Thursday, 2 October 2014

"Caged Birds Think Flying Is An Illness" - The Stand-Off In Hong Kong

And the beat goes on. Having basically provoked these mass demonstrations throughout Hong Kong through their rash bombardment of the peacefully demonstrating students who originally turned out to protest Beijing's failure to allow the genuine democracy in the territory, the Hong Kong authorities have struggled to come up with an effective way of coping with them.

The Hong Kong authorities first bombastically condemned the demonstrations as illegal. As an example of the kind of world these people live in, Regina Ip's comments that the students actions could lead to another Tiananmen (rather than, I don't know, the authorities unleashing lethal military force on unarmed protesters? Like actually happened in Tiananmen in '89?)  is a stunning example.

Then the Hong Kong authorities, perhaps realising they had over-stepped the mark, started to make more conciliatry and moderate statements. One un-named government official was quoted as saying that "Unless there's some chaotic situation, we won't send in riot police ... We hope this doesn't happen . . . We have to deal with it peacefully, even if it lasts weeks or months." The rather obvious plan being here to wait for the demontrations to make themselves unpopular through the disruption they might cause to the city.

Perhaps this was rather too conciliatory for Beijing's tastes, since the mainland authorities have since then made ever more strident warnings against continuining the demonstrations. A People's Daily editorial yesterday which has been compared to the infamous editorial threatening the demonstrators in Tiananmen square, described the consequences of continuing the demonstrations as "unimaginable". The Chinese Foreign ministry has followed suit by warning foreign diplomats to stay away from demonstrations (never mind that this may well be impossible, given the location of the demonstrators). Pictures of baton-rounds and tear-gas being distributed to police have been circulating on Twiter - the good reputation of the Hong Kong police, described by some as "Asia's Finest", has definitely taken something of a knocking over the last week or so.

Responses from ordinary people on the mainland to the demonstrations in Hong Kong have been somewhat unsympathetic, with this moronic cartoon doing the rounds (if widespread bloodshed does occur in Hong Kong, does anyone seriously think it will not be the Chinese authorities who initiate it?). This explanation has much truth in it -

Of course another explanation is that people on the mainland who are sympathetic to what is going on in Hong Kong are liable to be arrested.

Less easy to understand have been the attempts from some in the Sino-blogo-sphere to seemingly down-play the Hong Kong demonstrations.

One example of this is J Michael Cole's attempt to pooh-pooh the Hong Kong demonstrations as somehow a re-run of this year's much smaller Taiwanese demonstrations against the elected-but-unpopular KMT government's trade treaty with the PRC, a story which the world's news media largely ignored. The idea that a minor - if noisy - episode in Taiwan's domestic politics just wasn't as important as a people demonstrating for freedom from a dictatorship doesn't seem to have occured to him.

Another example is Kaiser Kuo's attempt to draw a straight line from pro-democracy demonstrations to anti-mainlander sentiment in Hong kong. I sure hope this wasn't intended as the smear it came off as.

And what is likely to be the outcome of these demonstrations? Predictions of an early exit for Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung have been doing the rounds, but I cannot believe that would happen as a direct sop to the demonstrators (not least because that would embolden them). Anyway, the CCP has been making supportive statements about heir picked man in Hong Kong - though their talk of "fully trust[ing]" Leung and being “very satisfied” with him do sound a bit like the kind of statements the board of a Premiership football club would make about an embattled manager right before sacking him. If Leung is going, they'll drop him at the end of his term in 2017 similar to the ousting of Tung Chee-hwa, not now.

Still less likely are any concessions from the CCP to allow meaningful elections in the territory. Whilst the broken promise of free elections is what led to these demonstrations in the first place, the CCP is no more likely to deliver on them now than it was, and seems fixed on its policy come-what-may. Pace  McMurphy, since the CCP decided what it was going to do ages ago - likely as long ago as 2007, conciliatory measures from the pro-democracy camp would do nothing to improve the system on offer, but then again neither are demonstrations - though this cannot be known for sure.

Most likely, sooner or later the demonstrators will quit, hopefully having given the Hong Kong authorities and the Chinese Communist Party the humiliation that they so richly deserve, but likely without having acheived much in the way of meaningful concessions. The pro-dem members of the Legislative Council will veto proposals that do not allow them to even run for election, thus preserving the current system where they may run but not be elected. Hong Kong will go back to business as usual - until the next time.

[Picture: Demonstrators occupying Harcourt Road, Admiralty hold a "candlelight vigil" with mobile phones. By Wiki user Citobun]


Ji Xiang said...

I think Kaiser Kuo's comment wasn't meant like that. He just said that anti-Mainlander resentment is "one of the factors" behind the protests, which is probably true.

Gilman Grundy said...

Well, the problem is he also spoke about how it "hasn't been explored much" and then basically says that the media is repeating the protester's description of themselves. From that, to the idea that the demonstrations are "anti-China", that the 'western' media aren't telling the whole story, is a small intellectual leap that some of his followers make almost without thinking about it.

justrecently said...

Frankly, the Western (mainstream) media aren't telling the whole story. I haven't read Kaiser Kuo's story, because I'm not familiar with navigating through Facebook anyway -, but the intellectual leap toawards considering OC "anti-China" is either made, or it is not. You can't keep thinking all the time of what others might twist your comments into.

I often find it surprising how much conformism there is in "our" media, as decentralized as they may be. Yes, there are actually comprehensive and insightful remarks on television here in Germany every now and then, be it about China, Hong Kong, Russia or the Ukraine - but this usually happens when most people have gone to bed, and not at prime time. The BBC - at least the WS - does better, but they are deteriorating (in my view as an occasional listener).

The way Chinese positions (and "feelings") are often shielded by CCP apologists like a species threatened by extinction is silly. But one shouldn't make the same mistake in defending Occupy Central against any analysis that might make them look a little less good.

Lunastrelki said...

I think the CCP, or parts of it, is pretty worried about the Hong Kong situation. One the one hand, they really don't want to have to bring in the PLA, because that would destabilize the SAR as an international economic center and permanently turn off Taiwan to the prospect of reunification.

On the other hand, it's also pretty embarrassing to have a bunch of people in a nominally democratic system demand that the government follow the law and then either a) not get their way or b) not get a lesson in blood for it mainland-style.

Liang Zhenying has failed to crush the protests by last Monday; he will likely fail to crush them by next Monday. He is also already on the way out as he has let down his masters in Beijing.

But IMO this isn't really about Liang, or even Hong Kong. It's a game between Xi Jinping and the older generation of leadership in the CCP. Zhang Dejiang heads HK and Macau affairs; he also belongs to the faction of vested political and economic interests that Jiang Zemin set up and maintained for over a decade, and that Xi Jinping is now doing his damnedest to purge out of power.

By releasing the White paper when he did, Zhang Dejiang was trying to buy what remains of his faction some time by creating a crisis for Xi to have to deal with. It's also a test for Xi, who in some ways is in a similar position to the late Zhao Ziyang vis-a-vis HK.

How will Xi react in this 江派-engineered crisis? If he makes a wrong move, it could put the steam out of his offensive against the old order and even give them a chance to take the fight to him.