Resign Ultimatum Passes in Hong Kong, Protests Unresolved

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung acts on the advice of the director of the China Liaison Office, Zhang Xiaoming. There is no point asking Leung to resign as he really is powerless on policy matters. That’s the reality.

At the ceremony for China’s National Day, director Zhang dismissed the student protests outside with indifference, saying “The sun rises as usual.” The early riot police teargas attack on the protests is believed by many locals to have been done on instructions from the CLO to nip the student movement in the bud. It failed.

Neither Leung nor Zhang are looking good with their masters in Beijing, who expect regional leaders to resolve issues swiftly and maintain social order. The student-led civil disobedience is spinning out of control – in its own orderly Hong Kong fashion. City traffic is gridlocked and business and government functions are disrupted. Patience is wearing thin all around.

Students booed Leung as he arrived for the Oct 1 ceremony, booed as helicopters flew overhead displaying China’s national flag and turned their backs collectively at the flag raising as the national anthem played. These are highly symbolic moments endowed by Beijing with solemn national pride.

The student leaders will not have earned brownie points. This may be the indignity that could still spur Beijing to end the occupation of the streets abruptly.

The students issued an ultimatum for Leung to resign by Thursday night, or they would occupy government offices next. As expected, the deadline passed and Leung refused to resign. He did offer to have Chief Secretary Carrie Lam hold a meeting with students to discuss political reforms. There was no time frame for the meeting. The occupation of government offices was reportedly put on hold.

Lesson from Tiananmen 1989

Chinese Communist Party analysts grasp the importance of pre-emptive action. They saw the error of allowing student protests to fester at the Tiananmen tragedy of 1989. The heavy-handed treatment meted out to Xinjiang and Tibetan activists are all part of that “scrub-them-out” national security policy -- as is flooding provinces with Han Chinese to dilute ethnic local populations.

Intimidation and terror are the currency of unelected dictatorships, especially so for a one-party state controlling 1.3 billion people. Since no alternative power structure or leadership is allowed to emerge, China will drown in chaos if the CCP collapses. That sanctifies the self-fulfilling logic for supremacy of the Party above all else.

The CCP takes great comfort from the hurriedly passed 2001 Patriot Act in the USA after the 9/11 attacks. That allows indefinite detentions of immigrants, searches of homes without the owner’s consent and FBI tapping of telephone, email communications and financial records. The PRC does all of that and more. There is wide public support in both countries for tough action on terrorists.

Except that Hong Kong’s students and mild mannered academics are not terrorists. They have no stomach for violence. They are not crazed revolutionaries. They are only asking the central government to fulfill its Basic Law promise for genuine democratic elections. Beijing has dodged that for almost twenty years. Students are on the streets because dialogue on the 2017 chief executive election has been shut and Hong Kong’s politicians have failed them.

Dialogue not street theatre

CY Leung and his senior team should meet the student leaders at government headquarters with a structured agenda to explain how the administration will revisit the arrangements for the 2017 election. It should be a rational discussion, not more grandstanding by either side. It will require the CCP to allow the 2017 Nominating Committee to be genuinely representative, rather than foist a re-packaged Election Committee of Beijing stooges onto the process.

The Hong Kong public can be trusted to pick a candidate who will not be confrontational or seek independence. Hongkongers want to be left alone to get on with their lives without their individual liberties, rights and freedoms being eroded by government. They demand accountability and transparency in how they are ruled.

Occupy Central irrelevant as students lead

The leaders of the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement have been thoroughly upstaged by the speed and massive turnout of university and secondary school students on the streets of Central, Admiralty, Causeway Bay, parts of Nathan Road and Mongkok. This has been helped by the conjunction of weekends and midweek national day holidays, along with concerned parents joining the teenagers after the initial riot police over-reaction.

Occupy Central leaders were declaring in consternation at several points that they were not responsible and not in control of students who probed barricades and riot police lines. The law professors and religious leaders at the core of the genteel Occupy movement are stymied and alarmed. They are surprised that the HK public came out on the streets to defy the administration but they are unable to direct the students who see them as sissies. They fear being held legally responsible for the student breach of public order legislation.

Democrats who joined the Occupy street-show are looking increasingly like the fifth wheel on a car. They are neither leading the crowds nor articulating any coherent strategy. They come across as whining has-beens seeking media publicity. Meanwhile, the biggest party in the legislature, which also dominates the district councils, the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment & Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) stays almost invisible other than to mouth off warnings through the communist press. They are the shadow CCP in Hong Kong but are stressed out waiting for instructions from their handlers who are too busy strategizing their next moves on the HK chessboard.

Student leaders demand CY’s head

Teenagers everywhere think they have all the answers to society’s problems and are impatient to fix them overnight. Buoyed by their initial public relations success, they have raised more demands. Perhaps they are craving their own Tiananmen moment to be recorded in history. That is the point of hubris and overreach. It was exactly the same arrogance that made student leader Wu’er Kaixi berate and humiliate premier Li Peng on national TV in 1989.

There is growing weariness at the protracted stand-off within the general public and the business community. There may be collective relief among parents, educators, civil servants, taxi drivers, shopkeepers and the police, if the leaders of Occupy and the student activists just find a way to cool-off so HK can return to normal next week. Nothing more dramatic is needed.