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Hong Kong: An Analysis of Further Development

Published On December 2, 2014 | Far East

Hong Kong is still under great tensions due to the friction that occurred recently between the Government and the pro-democratic movement that developed in the region. The topic is a rather recent one, but its bases are deeply rooted in years of history in which young people from China decided and wanted to fight for a minimal breath of democratic spirit. Revolutionary Youth always found ways to rebel against the rulers of the time in China and the anti-governmental spirit developed more and more with each step towards the thought of democracy. What it is important to mention is that this youth is not necessarily against the Communist regime per se or against an entire and complete system, but rather against the leadership and the privileged. They wanted, and they still do, a political reform that would allow change and a reform that can blend in all the requirements and further developments.

The past reflects perfectly in the present and probably will reflect for a long time in the future. In 2014, protests held in Tiananmen Square took a violent turn resulting in hundreds of victims and most of them are part of the pro-democratic protesters. The pro-democratic groups seek universal suffrage for the 2017 elections and the current leaders are not on the same page with these demands. They are part of the two groups that form the pro-democracy fraction, the Occupy Central and the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism.

The main trigger of the protests was a referendum organized by students, referendum at which thousands of representatives of the youth showed up. The conflict soon escalated and fast protesters shifted attention towards governmental buildings. Talks were proposed and high level discussions were held, but the main result was a kind of compromise that involved the organization of some kind of suffrage, under the condition that the candidates to be selected and voted by an elite; it was not enough for the protesters.

After ten weeks of protests on the streets and clashes with the police ending in more than 200 arrests and multiple injuries, no one appears to have won in this fight so far. The demonstrators failed to achieve the much desired concessions and the authorities swerved between aggressive interventions and simply waiting out the occupation.

Last Monday, pro-democracy demonstrators suffered a defeat as their attempt to storm government headquarters overnight failed. Moreover, the police attacked the protesters’ biggest street camp. On Sunday night, aiming to force concessions to their demands for democratic elections for the city’s leader, student leaders called for peaceful disobedience and urged protesters to surround government complex in Admiralty. Thousands of protesters surged toward the government headquarters, but the police was prepared with barricades and anti-riot equipment. What followed the rousing speeches was chaotic running battles ensued for hours, prompting the police to deploy pepper spray and batons to drive back demonstrators.

Early Monday morning, the police began their deepest and most aggressive incursion into the protest camp and beyond as it was clearing demonstrators from a pedestrian bridge over the main protest area. The clashes came in a week after the pro-democracy movement lost one of the three street camps that demonstrators have held since Sept. 28, the one in the Mong Kok neighborhood. Between 10 p.m. Sunday and 8.15 am Monday local time, there were around 40 people hospitalized, with 518 people in total sent to accident and emergency wards since the protests began in late September. Despite having to retreat, demonstrators almost succeeded in blocking access to Hong Kong’s government headquarters. The hundreds of civil servants who work there only had a few detours available as the most used routes into the offices were barricaded.

However, events seem to be going the government’s way as many still wonder how the protesters expected to succeed in their final objective. Even though many demonstrators claim they are determined to keep fighting, the mood at the main protest site is pessimistic as they realize that there’s little concrete to what they have achieved. Others voice doubts over the lack of direction on what to do next. On Monday afternoon (November, 24), the High Court passed an injunction ordering the clearance of several portions of the major protest site in Admiralty district. Nevertheless, the movement may not disappear any time soon but it is true that it’s increasingly fractured. The scholars who suggested the Occupy Central disobedience movement seem to have stepped back, believing that it was time to adopt new tactics.

Moreover, there are divisions between the student leaders who have initially guided the movement and radical elements, as some protesters managed to charge police lines and hurl missiles at officers. In response, the police lashed out with batons and pepper sprays, later claiming that the protesters’ actions were completely contrary to the organizer’s declared principles of non-violence. Through a statement from Hong Kong’s Federation of Students, the protesters were urged to follow the principle of peaceful action and not trigger more police violence. In light of the pro-democracy movement’s setback, Hong Kong’s leader claimed that pro-democracy protests were “in vain”. Moreover, politicians and intellectuals have offered other alternatives such as boycotts and marches. In this respect, according to a poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong, also the public shows waning sympathy for the demonstrators as it wants an end to the protests. While the protests drew tens of thousands of demonstrators at time in the first weeks, numbers have decreased with the leaders struggling to maintain momentum.

In many ways, it can be considered that the pro-democracy protest movement is back where it was on Aug. 31, when China set out the terms for elections in Hong Kong. Since the protests, the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing made clear that they have no desire for a compromise as it could possibly involve facing the risk of a pan-democrat candidate for Hong Kong’s top job.

Even though the government will probably be successful in clearing the streets in the next days, the problem will still be there. It is difficult to imagine how it could be solved. A starting point might be satisfying the public by offering some changes to the nomination process by increasing the accountability of the committee that oversees it.

Protests continue in Hong Kong, even if more diminished than in mid-September. The protesters occupied two central areas of the city – Admiralty Center and Causeway Bay. The first is a key retail area which was seriously impeded by the pro-democracy youth, causing the retail business significant setbacks and putting the Chinese economy at risk for the lowest economic growth percentage so far. The results came in on Monday, December 1, when Financial Secretary John Tsang announced a percentage of below 2,2 economic growth, fearing that the numbers will drop considerably if protests continue.

The pro-democracy activists’ strategy focuses among other things on hitting the core pillars that help functioning and sustaining the Chinese society. These recent outbursts of protests come from occupying the government headquarters and the surrounding area – which is Admiralty. At the same time, they hit the very same power that sustained and kept China as one of the leading global states, namely the Chinese economy. Even if the police partially succeeded to clear these areas of activists and reopen shops and offices, the council of legislation and the main governmental headquarters remained closed.

The results of the prolonged protesting were slow economic setbacks, through blocking and boycotting in the retail business. Big branded shops, such as Prada, were closed or shorter opening hours instated. Not only this, but also the entire image for foreign buyers, spenders and investors was damaged by the amplitude of the civil uprisings against communism, leading to long time economic damage. For the luxury goods business this has been another blow to the head, since it has been put in the spotlight due to corruption accusations and thus decreasing attraction for the mainland Chinese tourists, which are the biggest spenders. Therefore, sales dropped until October and it has been an economic decline due to the luxury goods business ever since.

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