HK protesters, China pull their punches

WHAT'S NEXT? This statue, Umbrella Man by artist Milk, was set up at a pro-democracy protest site in Hong Kong on Sunday. The umbrella has become a symbol for the protesters. Meanwhile, both sides have exercised tremendous self-restraint.


    Oct 07, 2014

    HK protesters, China pull their punches

    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 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 when many protesters, mostly students, were reportedly killed.

    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 weeklong boycott of classes.

    On Sept 28, Occupy Central and student protests joined forces and took over central Hong Kong in what is now dubbed 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 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. 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 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 Britain or the United States.

    But the locals are also angry at the huge number of Chinese 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 Kongers on what they see as the crass and rude behaviour of the less-polished Chinese, which ranges from eating on the subway to defecating in the streets and loud chattering.

    There has been retaliation, in an apparent clash of cultures, except for the fact that both are ethnically Chinese.

    Xenophobia seems like an oxymoron because they are all Chinese and belong to the same country.

    Ironically, Hong Kong's retail sector is crying over the missed business opportunities amid China's national day last Wednesday. This is when the Chinese 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.

    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 looks possible.

    Talks have to be held. 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. It is better that these students be practical instead of being too idealistic.

    Hong Kong businesses 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.

    For Hong Kong, it is better that Beijing lets it grow at its own pace and in its own way. And the people of Hong Kong can protest, but they should not go overboard.