The tide has continued to turn against the democracy protest movement in Hong Kong.
The HK Government became emboldened to break off talks with the HK Federation of Students. It insisted on adherence to the Basic Law provisions and the recent decision of the China’s People’s Congress to limit chief executive candidates to not more than three, vetted by 50% approval of an election committee packed with Beijing supporters. The students’ demands that the HKSAR government files a supplementary report to Beijing was ignored.
When the talks were first cancelled, a surge of protestors went back on the streets. However, the orchestrated complaints by various pro-Beijing unions and the increased inconvenience of the paralysed transport system began to wear down the protestors, who are still struggling on without a clear political focus.
It is hard to know to what extent the protestors’ ranks have been infiltrated by agent provocateurs.
Today (14 October), the police made concerted and vigorous moves to clear major barricades so that the key area of Admiralty was opened up to road traffic for the first time since the protest started. Protestors continued to adopt a non-violent stance of civil disobedience, knowing that they have insufficient numbers to prevent the police clearance operation.
So, the HK administration have regained Central, for now. However, the Chief Executive CY Leung’s standing has reached an all-time low, with the gap between those who support him and those who want him out now over 38% of the population. The ability of the administration to govern the city is severely in doubt.
The Australian media published an expose of CY Leung receiving a payment of £4 million from Australian engineering company UGL, allegedly for enabling them to acquire DTZ, a company based in Hong Kong with Leung on the Board, against a much higher bid for DTZ from another bidder, which turned out to be China’s state-owned Tianjin Innovation Financial Investment Company.
Leung had not declared this before, and he maintains that it is all above board and within the law. He has paid no taxes on this sum. This disclosure clearly does Leung no favours in the eyes of Beijing, because it is both “unpatriotic” as well as undermining the credibility of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive. Some observers in HK even speculated that it is Beijing who leaked this news, as a preliminary move to remove Leung from office should this becomes necessary.
During this past fortnight, there had been open expressions of fear and concern that the PLA troops would be deployed on the streets and fire on protestors. Indeed, a maverick pro-Beijing legislator had wanted to advocate such a use of force but was advised against this by her political advisers.
However, the Beijing regime under Xi Jinping’s leadership had no need for sanctioning the use of the People’s Liberation Army. After all, Hong Kong is not a threat to the CCP’s control of China, unlike the protests of 4 June in 1989 which had split the CCP’s top leadership. A military move would indeed clear the streets, but any shedding of blood would render Hong Kong totally ungovernable. After all, this city had over a million protesting on the streets in 1989 after the Tiananmen massacre, and that memory is still vivid.
There would be a massive flight of capital and thousands of families who have overseas passports would leave while many more would seek to apply for asylum. Xi Jinping could not afford to have to pay such a heavy price, while he is so close to marginalizing and knocking out his political opponents inside the CCP. International outcry and sanctions might force him into coming to an accommodation with the Shanghai faction.
The protest movement in Hong Kong must now regroup and sort out its basic principles as well as develop more effective tactics. It must seek to maximize its base of support in the population around its key principal demands for universal suffrage, and not allow the government and the CCP agents to create divisions. Occupying Central with Peace and Love, to give it its full title, is essentially a civil disobedience tactic to put pressure on the government. It has been remarkably effective up to now but some protestors perceive the blocking of all traffic in Admiralty as a fundamental principle.
An orderly retreat to consolidate the campaign now for a further round of struggle based on clear principles and smarter tactics is better than watching campaigners dissipate their energy and getting worn down by the more organized CCP-funded thugs and getting picked off by the police. The crisis of political leadership needs to be resolved by hard and honest debate within the movement, drawing from the lessons of the recent struggles as well as from history.
Linking up with the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) to counter the pressure from the Beijing-backed Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) must be an essential move.
Guo Yushan, Chinese activist and human rights lawyer, who has been arrested on the criminal charge of “provoking troubles”, is the latest of dozens of people who have been detained in connection with showing solidarity with Hong Kong protests.
Earlier this month, dissident poet Wang Zang was detained prior to a planned poetry reading in support of Hong Kong protestors. Wang Zang had posted a photo of himself holding up a middle finger and holding an umbrella, the symbol of the Hong Kong demonstrations. The message with the picture read "Wearing black clothes, bald and holding an umbrella, I support Hong Kong."
According to Amnesty International, at least 26 people have been detained in Beijing for showing support for protesters in Hong Kong, often on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a charge often used to pick up known activists and prevent the spread of protests.
Those arrested include journalist Miao Zhang, and artists Zhu Yanguang and Fei Xiaosheng.
China has been quick to censor images and posts on social media relating to the protests. However many workers travel from mainland China to Hong Kong every day to work, and many from Hong Kong have family in China. News must have spread.