Massive Pro-Democracy Protests in Hong Kong
September 28, 2014 1:48 PM   Subscribe

"Hong Kong police have used tear gas to disperse thousands of pro-democracy protesters near the government complex, after a week of escalating tensions." Hong Kong: Tear gas and clashes at democracy protest. Hong Kong's unprecedented protests and police crackdown, explained. South China Morning Post Topics: Occupy Central [Paywall after a few free articles]. Occupy Central with Love and Peace is on Twitter, and there is a live thread on Reddit.
posted by milquetoast (68 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Soon we'll be unable to google Hong Kong from inside China. Keeping fingers crossed for the protesters.
posted by arcticseal at 1:52 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I taught English in Guangzhou, a few hours away, and my trips to HK were always a breath of fresh air. I have nothing but respect for the people of Hong Kong and I hope they succeed in their fight for a government they deserve, and I hope against hope it happens with as violence as possible.
posted by Rinku at 1:54 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Hong Kong, and have been watching this eagerly. I think reform of some kind is inevitable at this stage, but I'm also not convinced it will come immediately. It's incredibly heartening to see pretty much peaceful protests of this scale.
posted by Dysk at 2:00 PM on September 28, 2014

I think reform of some kind is inevitable at this stage

If you mean pro-democracy reform, I'm not so sure. I don't think anyone other than the people of Hong Kong has the wherewithal to truly confront the Chinese government over this, and the stakes for the Party are high. They are terrified of something like this propagating to the mainland and have a real incentive to crack down.

If you mean the sort of "reform" China is currently proposing, I agree.
posted by eugenen at 2:09 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think that as we see in the United States, democracy (or republican democracy) is such a flawed way of governing, and yet, these young people should absolutely choose who makes the laws in Hong Kong. It's funny to me how the US makes such a fuss about democracy in the Middle East, but in Asia we don't do a thing.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:29 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Data point: my father-in-law was born and raised in Hong Kong. He says that he has no patience for either side. He's convinced that that Occupy protestors are funded by the US. I wonder how widespread that feeling is.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:57 PM on September 28, 2014

I live in Hong Kong and went to the protests when they were in Admiralty yesterday afternoon and evening to drop off supplies for protestors.

I have never seen anything like this here - thousands and thousands of unarmed peaceful protestors - some as young as 13! - chanting and clapping...and then tear gas.

The Hong Kong Police have previously had, in the minds of most HK people, a comparatively good reputation, so these tactics were truly shocking and brought more people out. Today will be interesting as it's a normal work day and I expect there will be more effort to keep the streets clear.

The Education Bureau has cancelled all classes in the Central and Western and Wan Chai districts this morning and the teachers' union has called a strike; school is normally only cancelled like this if there's a typhoon approaching.

I'll be back out this afternoon to drop off more supplies after a bit more sleep.

A few links -

A long essay on why these protests are so important; this piece galvanized my support for the movement

The kind of law HK people are afraid a rubber-stamp parliament and pro-Beijing system will bring back - were this in force Occupy Central would have never happened

Hong Wrong, which has a non-corporate/conglomorate news blog; the main guy tweets @tomgrundy

RTHK, Hong Kong's public beoadcasting service; Radio 3 is in English and is available as a livestream

There's much more happening on Facebook and Twitter but much of it is in Cantonese, which I can't read.

On preview, Hong Kong has quite loose rules on political party funding - in fact, political parties are regulated like businesses here under the Companies Ordinance - so while Occupy (which is not a political party) may very well be getting some money from people abroad (not that I know, but it is possible) it would not surprise me if the pro-Beijing DAB party were getting a monthly check from the Chinese Communist Party too.

Even the independence of the judiciary is under threat; recent statements have surfaced about how Beijing wants judges here to have to be "patriotic", whatever that means.
posted by mdonley at 3:15 PM on September 28, 2014 [36 favorites]

Joshua Wong has been released, plus a couple of other Scholarism leaders.

Writ of habeas corpus granted by independent judge. Neither of these exist in mainland China
posted by Bwithh at 3:36 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Data point: my father-in-law was born and raised in Hong Kong. He says that he has no patience for either side. He's convinced that that Occupy protestors are funded by the US. I wonder how widespread that feeling is.

Not at all among my colleagues, who are mostly younger folks currently in the US or Canada- they're very, very pro the protesters (and judging by various likes on their comments, so are their other friends).
posted by damayanti at 3:46 PM on September 28, 2014

Protest has a long history of success in China, so this will surely result in change.
posted by rr at 3:48 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

The easiest way to undercut protest movements is to accuse them of being foreign-funded. It doesn't surprise me that this accusation is flying around, although I am disappointed that some HK people seem to be so gullible as to accept it.

The CCP never admits wrongdoing, so there's no out here for China. Crushing protest is the only option. Anything else will be seen as weakness and encouraging others to rebel. China cares far more about control than it does about preserving HK's status. They'd sooner flood the territory with settlers and wipe out local institutions than allow real suffrage.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:15 PM on September 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

I don't know why the Chinese government doesn't just promote Hong Kong political leaders up the ranks of the party and start copying the Hong Kong political system into the rest of the country.

The Chinese system now is much closer to the corrupt free-for-all (amoral, corrupt) capitalism of the pre-Communist Chiang Kai Shek that the Communists fought a major war against and defeated, and the Hong Kong government is certainly more of a 'government of the people'. It is time for the Chinese officials to do some self-criticism and correction.

I have to admit that if I were writing this in China, it would be considered major trolling.
posted by eye of newt at 4:15 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

rr, I sense you're being sarcastic but, despite June 4th, protest--particularly student protest--actually does have a long history of success in China, from the Boxer Rebellion to the May 4th Movement onward. That's why Beijing is so frightened of it and why they crack down so hard.
posted by mono blanco at 4:16 PM on September 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

If by mean HK government, you mean the administration and not the technocrats, then no, they're not the government of the people. This is exactly why Occupy Central exists -- the election committee is a sham.

The current CCP is getting alarmingly like the Mao era, the whole cult of personality and the purges. There had been hopes that Xi may be a reformer (especially being so PR savvy) but Beijing remains heavy-handed on HK political affairs.
posted by tksh at 4:33 PM on September 28, 2014

Hong Kongers don't seem to buy the "foreign instigators" narrative so far. Nevertheless, this is one description that is being pushed by the central government's mouthpieces, because of course it is. That is almost-literally always what happens in anti-government protests. It's an easy attack that sometimes makes people skip over thinking about the merits of a movement. I might actually argue that it doesn't matter if they are funded by foreigners or not. though I would seriously doubt that they are. Protesters aren't going out to be arrested because they are expecting to make cash.

Angela Davis's Communist Party USA was partly funded by the USSR. This doesn't mean that Angela Davis was a fake or a foreigner. Your views of Communism should probably be informed by something else than which foreigners support it.

Regarding the Chinese government, there is sometimes a belief that it is slowly but inevitably moving towards becoming a liberalism. This actually does not appear to be the case and in areas such as judicial independence and rule and law it is actually quite a bit more authoritarian than it was in the 90s. However, world values survey data shows that people seem to be just fine with this on the mainland and actually rate central government institutions quite highly compared to most other countries and China a decade ago. I wouldn't expect too much sympathy for HK from the outside population.
posted by Winnemac at 4:49 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

posted by humanfont at 4:51 PM on September 28, 2014

The WSJ has a good slideshow of the protesters. They're so young.

There are a few ways this could all play out.

1. Eventually the protesters (after some weeks) realise that they aren't going to get what they want and end the protests. However an entire generation of Hong Kong students is radicalised, and reinvigorates the democracy movement.

2. Beijing flips out and sends in the troops. That would mean the end of "one country, two systems".

3. Beijing backs down and allows direct elections. I really don't think this would happen.

4. Beijing forces the HK govt to acknowledge the unhealthy grip the cartels have over the territory and introduce structural reforms relating to land supply, competition, housing prices, overcrowding caused by mainland tourism. This might work.

In the end I think it will be a combination of 1. & 4.
posted by awfurby at 5:13 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Survey: Hongkonger identification with People's Republic of China citizenship

All age groups: about 20%
18-29 yrs : about 16%

All age groups: about 18%
18-29 yrs: about 8%
posted by Bwithh at 5:35 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am being sarcastic and if the two examples you're going to cite are respectively nearly 100 years ago and over 100 years ago you might want to re-consider their relevance. The modern Chinese government has approximately zero to do with the governments of that era. It is an ongoing mistake of the left and the young that things from a century ago will still work despite the many, many opportunities that have been made available to them to learn otherwise.
posted by rr at 5:41 PM on September 28, 2014

I heard they did a "hands up don't shoot" chant in Hong Kong. I love to see the various global protest movements supporting each other.

@awfan: 别射!我们是举起双手来散步的!》@1n5ur3c7 #Ferguson to #HongKong The people are rising! #MikeBrown #OccupyCentral #HandsUpDontShoot
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:58 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Max Fisher has suggested that likely Beijing response will be a Wukan-style approach - negotiate and make concessions, and after everything has calmed down , gradually start revoking the concessions and clamping down.

I don't think HK is very comparable to a rural mainland village though
posted by Bwithh at 6:51 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I attended a private all male boarding school in Canada in the late 80s, early 90s. It was in the midst of the Asian immigrant influx that had transformed Vancouver into 'Hongcouver' where, it was whispered, that a great number of upper middle class Hong Kong residents were coming in to keep Vancouver has a 'nuclear option' if the 1997 handover to China went poorly.

I had many classmates who were these male scions of relatively prosperous white collar families of Hong Kong Chinese doctors, import/export traders and bankers. In our sophomore year, we watched from afar as the Tiananmen massacre happened. It was terrible, and I remember that we talked about how terrible it was, but we never really pried too deeply with our friends about it, because while I knew that my friends were scared about what it implied for their future, it was all too vague and abstract a future for us to grasp at 14.

We graduated, and went on to attend university in the US and Canada. Harvard, Brown, McGill. And all of them, to a man, went back to Hong Kong one year before handover. There were promises, and hope, and they still had families back there. Those friends of mine pursued their own professional lives, learning to live in the new world of Chinese Hong Kong.

I visited them two years ago, when the specter of Moral and National Education hung over the decisions of where they were going to send their kids to school. We had talked about the possibilities of international schools. About the possibilities of moving back to Canada, of pulling the nuclear option. But they chose to stay, and to support the Scholarism protests that erupted a few weeks later.

And now I woke this morning to seeing my social feeds ablaze with Asian news of these protests, and seeing my high school friends, now grown men in their 40's posting updates from their volunteer spots at medical tents, letting their families know that they're ok.

I think of us watching the Tiananmen Massacre as boys, and I don't think I would've imagined this fate for any of them, but I hope that they do themselves and their fellow citizens proud.
posted by bl1nk at 7:00 PM on September 28, 2014 [45 favorites]

Thanks Bwithh, the video at the bottom of the article (an interview with Joshua Wong -- a high school student who is one of the leaders of the democracy movement) is inspiring and well worth the watch.
posted by chapps at 10:33 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just getting home after dropping supplies at the Admiralty and Causeway Bay sites, which each had multiple emergency stations staffed by medical students and even AEDs. At the moment they are overflowing with supplies but there is no trust in the police and the demonstrators seem very prepared for a longer protest than, I am sure, the government would like.

The normal police were without hats/glasses/helmets and the few riot police I saw were only in Admiralty and in threes blocking the entrance to the bridge over Connaught Road that leads to LegCo and Tamar Park.

The thing I took away is this: this is very very very not even close to over.
posted by mdonley at 11:54 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Re: 'foreign instigators' the only ones I've seen evidence for are trying to influence events on behalf of Beijing:

... Ernst & Young LLP, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte LLP and KPMG LLP published a half-page Chinese-language advertisement in the local press Friday voicing concerns about the Occupy Central movement.

Personally, I'm disgusted to see these western affiliates openly identify as pro-Beijing/anti-democracy.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 12:09 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

They're openly identifying as not wanting a massive disruptive force on their doorstep, possibly blocking access to their offices. Sure, this privileges business as usual over the issue at hand here, but I'm not convinced it should be seen as necessarily aligning themselves with Beijing.
posted by Dysk at 12:21 AM on September 29, 2014

Beijing is causing the disruption every bit as much as Occupy by removing HKers promised democratic channels for expression. Yet it's escaped criticism by the Big Four accounting firms.

Protesters in the west routinely get told by the establishment to restrict their actions to influencing elections. Now when democratic elections are removed, they're told to just "dialogue." That's not neutral, that's plunking down for authoritarianism.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 12:35 AM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Immediate cause vs. root cause. The establishment is not preventing bankers from getting to work, the protesters are.

Like, I don't really disagree with you, but it's also a little disingenuous to suggest that the government is as directly responsible for the disruption as the people causing the disruption.
posted by Dysk at 12:57 AM on September 29, 2014

It's interesting that the split in public opinion is so close. I wonder if that represents actual ground truth, or if the data has been manipulated in some way. My intuition is that, to borrow a phrase, the tighter Beijing tries to grasp Hong Kong, the more people will slip through their fingers.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:12 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd like to try to give some context here, through the lens of my subjective experience.


The long-term political history of Hong Kong is very complicated, but the current situation essentially arises from the transfer of control of the territory from the UK to the PRC (the People's Republic of China, the mainland regime) in 1997 (colloquially, 'the handover'). Two handover-related documents are of particular importance at the moment:

  1. The Hong Kong Basic Law: essentially functions as the 'constitution' of the Hong Kong government, but differs from the usual idea of a democratic constitution in some key ways. The document was drafted by a committee hand-picked by the CPC (the Communist Party of China, which maintains absolute control over the PRC government) and was imposed on Hong Kong by the PRC at the time of the handover, without any sort of democratic input from the people of HK. Furthermore, the document sets forth that the NPC Standing Committee (part of the rubber-stamp legislature of the PRC) has the sole power to make changes to or interpret the Basic Law. The Basic Law actually makes a number of important guarantees regarding things like the freedom of speech and equal protection etc, but it also includes a number of provisions that function to maintain Beijing's power over Hong Kong.

  2. The Sino-British Joint Declaration: an agreement made in 1985 between the UK and the PRC that set the stage for the 1997 handover. In this document, the PRC agrees to let HK govern itself with a "high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" until at least 2047.

Hong Kong's electoral system

Hong Kong has a very weird electoral system that might be described as a 'semi-representative democracy'. There are two main branches of government:

  1. The Legislative Council: the unicameral legislature of Hong Kong. Consists of two main factions, each containing many individual parties: the pan-democrats, who are generally in favor of things like civil liberties and free elections, and the pro-Beijing camp, who favor closer ties with the PRC regime and who are generally opposed to democratic elections, civil liberties etc. However, not every pro-Beijing politician wants to import the brutal authoritarianism (and ubiquitous corruption) of the mainland to Hong Kong: many simply believe that capitulation to Beijing will produce ultimately more desirable economic outcomes. Legco is a pretty normal legislature in terms of its functioning, but is elected in some quite unusual ways. There are two kinds of constituencies that elect members to Legco:
    1. Geographical constituencies : GCs employ 'normal' party-list proportional representation, with one vote for each Permanent Resident over the age of 18 (PR is roughly equivalent to citizenship in HK, for electoral purposes). There are five constituencies at the moment.
    2. Functional constituencies: FCs are the unusual ones. At the moment, there are 20 functional constituencies, each intended to represent a specific group of people. The actual mechanics of the electoral process are unique to each one, but almost all of them elect only one member to Legco. Some of the Legco seats associated with FCs are elected by natural persons while some are elected by corporation or other organizations. For instance, the Finance seat is elected by 125 banks and deposit-taking institutions: one-bank-one-vote (actually, sometimes two votes: at least four banks have a vote in both the Finance and Insurance constituencies).

    Predictably, GCs tend to vote pan-democrat, while FCs tend to vote pro-Beijing. The Basic Law promises that Legco will eventually be elected by 'universal suffrage', which everyone understands to mean the elimination of functional constituencies, and sure enough, the influence of FCs has waned since the handover.

    In the last general election in 2012, 35 members were elected by geographical constituencies and 35 by functional constituencies. However, 6 of those functional constituency seats were elected by or from the District Councils who were in turn elected by the people; this was a new addition to the system that basically means that the breakdown between seats elected by universal democracy and seats elected or appointed directly by special interest groups was more like 41/29, in practice.

    In 2008, the breakdown was 30/30, in 2004, it was 30/30, in 2000, it was 24/30, and in 1998, it was 20/30. So democracy is slowly gaining ground in the legislature. The current distribution of membership in Legco is 27 pan-democrats vs 43 pro-Beijing (but, last election, the pan-democrats actually received over 56% of the popular vote).

  2. The Chief Executive: The CE appoints the primary officers of the executive and judicial branches, and is in charge of the day-to-day administration of the government. This extremely powerful position is (for the moment) elected by a 1200-member Election Committee, the composition of which is complex but definitely not democratic, and is essentially under the control of the PRC.

    So, because Beijing controls the electoral process for the office pretty much outright, the CE is invariably a puppet of the CPC regime. It is this electoral process that is the main motivating factor in the current round of protests.
Electoral reform

The primary issue here is that Beijing has been promising to allow Hong Kong to conduct free and fair elections for a long time, but now that the time is drawing near, and HK people have started to expect implementation of universal suffrage in the near future, Beijing has become more and more hostile to the notion of popular election of the Chief Executive.

Back in 2007, the NPC Standing Committee (which, as mentioned before, is a part of the PRC legislature which has the sole power to interpret the HK Basic Law), finally announced:
...that the election of the fifth Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2017 may be implemented by the method of universal suffrage;
and that:
The bills on the amendments to the method for selecting the Chief Executive and the proposed amendments to such bills shall be introduced by the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to the Legislative Council; such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive
So the process, according to Beijing in 2007, is supposed to have been this: the CE's office (which is controlled by Beijing) writes up a bill enabling universal suffrage for the 2017 CE election and submits it to Legco, which accepts it by a two-thirds majority, and then the bill is finally sent back to the NPC Standing Committee for approval.

What actually happened is that in 2013, Beijing began to indicate, through a series of progressively stronger statements, they they were not prepared to allow a bill that would enable genuine elections for the CE, culminating in the 'white paper' published by the PRC's State Council in June, which made their intentions clear:
...the chief executive to be elected by universal suffrage must be a person who loves the country and Hong Kong.
The ultimate aim of selection of the chief executive will be one by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee...
...judges of the courts at different levels and other judicial personnel, have on their shoulders the responsibility of correctly understanding and implementing the Basic Law, of safeguarding the country's sovereignty, security and development interests, and of ensuring the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. In a word, loving the country is the basic political requirement for Hong Kong's administrators.
Setting aside the paper's troubling stance toward judicial independence, with regards to Chief Executive elections, this document simply redefined 'universal suffrage' to mean something that is completely counter to what that phrase is usually taken to mean: Beijing's new position is that the CE can be popularly elected, but that nominations for the ballot must be controlled by a nominating committee which is similar to the existing Election Committee, effectively ensuring that only candidates acceptable to the CPC would be allowed to run.

Protests in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has a very active and successful culture of popular, non-violent protest. Every year, tens of thousands of people turn out for the two main annual marches on June 4 and July 1, and smaller protests go on around the place essentially every day.

The June 4 march commemorates the Tiananmen Square massacre of '89, of course. The July 1 marches began in 2003, as a response to the HK government's attempts to implement Article 23 of the HK Basic Law, which reads:
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies.
On the first of July 2003, in a city of about 7 million, over 500,000 people showed up to march against Article 23, and it worked. On September 5, the bill was shelved indefinitely by the CE. Ever since then, the people of Hong Kong have known from experience that protests really do produce results, and there has been a large march every year on July 1, which covers a lot of pan-democrat aligned issues but is primarily a pro-democracy and pro-civil-liberty protest.

I participated in the July 1 march this year, and it was the biggest protest I have ever personally seen in Hong Kong, and certainly the largest since 2003. It absolutely pelted with rain that day, but the entirety of the several kilometers of road along which the march proceeded was completely packed with people from the morning until late at night.

Occupy Central

In 2013, a loose coalition (Occupy Central with Love and Peace, OCLP) headed up by Benny Tai Yiu-ting proposed the following: if, during the process described above, the CE's office doesn't produce a bill for the 2017 CE election that would enable democracy that is 'consistent with international standards' (that is, with popular nomination), then the public should stage a campaign of civil disobedience, including a sit-in intended to block major thoroughfares in the city's financial district (the 'Central' in 'Occupy Central').

The first major component of their program was to conduct a pseudo-referendum regarding the election method for the CE in 2017. Three very similar proposals were generated at an outdoor deliberation session (about 2500 people participated and voted in this), all of which included popular nomination of candidates, and then the three proposals were put to the people of Hong Kong through online voting and through physical polling stations (using Hong Kong Identity Card numbers to prevent double voting).

The referendum also contained an additional question, asking voters: if the bill put forth by the CE's office is not in line with international standards, should Legco veto the bill? As I mentioned earlier, Beijing's process requires a two-thirds majority in Legco, which means that the pan-democrats' 27 seats would be more than enough to block the bill.

Nearly 800000 people (so, over 10% of the population) voted in this informal referendum, with over 90% voting for either of the three popular-nomination proposals and over 87% indicating that they would prefer Legco to veto any bill that didn't include popular nomination. Pan-democrat legislators have announced that they intend to do just that.

Naturally, Beijing hated this, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth on their end: their mouthpieces insisted that the referendum was an "illegal farce" motivated by foreign "anti-China forces" et cetera, and during the polling period, the referendum's online voting services were continually subject to denial-of-service attacks from across the border.

Finally, there was a general student strike all last week, and then, on Saturday afternoon, riot police attempted to use tear gas to disperse a peaceful protest near the government headquarters, prompting public outrage. OCLP decided to take the opportunity to announce the beginning of its long-planned civil disobedience campaign, and so the number of protesters has since swelled to the thousands, and that's the situation right now.posted by polychora at 2:12 AM on September 29, 2014 [49 favorites]

Polychora, that's a great summary for those new to the issues. One thing I would correct, however, is the suggestion that the PRC brought in the concept of the nominating committee as a prereq for universal suffrage election for the CE only in the White Paper. In fact, Art. 45 of the Basic Law says the exact same thing.

The problem is, of course, how exactly one should interpret "broadly representative" - the proposed model under the White Paper is actually even worse than the election committee that elected CY, since it increases the threshold for nomination from 150 to 200. That's the core issue - Beijing is actually going backwards on the issue rather than forwards.

Pan-democrats had hoped for a lowered threshold (since the threshold is not stated within the Basic Law), rather than elimination of the nominating committee entirely. A sufficiently low enough nomination threshold to stand for election as CE would have ensured that pan-democratic candidates could have been nominated by the pan-democratic LegCo members directly elected from the geographic constituencies that are part of nominating committee; in contrast, the increased nomination threshold basically ensures they will never get on the ballot.
posted by modernnomad at 2:34 AM on September 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

Is there anything stopping China from sending PLA troops across the border to do what the Hong Kong police refuse to do (i.e., crush the protests 1989-style), and following that, dismissing “one country two systems” as a mistake not to be mentioned again? It's not like the rest of the world could hit them with economic sanctions. Financial markets may suffer for a while, but if Beijing makes promises of playing nice with big corporations (whilst ensuring a lack of disruption), they could recover soon enough.
posted by acb at 2:36 AM on September 29, 2014

You underestimate the economic impact - tanks on the streets here and you'd see expat finance and law types fleeing in droves, along with huge numbers of middle and upper class locals who have acquired citizenship overseas for just such an emergency...

Politically, sending in the PLA would also doom the mainland's chances of a peaceful reunification with Taiwan.

China has much to lose by backing down now (eg allowing full/free elections for the CE may provoke other restive regions to demand the same), but it also has much to lose by cracking down in an overly aggressive way.

China plays a long game - I expect they will seek out a facesaving solution (perhaps including the resignation of CY Leung), and continue to marginalize HK's democratic elements until 2047, when all bets are off and they're not bound by the Basic Law to do anything in particular.
posted by modernnomad at 2:47 AM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

One thing I would correct, however, is the suggestion that the PRC brought in the concept of the nominating committee as a prereq for universal suffrage election for the CE only in the White Paper. In fact, Art. 45 of the Basic Law says the exact same thing.

You're completely right. However, I do think the context matters here, even though the language is almost exactly the same: at the time of the promulgation of the Basic Law, the terms 'universal suffrage' and 'broadly representative', as used in the highly coded language of official publications of the PRC government, didn't necessarily mean what they do today.

Back then, it was anybody's guess what they really meant by those words, but I think the white paper, taken as a whole and in the context of the political environment of mid-2014, was a much less ambiguous indication of Beijing's stance on this particular issue than was the Basic Law back in 1990.
posted by polychora at 2:56 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

owever, world values survey data shows that people seem to be just fine with this on the mainland and actually rate central government institutions quite highly compared to most other countries and China a decade ago.

My understanding is that this is driven by the 'stability-orientated', eye-of-Sauron like qualities of the central government - namely that whilst the quotidian concerns of your average citizen doesn't bother it overmuch, anything that threatens CCP stability and control (and profit) does. Clumsy and over-reaching malfeasance by local officials calls undue attention to corruption and sparks hundreds if not thousands of protests every year, and thus gets cracked down on in highly visible, morale boosting ways.

Additionally, I would suggest that the central government has a wonderful capacity to turn a blind eye if not actively encourage corruption when it's going well, and then dumping a bucket of shit on local officials and calling them out as 'rogues' when it goes poorly. E.G the language around Bo Xilai (though I acknowledge there is more to it than that).

Godspeed to the people of Hong Kong. Their belief and commitment to democracy is an inspiration to us all.
posted by smoke at 4:09 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

mdonley that was a terrific, inspiring essay. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by smoke at 4:18 AM on September 29, 2014

I was on vacation at the start of the year in Hong Kong when the occupy people organised a march. I went down to check it out - it isn't everyday you get to march against communism this century.
I don't speak Chinese, but many of the occupy protestors were young, highly educated people with fluent English. They had nuance in their explanations to me, an outsider there for only a few days, of the political situation. I point that out not from paternalism, but from the lack of deeper understanding and sloganeering I am familiar with in mass protests at home.
The occupy people are in a strange relationship with the mainstream opposition parties, to the point that occupy was pulling out of elections and disengaging from traditional politics, judging it beyond redemption.
The mainstream democrats were a bit torn. They were enlivened by the occupy energy, but felt that working for change within the system had the greatest chance of success.
The conservatives were a bit angry. They were disdainful of the occupy tactics, and characterised them as anarchists and irresponsible agitators.
The mainstream on both sides skewed older, but all groups had a big range of ages. I got the impression that the older population doesn't want to rock the boat that has be fairly lucrative for them, but I did meet some older people who are supporting reform as moral choice, even though they concede it has risks.
I can confirm western funding of the protests, as I donated to everyone who was protesting in a civilised fashion and bought a bunch of T-shirts. How cool to support nascent democracy.

The wildcard I didn't expect was the Falun Dafa movement. Their drilled marchers were highly disciplined and in large numbers. Their beef is obviously regarding the ability to practice their faith on the mainland, but it highlighted to me there were zealots in numbers as part of their group - not that I saw anything untoward, but I suspect they will end up having influence in how this all falls out just by dint of their discipline and organisational abilities.

And the HK police were efficient and polite to tourists anyway. They were there is numbers, erected steel barricades along the street and closed roads to traffic. They parked dozens of metal grill clad mini buses in the side streets for transport. There was certainly no violence, and not really any confrontation. The police seemed more concerned with keeping order and safety than the political stuff.
posted by bystander at 4:38 AM on September 29, 2014

acb: There's already a PLA garrison in HK but I don't think they have tanks, at least not in any meaningful number. They do have armoured carriers though.

My two cents is that for CY to call-in PLA troops to quell the protests, it will be like invoking the nuclear option -- all pretence of two systems will be of no more. Agree with modernnomad that this will roll-back all their gains with TW in the past few years. The CCP has been heavy handed on the issue (and I think it's partly from Xi trying to out-hardline the hardliners on nationalistic issues) but I don't think they're stupid. They're just not particularly good at walking on the line between explicit control and implicit control, they err on the explicit too often.

But having said that, as long as the US and UK stay out of it I'm hopeful this will be resolved within HK. CY gets sacked, the election committee stays, the nominating threshold is lowered, more talks with the pan-democrats are held, and the CCP will try to slip-in their controls at a later date through subtler means.
posted by tksh at 5:38 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

The wildcard I didn't expect was the Falun Dafa movement.

They're at pretty much every pro-democracy march in Hong Kong, or at least were when I was living there. It's easy to forget that their presence might seem weird to people not familiar with Hong Kong.
posted by Dysk at 6:09 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agree with modernnomad that this will roll-back all their gains with TW in the past few years.

OTOH, if that happened and hardliners in Beijing demanded that the “secessionist rebel elements” in Taiwan surrendered or faced the consequences, possibly engaging in some gunboat diplomacy, it may cause Taiwan to crack and negotiate the terms of surrender. Unlike during the Cold War, America is in hock to China and dependent on cheap Chinese manufacturing, and may not be willing to back up Taiwan with the threat of consequences up to and including nuclear war. Taiwan's alliance with the UK may be no more tenable than Britain's permanent possession of Hong Kong was.
posted by acb at 6:28 AM on September 29, 2014

I heard they did a "hands up don't shoot" chant in Hong Kong.

This chant has always sounded weird to me. "Hands up" is an existing idiom in American English, as an imperative meaning you get your hands up, not as a description of my hands being up. I mean, I get it, but it still sounds odd.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:17 AM on September 29, 2014

Thanks for this post and the awesome discussion herein.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:32 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

acb: Yeah, I have no idea about that. I don't think even Ma would ever just roll over but the economic ties are strong. Clinton made a defence pact with Taiwan back in the 90s I believe so I'm guessing China would be largely reduced to using economic avenues rather than militia if they wanted to steamroll Taiwan.

And that Reddit live feed is great. Raw and unverified but great. Seems like everyone's very conscious of maintaining the calm and peaceful aspect of the protests. Don't provoke the police, self-police suspicious behaviour (ie. inciting violence), legal tips, etc.
posted by tksh at 9:15 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

The the non-violent, positive spirit of the protest is inspiring.

Interesting, but not very convincing, pro-mainland viewpoint: Hong Kong's Democrats Should Accept the NPC’s Election Plan. Oh my gosh - the comments
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:54 AM on September 29, 2014

The wildcard I didn't expect was the Falun Dafa movement. Their drilled marchers were highly disciplined and in large numbers. Their beef is obviously regarding the ability to practice their faith on the mainland, but it highlighted to me there were zealots in numbers as part of their group - not that I saw anything untoward, but I suspect they will end up having influence in how this all falls out just by dint of their discipline and organisational abilities.

I could have this all wrong, so someone correct me if I do, but I got the impression in a modern Chinese history class that the Chinese government's crackdown on the Falun Dafa was a pretty direct result of what happened at Tienanmen Square. Basically, the government had a choice at Tienanmen between violence and acquiescing to peoples' demands- it was too serious to just ignore any longer. They really came pretty close to winning. So after that, the government saw any large organization making demands on them as a direct threat to be dealt with by force. (I'm also told that this, rather than any moral or religious objections, has been the reason for limits placed on LGBT groups. It's not the group's message, it's the mere fact that a group has organized around a cause.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:27 AM on September 29, 2014

I think the lesson that the Chinese government drew from Tiananmen was that you better have plenty of tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray and fire-hoses in your major cities, so that protests can be quelled according to international best practices instead of resorting to live ammo (which turns out to be terrible PR)
posted by moorooka at 12:00 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

mono blanco: rr, I sense you're being sarcastic but, despite June 4th, protest--particularly student protest--actually does have a long history of success in China, from the Boxer Rebellion to the May 4th Movement onward.
In what sense was the Boxer Rebellion successful? My schooling on the matter was that it was a protest against the opium "enslavement" by the British government, and was brutally defeated. It weakened the existing dynasty, but at that point, they were a British hegemony anyway, and that continued.

Enlighten me if I have that all wrong, please.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:37 PM on September 29, 2014

it's very interesting to watch the reddit live feed and see the protest struggling with similar issues I remember from the US-based Occupy events - mostly 1) the high potential for misinformation and logistics of handling lots of people under potential stress, and 2) the cops waiting until ~4 or 5am to attempt to clear out the protestors in the early morning hours.

as much as i've moved on from being a reddit fan, that live feed feature is really neat and in this case the main contributors are very devoted to what they are doing- getting the correct info out there, quashing rumors, and not letting it simply become a soapbox for the loudest. it's great.
posted by ghostbikes at 12:59 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fewer people on the streets this morning, though tomorrow is a national holiday so numbers may increase again overnight...

Police apparently under instruction from top levels to be 'friendly' and to 'joke around' with protestors; no riot gear in sight.

Suspect leadership has decided best approach is to see if it melts away after protestors have proved their point. They probably expect a hardcore group will remain, but the bulk are not going to be on the streets for more than a few days.
posted by modernnomad at 7:19 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

CY Leung just gave a 15 minute speech saying he wouldn't resign. He called for the Occupy Central leaders to "keep their word" about ending the protest when it started to get out of control, but reiterated there was no chance of HK calling in the PLA.
posted by modernnomad at 8:14 PM on September 29, 2014

South China Morning Post has (paywall-free) LIVE UPDATES link on its front page...
posted by Mister Bijou at 3:29 AM on September 30, 2014

Massive thunderstorm just started here in Central. Looks like the umbrellas are coming back out, but thankfully in a different context...
posted by modernnomad at 4:37 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

OpenGuarden's mesh networking app FireChat is being recommended by student leaders in the Hong Kong protests out of fear authorities may shut off communications, presumably China can still spy on FireChat metadata and content though.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:47 PM on October 1, 2014

Big Picture photoessay: Hong Kong protesters refuse to leave
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 12:33 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Noisy Pink Bubbles... Many thanks for the links, most especially Black versus Yellow.
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:34 PM on October 3, 2014

Jacobin: Expanding the Umbrella Revolution
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 11:20 AM on October 4, 2014

Jacobin: Hong Kong Protests FAQ (More accurate title: Interview with Hong Kong leftist)
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:06 AM on October 5, 2014

Apparently the Brits were toying with the idea of granting Hong Kong self-rule in the 50s but rejected the idea because the Chinese threatened to invade if they did so.
posted by crazy with stars at 4:08 PM on October 12, 2014

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