hong Kong residents join the protesters en masse, they will be rejecting not just the 2017 election terms, but the basic terms of Hong Kong’s relationship with the central Chinese government.

Bruce Einhorn doubts China will cave:

[T]he Chinese government has very publicly intervened in the Hong Kong fight, first with its controversial white paper asserting locals had a “confused or lopsided” understanding of Hong Kong’s autonomy, later with its decree that any candidates running for chief executive in 2017 must first win majority approval by a pro-Beijing nomination committee of 1,200 people. That makes it virtually impossible for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government to make any concessions.

Zoher Abdoolcarim adds that “Hong Kong is pushing for democracy precisely when China is becoming more authoritarian at home and exercising a sterner diplomatic approach abroad”:

Beijing is cracking down hard on dissent at home. The latest example: the life sentence handed to moderate Uighur academic Ilham Tohti allegedly for advocating “separatism” for Xinjiang. China has also become more assertive, even aggressive, over its maritime disputes with its Asian neighbors, essentially refusing to negotiate and imposing its own boundaries. Thus, Hong Kong — which, with its 7 million people, is just a tiny corner of China — can expect no quarter from Beijing over its fight for democracy.

Gordon Chang dreads the Chinese government’s response:

For many, it is impossible to believe Chinese troops would march on the city, but at this moment almost anything can happen, especially as the protests are taking on an anti-China taint. Students now say they will not salute the Chinese flag if it is raised in schools on Monday, and protesters on Sunday chanted anti-Beijing slogans.

If the disturbances continue into the early part of this week and the Hong Kong police are unable to restore order, Xi Jinping may feel he has no choice but to strike hard. As Chan Kin-man, the Occupy Central co-founder, said as he urged protesters to go home late Sunday evening, “It is a matter of life and death.”