14 Oct 2014

Hong Kong: barricades fall but expectations raised

They tried to force them out with tear gas. They tried to scare them out with talk of ‘dire consequences’. Now Hong Kong’s police have quietly moved in to strip away barricades.

They’ve tried to force them out with tear gas. They tried to scare them out with talk of ‘firm deadlines’ and ‘dire consequences’.

Today however, Hong Kong’s police moved in quietly and carefully, stripping away a series of elaborate Les Miserables-style barricades on the edge of the central protest site.

The police, who came prepared with riot shields, grinders and box cutters, met no resistance. Instead a small group of protestors, who have campaigning for free elections in the territory, looked on from the roadside with tears in their eyes.

Both they – and those who lead them  – know that time is running out on ‘occupied Hong Kong’.

“The police know when we are weakest,” said one organiser called Gary Leung. “Most people go to school or work during the day and we haven’t got the numbers to stop them.”

Photo credit: Raul Gallego AbellanPhoto credit: Raul Gallego Abellan

Nonetheless, Mr Leung said they’d just pop up somewhere else if the police clear out the central business district.

His last comment gets to the heart of things here. In many ways the protestors have got nothing out of more than two weeks of civil disobedience. The government won’t talk to them and the territory’s leader, CY Leung says there is ‘zero’ chance of China sanctioning open elections for Hong Kong’s next leader.

However, to borrow the words of Hong Kong University’s erudite vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson, this city of seven million souls has ‘irrevocably changed’.

14_HK1_wPhoto credit: Raul Gallego Abellan

The people who represent it’s future don’t like where this place is going – both in terms of governance – and economics. Hong Kong is one of the most unequal places on earth – a city where the prospect of owning a flat is the stuff of fantasy for most citizens.

One day the territory’s government will have to meet the concerns of those who live here. Eventually, the Hong Kong government will have to do a better job representing their views to the ‘central government’ in Beijing.

The expectations of the people of Hong Kong have been raised and you can’t put that sort of thing back in the bottle.

Photo credit: Raul Gallego Abellan

Photo credit: Raul Gallego Abellan

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