The Bridled protest
Despite the tension in Hong Kong, both sides have exercised tremendous self-restraint, which must be unusual, if not unprecedented, when seen through Western eyes.
THERE has been plenty of restraint by both the protest movement and the authorities in Hong Kong. The threat by some student leaders to storm government buildings did not take place after the midnight deadline on Thursday.
If the international media still expect to see a serious clash between the protesters and the police, then I believe they will be disappointed.
Beijing must surely be aware that the world is watching. They would never want a repeat of the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 where many protesters, mostly students, were reportedly killed. Until today, no one knows exactly the actual number of casualties.
The Chinese government has also not used harsh or emotive language except to say that the gathering is illegal and the crowd should disperse. The protesters are angry at China’s plan to vet election candidates for the first direct election of the chief executive in 2017.
Beijing had ruled at the end of August that while Hong Kong residents would have a vote, their choice of candidates would be restricted by a committee. The protest began on Sept 22 when student groups launched a week-long boycott of classes.
On Sept 28, Occupy Central and student protests joined forces and took over central Hong Kong in what is now dubbed as the “umbrella revolution”.
Despite the tension, both sides have exercised tremendous self-restraint, which must be unusual, if not unprecedented, when seen through Western eyes.
The protest was orderly, and quite extraordinary, based on the news reports which showed how protesters collected garbage and separated them into recycling bins and how the police held up placards warning of impending tear gas action. And there was even a poignant picture of a policeman helping a protester hit by tear gas.
There are good reasons – the people of Hong Kong are fully aware that nothing that they demand, at least for now, will be fulfilled immediately. They are practical people but they want their voices to be heard by Beijing.
The people have also accepted the fact that Hong Kong is part of China. The British returned Hong Kong to China in 1997 and nothing is going to change that. The future of Hong Kong is in the hands of China – not the United Kingdom or the United States.
But the locals are also angry at the huge number of mainlanders crowding into tiny Hong Kong. The pressure on the housing, health and education sectors has led to great resentment.
There are plenty of video clips on YouTube posted by Hong Kong people on what they see as the crass and rude behaviour of the less-polished mainlanders, which ranges from eating in the underground train to defecating in the streets to loud chattering. These have led to scuffles between Hong Kong people and mainland tourists and these are well documented.
There has been retaliation, in the apparent clash of cultures, except for the fact that both are ethnically Chinese. One professor appeared on Chinese TV and called the people of Hong Kong names while claiming that they were paying homage to London. He also hammered the Hong Kong people for preferring to speak Cantonese instead of Mandarin.
On the other hand, advertisements have appeared in Hong Kong newspapers, referring to the mainlanders as locusts who hog the resources of Hong Kong.
As far back as January, the South China Morning Post had reported on protesters who marched along Canton Road, a luxury shopping street that is a popular destination for mainland tourists, holding up signs that read “Go Back to China” and “Reclaim Hong Kong”.
Xenophobia seems like an oxymoron because the Hong Kong residents and the mainlanders are all Chinese and belong to the same country.
Ironically, Hong Kong’s retail sector is crying at the missed business opportunities of the Oct 1 China national day. This is when mainlanders flock to Hong Kong for long holidays and, of course, to dine and shop. This time they have stayed away as a result of the protests and it is Hong Kong that is paying the price. Shops have been forced to shut because of the protests and businessmen are blaming the student leaders.
In fact, Beijing does not have to do anything against the protesters. The central government can afford to sit it out because the students will eventually have to go back to classes, the protesters need to report for work, and businesses must go on.
This is Hong Kong after all, where the cost of living is among the highest in the world. Sitting on the road will not last long when there are hefty bills to be paid.
A middle-ground solution to allow both sides to back down without losing face looked possible, but the plan for the students to talk with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam appears to have been scuttled by the clashes in Mongkok.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said he would not negotiate with the student leaders, nor would he resign.
Now, the students have called off the talks with Lam, claiming that the police had allowed “triad” gangsters to infiltrate their protest camps.
But the talks will have to eventually be held because it is the right thing to do. Any dialogue between them will reflect the genuine desire of both sides to end the impasse. It will also show that Beijing is prepared to hear and respect the voices of the young people in Hong Kong, which is an autonomous territory.
This is an opportunity for the students to put on record that they accept Beijing. The reality is that their anti-communist China slogans, which may be morale-boosting during their protests, won’t change a thing. It is better that these students be practical instead of being too idealistic.
Business Hong Kong will not allow students to lead at the expense of Hong Kong and China, it is as simple as that. The clashes between the students and the traders in Mongkok on Friday are a sign that patience is wearing thin for those who need to earn a living.
Interestingly enough, most of the student leaders in the Tiananmen protest are now growing old in exile in the US, UK and France. Unable to return home, they could never have imagined how Beijing has embraced capitalism and the speed of economic progress as China’s middle class expands.
As academics Chen Dingding and Wang Jianwei of the University of Macau correctly pointed out in an article, “The English word ‘crisis’ in Chinese actually consists of two words: danger and opportunity. A crisis itself is not necessarily a bad thing – it also presents an opportunity to solve the problem.”
I agree. In the case of Hong Kong, it is better that Beijing let Hong Kong grow at its own pace and in its own way. And the people of Hong Kong can protest, but they should not go overboard.
Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.
On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.
Hong Kongers’ free will shall not be held hostage to protestors
BEIJING, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) — Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability are hard-won and should be treasured, while Hong Kongers’ free will shall not be held hostage to those organizers of the Occupy Central movement who have ulterior motives, critics appealed.
Yin Haoliu, a Chinese American freelancer, wrote in an open letter to three initiators of the illegal movement: “Democracy is a step-by-step process that can not be approached in haste, otherwise it will bring about troubles.”
“What’s wrong with the Communist Party of China which hopes to see a person who loves China and loves Hong Kong elected as Hong Kong’s chief executive? Are you willing to choose a chief executive that sells Hong Kong and the whole country?” Yin asked in the letter.
“You should know that on your opposite side are the silent majority… if Hong Kong falls into chaos, you could flee to foreign countries, but how about the ordinary Hong Kongers that are left behind?” he said.
“Christopher Francis Patten said the decision by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Aug. 31 that granted universal suffrage in Hong Kong was false…then was he himself as the governor of Hong Kong elected by the Hong Kong people?” the retired doctor said.
Yin said Hong Kong had tided through numerous difficulties with full support of the Chinese mainland since the Basic Law was put into practice, so the initiators of Occupy Central should treasure the city’s current prosperity and stability.
On Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow hopes that stability will resume as soon as possible in Hong Kong.
“Events in Hong Kong belong to China’s internal affairs. Russia hopes the stability of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) would be resumed as soon as possible,” the ministry’s information and press department told Xinhua.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam said in an interview with Lianhe Zaobao that many reports on Hong Kong made by the Western media were untrue and biased to China.
They intentionally ignored a fact that Hong Kong had never implemented a democratic system under the British rule for some 150 years, he said, adding that Beijing’s plan has granted Hong Kong much more democratic space than what Hong Kongers got in the times of British-ruled Hong Kong.
“Everyone shall be clear about one point, that is, what the central government did conforms with Hong Kong’s Basic Law,” the foreign minister said.
He said Hong Kong is deeply dependent on the Mainland, including employment and livelihood.
Even though a little anti-Mainland sentiment appeared in Hong Kong, the central government is still generous to Hong Kong, he added.
Jeff Bader, who ran Obama’s first term White House East Asia policy, told the Washington Post that for Beijing, there is no room for compromise on issues such as Chinese stability and the leadership of the Communist Party of China.
He also mentioned that millions of Hong Kongers will not support or tolerate the protest that grinds the city to halt for days.
The negative impact of Occupy Central includes a bit of a brain drain, Bader predicted.
Hong Kong has been partially paralysed by the large-scale protests that started on Sept. 28.
A large number of Occupy protesters have taken over major streets in Mong Kok, one of the city’s most bustling areas, for at least four days, which has seriously affected businesses of local shops, restaurants and vendors, and forced schools and banks to be closed.
Friday afternoon, some anti-Occupy people clashed with Occupy protesters in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, Hong Kong’s two major commercial areas. Several people were injured during the clashes.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying gave an urgent TV broadcast Friday evening, calling on all citizens, no matter what attitude they may have toward the Occupy movement, to keep calm and not to use violence or disrupt public order under any circumstances.
There has been much anti-China bias in Western media’s reporting on Hong Kong’s situation, said Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, as he …
HONG KONG, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) — Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying gave an urgent TV broadcast on Friday evening calling for peace after Occupy protesters clashed with anti-Occupy people in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, Hong Kong’s two major commercial areas.
Leung called on all citizens, no matter what attitude they have toward the Occupy, they have to keep calm, and not use violence or disrupt order under any situation. Full story
BEIJING, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) — Chinese people from all walks of life have voiced their strong denouncement and opposition against the illegal gatherings of the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong over these days.
The Occupy Central movement has seriously affected the social order in Hong Kong and runs counter to the rule of law, said Beijing citizen Zhao Qing. Full story.