“Occupy Central With Love and Peace.”
An estimated 50,000 people gathered outside Hong Kong’s government headquarters on Saturday night in a massive pro-democracy rally demanding China’s CCP to grant full suffrage to the Hong Kong public in its upcoming 2017 elections. If not, protestors threaten to occupy Central, Hong Kong’s key financial district, until successions are made. The rally, as all anti-government rallies tend to do, ended with clashes between protestors and riot police, preluding a dangerous episode of severe social unrest and heightened political tensions between Hong Kong and mainland China.
This massive outburst of civil unrest was spurred by a recent resolution made by China’s National People’s Congress to impose certain restrictions on Hong Kong’s “free” elections in 2017. This comes at no surprise to any of us familiar with the CCP’s grossly insincere idea of elections. But I would say that it came at the worst possible time. After Hong Kong returned to the motherland in 1997, the CCP has made vague assurances of “some day” when Hong Kong would be able to choose its own leader. The National People’s Congress decided in 2007 that universal suffrage for electing the Chief Executive of Hong Kong will come in 2017. In the mean time, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong was essentially appointed by the CCP. So people waited, until now harboring the belief that full democracy was just around the corner. Yet, lo and behold, the CCP broke its promise. Earlier this month it passed a resolution introducing a “nominee” system for Hong Kong’s 2017 elections, whereby a special committee will appoint two to three candidates who would participate in the election. Clearly, whoever wins out in this shady preliminary vote will bear the CCP’s stamp of approval. And clearly, the whole thing about open elections and universal voting rights has fell through.
It’s no wonder then that the people of Hong Kong are angry. They have thus chosen to occupy the city’s most important district, threatening to shut down one of East Asia’s most important financial hubs, in an attempt to force Beijing into changing its mind. Yesterday was just the beginning. The CCP’s response so far is lax; it has faith in the current Hong Kong administration to properly deal with the situation. Which unsurprisingly means dozens of arrests of protest leaders and generous use of pepper spray.
It is unclear whether this movement will be able to gather more momentum and ultimately succeed. There are many signs that it won’t. First of all, not all of Hong Kong is on board. Perhaps more importantly, the most powerful and financially endowed people in Hong Kong are reluctant to throw their support behind this movement, simply because, well, why would they? These are the main beneficiaries of a chummy relationship with China. It would be stupid of them to give it all up to fight for universal suffrage, which, but the way will most likely turn against them. Second of all, in terms of number of participants, the movement is dominated by students. Student protests, in my opinion, are historically short-lived and hugely susceptible to collective action problems. Every 20-year-old bespectacled student leader will turn out to be overly passionate and uncompromising; they will almost always diverge in interests and demands (look at what happened in 1989). Without a unified effort, without mobilizing the social elite, the fight for change will be difficult. Therefore, I think the outlook is pretty grim for democracy in Hong Kong. The CCP is not ready to allow a precedent for “political succession” of a constituent, or allow the notion of “one country, two systems” to go so far as a full democracy. Maybe one day, but certainly not now.