HK Police and Officials Botch Protest

The political leadership of Hong Kong was largely absent as university students declared a week of class boycotts starting last Monday, September 22, to protest China’s reneging on the Basic Law promise to allow democratic elections.

The students and their many supporters denounced the National People's Congress Standing Committee’s August 31 ruling calling for the existing Election Committee of largely pro-Beijing appointees to pick three candidates for the voters of Hong Kong to elect a chief executive in 2017.

Last Wednesday, student leaders moved from campus to government headquarters near Admiralty to demand that the chief executive meet them. CY Leung ducked the invitation.

Leung also did not address the Hong Kong people throughout the week, other than to make a recorded statement on Sunday that was given wide publicity on the mainland, saying he hears the students but urges them to end their “illegal” occupation of the streets for their own safety.

With the protests still alive, now under the name “Umbrella Revolution,” and the streets shut down in various parts of the city, a way forward will have to be found but so far there is little evidence that Hong Kong’s government or its mainland masters have the inclination –or perhaps even the means – to listen.

Instead the mishandling of the protests have given the movement a name and an identity -- the use of umbrellas to deflect tear gas on Sunday night ‑ that is considerably broader than Occupy Central could ever hope to be.

Pepper-spray & teargas spark outrage

When Leung ignored the student demands for a dialogue, a vanguard of about 100 students vaulted the police barricades on Friday. Police pepper-sprayed, corralled and handcuffed them, dragging the teenagers into waiting police vans.

Joshua Wong, a student leader since the age of 14 when he led the group Scholarism to oppose “patriotic education” in 2012, was denied bail and his home was searched in a classic mainland-style tactic to intimidate family, friends and neighbors. The High Court ordered his release on Sunday as the police could offer no credible grounds to detain him and his colleagues beyond the 48-hours allowed under Hong Kong law.

The rough handling of unarmed students and the heavy police-state methods upset the wider public. They attribute the aggressive police tactics to directives from the CCP. Sunday brought forth a massive, spontaneous outpouring of citizen support for the students. Many old folk said they wanted to “protect” the students from harm.

But this was again a signature Hong Kong mass demonstration ‑ no rioting, no rowdy behavior, no aggression, no damage to public property. The students held their arms aloft in front of the police to show they had no aggressive intent.

The riot police, looking like mechanical Samurai warriors, seemed entirely out of place facing the peaceful crowds. All the violence came from the riot police who on cue, shot waves of teargas shells into a peaceful crowd on Sunday. A police spokesman said 87 teargas rounds were lobbed at nine locations.

Hong Kong has seen massive multiple annual public protests since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre first galvanized public sentiment with no need for teargas or water cannons. The crowds are too well behaved. The frontline marchers on Sunday temporarily dispersed to recover from breathing difficulties but they were back when the smoke cleared. The unprovoked teargas and baton charges only steeled the people to continue defying the riot police.

Outraged citizens boost Occupy

The Occupy Central leaders who planned to kick off their movement on the October 1 national holiday, brought forward their date to Saturday to ride the momentum of the student protests and public anger at the police. The generally lackluster public response to the idea of blocking business traffic in Central had so discouraged the organizers that they had even considered calling the protest off. But Friday’s initial display of police intimidation sparked renewed public will to make a stand.

By the early hours of Monday morning, Hong Kong awoke to simultaneous occupation of Causeway Bay, parts of Mongkok, Nathan Road, Wanchai, Admiralty and Central. Hundreds of bus routes were cancelled or diverted. MTR exits were shut at several points. Civil servants were asked to check their transport routes. Schools were closed. Commuters listened to radio and TV reports for traffic disruption.

The Occupy leaders describe their movement as “civil disobedience” ‑ they will not resist arrest but will link arms and lie on roads to make it awkward for the police to cart them off. This strategy needs Gandhian patience and the support of masses of people with little else to do. Hong Kong is short of both. The movement will fizzle if the authorities don’t over-react.

Pro-Beijing apologists spin

Former security secretary Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, an aspirant to replace Leung as chief executive who hopes to regain the power she lost in 2003 when her Article 23 Security Bill was aborted, suggested that the students were being manipulated by unknown forces. That is in line with CCP paranoia about foreign agents fomenting unrest to de-stabilize China, charges used regularly to vilify and imprison mainland writers, human rights activists, lawyers and those who challenge land-grabs by local communist party officials.

Robert Chow Yung, the “silent majority” conjuror who amassed a million “Anti-Occupy” signatures from anyone including clueless mainlanders bussed-in from Shenzhen, off-duty domestic helpers and passing tourists, solemnly declared that the riot police behaved with great restraint. He said it with a straight face.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, a stalwart Beijing loyalist who once served as Secretary for Justice, has been warning for months that Occupy will end in dire strife. She is deputy director of the Basic Law Committee and an adviser to the NPC Standing Committee. She told everyone to go home to safety. She has not yet spelled out the punishments awaiting those who don’t.

Lock in the gains

The die is cast on the 2017 election formula. Hong Kong’s current leader has done its people no favors. CY Leung is highly unpopular, ineffective and held in contempt one suspects, even by the puppet-masters in Beijing.

The Hong Kong deputies to the annual Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing are a ragtag bunch of self-promoters who leverage their exalted status for business opportunities, appointments to corporate directorships and positions on think tanks. As a result Hong Kong gets little genuine representation at the highest councils of the PRC.

The Hong Kong pulse instead is taken by the China Liaison Office, whose primary function is to manage the United Front network to infiltrate all the institutions of the SAR in the civil service, politics, commerce, academia and media. The CLO is well funded and relentless.

Hong Kong’s Democrats have a tenuous ability to deny the two-thirds majority needed to pass the 2017 chief executive Election formula into law. But to what end anyway? Petulant non-cooperation is not a strategy. Challenging the CCP to a test of wills is not either. They have the guns and goons.

Pragmatists have suggested that the democrats lock in the concession on one-man, one-vote to make even the nominated future leader accountable to the public. No other province in China enjoys even that concession. The CCP has never sought a referendum on itself from the citizens of China since taking power in 1949 and it is in no hurry to do so.

The 2017 Chief Executive ruling also allows for direct elections to the legislature in 2020. Direct elections hold candidates to results. Such accountability is good. It allows constituents to evict ineffective representatives. The Democrats should lock that in as well.

The Democrats will have to learn to use the system to extract maximum value for the people of Hong Kong. They should deny the two-thirds majority to pass the dangerous Article 23 Security Bill, which the CCP needs to take away Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms.