Published on Independent Voices on 16th October 2014.
After being filled with tear gas, the air briefly cleared in Hong Kong two weeks ago, when the government accepted students’ offer to engage in dialogue. The Umbrella Revolution was on course to a peaceful closure.
Then came the counter-revolution. Pro-China crowds, including thugs with criminal records, attacked protesters in an organised manner. Shameful police collaboration with these gangs further inflamed public outrage. They casually released suspects, even escorted some to public transport.
Subsequently, talks with the government were halted. But masked mobs continued to dismantle protesters’ barricades, some with knives in their hands. Hard won confidence in the police built over decades evaporated overnight. And the conclusion to this chapter of the former British colony’s history is nowhere in sight.
The Umbrella Revolution can only end with a political solution, for this is a political problem. Beijing wants to impose Iranian style democracy in Hong Kong. Hongkongers want real democracy and genuine universal suffrage. The government in Hong Kong has rejected dialogue and resorted to force. Force may move barricades, but it will not kill the people’s desire for democracy. Ultimately, it is Beijing’s call to make. So long as the Chinese government vows to keep the election process closed, umbrellas on the streets of Hong Kong will stay defiantly open.
This is also above politics, as Hong Kong faces an unprecedented human rights crisis. Attacks orchestrated by thugs and police have thrown Hong Kong into disarray. Just this week, a protester was attacked by six plainclothes policemen, who carried him into a dark corner where he was punched and kicked repeatedly.
“It is stomach-churning to think there are Hong Kong police officers that feel they are above the law,” said Amnesty International. The self-censorship of this story by Hong Kong’s largest TV network resulted in an open letter signed by its journalists, criticising the management’s interference of editorial independence.
From freedom of the press to protest, Hong Kong is rapidly being remade in the image of the Motherland’s authoritarianism. This is not the Hong Kong Britain handed over to China in 1997.
It’s ironic that the hacktivist group Anonymous has done more to defend Hong Kong’s freedom than democratic governments, by shutting down Chinese government’s websites and leaking their data online.
While no sane citizen would antagonise China unnecessarily, it is equally true that those with democratic mandate are subjected to public pressure. David Cameron, for instance, has incrementally moved from being “concerned” to saying we should “stand up” for voting rights in Hong Kong, which is a long way from the Foreign Office’s endorsement of Beijing’s decision to vet candidates in September.
The moral of the story is that political dynamics change. The idea ofOccupy Central was ridiculed as wishful thinking in the face of the mighty Communist Party. But ordinary citizens of Hong Kong exceeded expectations by spontaneously forming a mass movement without “leaders” or command and control.
They further amazed the world with their peaceful manner ofelse in the world would you find over 50,000 protesters without a car overturned or a shop set on fire? Sceptics told them this was impossible, and Hongkongers proved them wrong. Now these same sceptics are calling demands for democracy idealistic and call for immediate withdrawal. They will be proved wrong once again.
The Umbrella Revolution is an ongoing operation. It will end when democracy and freedom finally prevail in Hong Kong.