“Government Thugs” On The Attack

Sit In Protest Continues In Hong Kong Despite Chief Executive's Calls To Withdraw

Some of Hong Kong’s protest camps were assaulted today, not by police, but by groups of “anti-occupiers”, mostly men, who said they were fed up with blocked roads and wanted the demonstrators to disperse:

The protesters said the attackers were pro-government gangs, and several of the groups leading the protest issued a joint statement warning that they would call off proposed negotiations with the government “if the government does not immediately prevent the organized attacks.” A week after the pro-democracy protests started at a student rally, the movement showed increasing strains on Friday from both external blows and from internal discord and exhaustion, even before the attacks began. …

As skies darkened and rain fell, a couple of dozen men stormed the encampment in the middle of Nathan Road, a major thoroughfare usually packed with traffic and shoppers. The men pushed and pummeled the protesters, grabbed the scaffolding of canopies and pulled until the tents collapsed in heaps.

Lily Kuo and Heather Timmons report from the scene:

Some anti-occupiers insisted that they had not been paid to be there. Lau Lee Keung who lives in the New Territories said he was there because the occupation in Mongkok disrupted his commute home from the airport where he works.”I came on my own. No one paid me,” he said, showing Quartz his Hong Kong identity card to prove that he had not been sent from mainland China to protest. “I support the Hong Kong government,” said 51 year old Cheung Chiu Wan, who also showed his Hong Kong identity card.

Other residents didn’t believe the protest movement in Mongkok disrupted their daily lives as much as the anti-occupiers said. “It’s actually nice. The air is fresh,” said David Chen, 35, who works at law firm nearby, referring to the lack of traffic.

Ben Leung has more on the state of affairs:

There are, of course, inevitable doubts about where some of the anti-protest protesters come from. Some are genuinely aggrieved by the disruption caused to the transport system. “Wanting democracy is fine—just don’t affect the rest of us!” said one of them. Others point to the “silent” majority who had never taken part in the protest to demonstrate that the little anti-protest movement is “not alone.” Others seemed to be performing bombastic recitals of their grievances as if they were ill-trained actors or undercover agents.  And these kinds of people—thugs, mercenaries, undercover agents, and paid informants—are exactly the kind of provocateurs that pro-democracy activists say they fear will bring on real chaos.

Kaveh Waddell, meanwhile, wonders whether the protest movement’s commitment to nonviolence and orderliness hasn’t somehow undercut their message:

Taken to an extreme, nonviolence can have the same effect on media coverage as physical confrontation. Just like it might have been if the protests were characterized by clashes, Hong Kong media coverage has been focused on demonstrators’ tactics. Instead of showing burning tires and rock-throwing, however, stories like this one from the BBC described “things that could only happen in a Hong Kong protest“: students who sat in the street to complete their homework, demonstrators who posted apologies on makeshift barricades for inconveniencing commuters, and complete compliance with a sign that asked protesters to keep off a neatly trimmed grassy plaza. In this and other stories, the movements’ goals are relegated to a footnote or aren’t mentioned at all.

Zack Beauchamp interviews Erica Chenoweth on how the protesters could prevail:

There’s a common misconception that non-violent movements win by showing the other side the light: in this case, persuading Hong Kong and mainland officials that Hong Kong really deserves democracy. That’s wrong. “The pressure works by imposing enough costs on their opponents that there are loyalty shifts,” Chenoweth explains. “The people on whom that the opponent relies on to implement its power locally change their mind about whether it’s a good idea” to go along with the repressive program. … Chenoweth thinks that, if the pressure stays on, Hong Kong and mainland elites may end up deciding that handing the protestors a partial victory makes more sense than dispersing them with a full-on, Tiananmen-style crackdown.

And William Pesek points out that China’s already tarnished reputation in the region is on the line here:

Even China’s Asian neighbors — many of whom, like Vietnam, don’t spend much time worrying about human rights — haven’t forgotten 1989. That legacy explains why China’s strengthening economic relationships aren’t translating into genuine soft power across the region. In one recent survey of elites in 11 Asia-Pacific nations, more than 60 percent thought China was having a negative impact on regional stability. …

In that sense, China has more to lose from another Tiananmen than Hong Kong’s 7 million people do. Any move by Xi to crack down on students would be carried live on BBC, CNN and networks in Taiwan, where the mainland is trying to curry favor. It would have the vast majority of Asian governments edging closer to Washington as the U.S. seeks to shore up its position in Asia.

Perhaps that’s why they’re counting on the “anti-occupiers” to crack down for them.

(Photo: Local residents and pro-government supporters scream at pro-democracy protesters on October 3, 2014 in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. Fights broke out between local residents and pro government supporters when they attempted to force pro-democracy activists from their protest site. By Chris McGrath/Getty Images)