19 Nov 2014

Hong Kong protests at a crossroads as authorities close in

Few people think the territory’s leaders – or their Chinese overlords in Beijing – are going to sit down and cut a deal with the protestors, but Hong Kong has changed.

The very nature of Hong Kong’s long running pro-democracy protest has changed and it only took ten or so minutes to do it.

At one o’clock this morning, several dozen demonstrators threw rocks and rammed metal barriers against the glass exterior of the territory’s legislative council building. A hole was punched through one section and several people passed through. When the police turned up, they unsheathed their batons and used pepper spray to drive them back.

The whole exercise was repeated at 4:30 am, when protestors regrouped and drove once more at police.

hong kong protest

It was one of the most violent episodes since the crisis began in September and the participants in this mini-riot have taken a serious risk. In a couple of minutes of brick throwing and glass smashing, they may have jeopardised their objectives and alienated a hefty chunk of Hong Kong opinion.


Earlier in the evening, several dozen hard-line protestors had gathered in the centre of the main protest site and gave voice to their frustrations. Some wanted revenge after the authorities cleared a handful of barricades and tents on the edge of the protest site. Others are disenchanted with the people who lead the #OccupyCentral movement.

Their argument goes like this: protest leaders have failed to convince the government to hold open elections for the territory’s next chief executive and now they’re sitting around doing nothing while the police prepare to kick them off the protest sites.

Their frustration reflects the fact that the protests are running out of steam. The number of people on the streets has shrivelled – from over a 100,000 to several hundred – and the movement suffers from a number of other critical weaknesses.


First, the protestors lack central leadership and any sense of collective control. If you need proof of that, look at how other protestors viewed last night’s assault on the legislative council. The leader of one of key student groups involved in the protests, Alex Chow Yong-kang, said the incident was “pointless” this morning, adding there was “room for improvement” in terms of coordinating the demonstrators. However, how does he propose to coordinate a ground-up, grassroots organization where everyone is supposed to have an equal say?

Secondly, the protest movement is losing public support. In a recent poll conducted for the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 67 per cent of respondents said it was time for the demonstrators to pack it in. Many here are tired of the disruption caused by the protests to public transport, road usage and the city’s slick, business-friendly image (although 49 per cent thought the government needed to make concessions to the protestors).

Perhaps, most fundamentally, few people think the territory’s leaders – or their Chinese overlords in Beijing – are going to sit down and cut a deal with the protestors. The Chinese president Xi Jingping for one, is not the sort of guy who is going to negotiate over how part of the country is run.

That doesn’t mean that these protests are bound to fail. On the contrary, Hong Kong has changed. The people who best represent its future – its young people – have demanded a say in how the place is run. But they are going to have to be patient.



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