Pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong rolled into early Tuesday with hundreds of students remaining camped out in the heart of the city after more than a week of rallies and behind-the-scenes talks showing modest signs of progress, Reuters reports:
Student-led protesters early on Monday lifted a blockade of government offices that had been the focal point of their action, initially drawing tens of thousands onto the streets. Civil servants were allowed to pass through the protesters’ barricades unimpeded.
Despite its many incentives to maintain the status quo in Hong Kong, concerns are rising in Beijing about the territory becoming a base for what it sees as subversion.
Police cook, prosecutors serve, courts eat
“The separation of powers left behind by the British means that when the police catch someone, the courts do not automatically buy it,” says one mainland resident. “Here the police cook the food, the prosecutors serve it and the courts eat it.”
As hundreds of protesters continue to occupy the streets of Hong Kong, challenging China’s Communist Party leaders with calls for greater democracy, much of the world anxiously awaits signs of how Beijing will react to their demands, Andrew Jacobs writes for the New York Times:
But the anticipation is perhaps most keenly felt along the periphery of China’s far-flung territory, both inside the country and beyond, where the Chinese government’s authoritarian ways have been most apparent. Among Tibetans and Uighurs, beleaguered ethnic minorities in China’s far west, there is hope that the protests will draw international scrutiny to what they say are Beijing’s broken promises for greater autonomy.
“We’ve seen this movie before, but when people stand up to the Chinese government in places like Lhasa or Urumqi and meet brutal resistance, there is no foreign media to show the world what’s happening,” said Nury Turkel, a Uighur-American lawyer and activist, referring to the regional capitals of Tibet and Xinjiang. “The difference here is what’s happening in Hong Kong is taking place in real time, for all the world to see.”
Willy Lam, a China expert, says Xi Jinping, China’s president, wants images of people blocking roads in the commercial center to disappear before Beijing hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November, the FT reports.
“His hands are tied,” says Mr Lam. “If he moves to send the PLA in, it is possible that [Barack] Obama and other people might not show up at Apec.”
Mr Lam says Mr Xi faces additional pressure because some senior party figures unhappy about his anti-corruption campaign would use a failure to quell the protests in Hong Kong against him.
On Friday the People’s Daily, warned that “the illegal gatherings … are aimed at challenging both China’s supreme power organ and Hong Kong citizens’ democratic rights, and are doomed to fail”. It echoed comments from Chinese officials.
Such rhetoric, which routinely blames “bad elements” and “foreign forces” for stirring up trouble, is similar to that which preceded the Tiananmen Square massacre 25 years ago.
“The central government’s bottom line will not change,” says Wu Qiang, a political-science professor at Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University. “If the occupation continues, the central government will consider all sorts of measures to reinstate order. That includes the possibility of intervention by PLA troops stationed in Hong Kong.”
Human-rights activists expressed general satisfaction with the White House’s response to the protests, particularly, said Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch, because it linked the lack of democracy in Hong Kong with the lack of democracy in China, The Times reports:
But other experts said the White House should have spoken out sooner, after China’s Parliament proposed the new voting law, which would require candidates for Hong Kong chief executive to be cleared by a nominating committee — effectively ruling out anyone the Chinese government deemed unacceptable. Critics also note that the United States has said little about Mr. Xi’s broader crackdown on civil liberties.
“China right now is undergoing the harshest political repression it has seen since 1989,” said David Shambaugh, director of the China policy program at George Washington University, citing the year of the Tiananmen Square massacre. “The situation has gone from bad to worse from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping, and the administration isn’t speaking out about that.”
To authoritarian mind spontaneity is impossible
To a Western audience, all of this looks very much like the work of what we would call “civil society”: unofficial, self-organized groups that have joined together to press for a political change that cannot be accomplished using normal political tools, writes Anne Appelbaum:
But is this what the government of China sees? Not necessarily. According to Foreign Policy, one widely read Chinese article describes the events in Hong Kong not as a spontaneous outpouring of public opinion but as a conspiracy of Hong Kong separatists, backed by “an America hoping to push [the movement] to its height.” With sideswipes at the National Endowment for Democracy and the CIA, the article goes on to accuse the U.S. government of causing “multiple troubles for China, making China unable to pay attention to its great power struggle with the United States.”