After police tried to subdue mass protests in Hong Kong by tear gas and rubber bullets late Sunday night, the mood seems to have calmed down in Hong Kong slightly. On late Thursday night, Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung have announced that his government is willing to speak to protest leaders, but indicated that he had no intention of stepping down as demanded.
On Sunday night, protesters in Hong Kong gathered around Hong Kong’s government offices, joining a group of students there for a week-long sit-in. The protest is headed by the Hong Kong Federation of Students, as well as the civic group Occupy Central, to protest Beijing’s decision to hand-pick candidates for Hong Kong’s chief executive election in 2017. Currently, Hong Kong voters do not vote for their executive, who is instead chosen by a committee of pro-Beijing business and political leaders. The same committee is expected to select the candidates.
While Hong Kong voters will still have the chance to go to the polls for the first time in the Special Administrative Region’s history, many had hoped for a chance to choose from a panel of competing candidates. Earlier this year, Occupy Central had staged a poll asking voters whether they prefer independent candidates running in the election. Nearly 800,000 voters responded, or 1 out of 5 eligible voter in Hong Kong; and of three proposals, the one allowing for voter-nominated independent candidates won 42.1%.
However, after Beijing published a policy white paper in June reasserting Beijing’s ultimate political rule over Hong Kong and then limiting the choice of candidates for general elections, many in Hong Kong increasingly found themselves doubting Beijing’s One Country, Two Systems deal, which was supposed to allow Hong Kong a “high level of autonomy,” as was promised when the UK ceded the crown colony of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Other prominent events include pro-democracy media outlets being harassed and forced out of business, as well as a failed attempt to introduce “patriotic” education in Hong Kong by China.
Since the protests began, many have pointed out the similarities between Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution with Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement, a month-long siege of the parliament by student protesters against a trade pact with China in March and April. Sunflower Movement leader Lin Fei-fan also spoke to the increasing solidarity between civic movements in Hong Kong and in Taiwan, in an op-ed for Foreign Policy, which sees the Chinese government’s reach as a common enemy.
Ironically, Chinese president Xi Jinping has at this time urged Taiwan to submit to the same One Country, Two Systems arrangement as Hong Kong, but many commentators are warning China that how it decides to deal with Hong Kong protesters will determine how Taiwan perceives China’s offer. According to former US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and Stanford professor on democracy Larry Diamond, the people of Taiwan will only grow more skeptical of China as they watch Hong Kong’s freedoms being circumscribed, and any prospect for integration will be damaged. Both Huntsman and Diamond remain unsure of how the protests will be resolved, but both agree that China will have to negotiate with protesters on some compromise to at least gradually introduce citizen-nominated candidates and other freedoms.
Late Thursday night signs of a compromise may be seen, as protest leaders have tentatively agreed to meet with Carrie Lam, Hong Kong government’s designated spokesperson. Similarly, a week into student occupation of parliament in Taiwan, Taiwan’s premier Jiang Yi-huah met with protest leaders, but could not make any concrete promises as to the protesters’ demands.
(Feature photo by Dan Garrett)