Challenging their elders in Hong Kong: by refusing to clear the streets, students demanding democracy are keeping the authorities busy considering options: what to do about the Occupy Central movement?
The Special Administrative Region and Beijing in August acted as though they expected Hong Kongers to accept a decision to restrict free voting promised from 2017. Ordinary people supported the students’ refusal; after a brief use of force, the powers that be seem stumped.
It could be that Beijing doesn’t know how to keep a promise; that is to let Hong Kong elect its own chief executive, no strings attached. Or it doesn’t intend to.
Today’s Chief Executive, heading the Hong Kong government, Leung Chun-ying is, therefore, in a holding pattern. The students see him as under Beijing’s thumb. The former British colony has a thriving capitalist economy and its people want a say in its policies, not to have Communist Party central in Beijing keep its hand in; but Beijing has warned it does not accept criticism in what it considers its own affairs.
A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said: “We want to stress that Hong Kong is one of China’s special administrative regions; Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs; therefore, we demand that other countries mind what they say and do, and not get involved or interfere in China’s internal affairs in any way, not support or tolerate in any way illegal activities such as Occupy Central in Hong Kong, and not send any wrong signal to the outside world.”
An unprecedented number of Hong Kongers have shown they are tired of ‘one state, two systems’ slogan democracy since the UK handed the territory back to the People’s Republic in 1997; they want the real deal — not police tear gas and water cannon when they demonstrate peacefully, armed with umbrellas.
A tense and potentially explosive situation, therefore, continues to grip Hong Kong.
We spoke with Professor Willy Lam, an expert in Chinese Affairs at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, to get his view on events there.
Nial O’Reilly, euronews: “Professor Lam, Hong Kong hasn’t seen a stand-off like this since China took over. What’s the atmosphere like there? What’s the feeling among ordinary Hong Kong citizens, particularly now amid reports that some protesters have threatened to occupy public buildings if the Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying doesn’t step down?”
Professor Willy Lam, the Chinese University of Hong Kong: “The student protesters and organisers have been receiving large support from the general public. This is amazing because traditionally Hong Kong people only cared about economic issues and not political issues, but now I think they support the students’ confrontation with the Hong Kong government and also with Beijing. They demand a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong which was guaranteed by international treaties when Hong Kong was returned to Beijing.”
euronews: “Many of these young people that you’re talking about weren’t born when the Tiananmen Square protest happened 25 years ago. What makes them so determined to win, and so confident that they can win?”
Lam: “Hong Kong of course is different from Beijing of more than 25 years ago. The eyes of the world are on Hong Kong and we already see that the Hong Kong police have retreated from the streets because there is overwhelming support amongst the public for the students. So we are waiting very tensely for Beijing’s decision because Beijing needs to make a concession, I think, before the revolution and the protests in Hong Kong can be pacified.”
euronews: “Will they make a compromise? Is there something they can do to get themselves out of this situation and return Hong Kong to normality?”
Lam: “Beijing doesn’t want to be seen as succumbing to pressure from the students. The Chinese leadership is very proud; they don’t want to lose face, but it seems that the lowest price that they have to pay for settling, for resolving the issue is allowing the hugely unpopular Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying [Lam abbreviates the name to ‘C. Y. Leung’] to resign and also make some compromise regarding the electoral mechanism for electing the next Chief Executive in 2017.”
euronews: “When Britain was handing over the territory to the Chinese, certain assurances were made about rights and democracy, but many at the time feared the authorities in Beijing wouldn’t, in the long run, be capable of honouring those commitments. In that context, was this moment inevitable?”
Lam: “This momentous showdown is, I think, unavoidable because this time is different. The DNA of Hong Kong politics has changed almost overnight. People now dare to risk confronting not only the police and the Leung administration but [they even dare to confront] even Beijing. So in this context, unless Beijing is prepared to use force, it is very unlikely that the protesters can be pacified, short of a major concession from Beijing.”