All eyes on #OccupyCentral in #HongKong: Where will China go with its latest pro-democracy uprising?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

This exploded over the weekend: in what is alternately being called #OccupyCentral, #UmbrellaMovement, and #UmbrellaRevolution, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, one of China's semi-autonomous regions, took to the streets to protest a recent move by China's central government to limit the region's self-governance. Hong Kong is somewhat of an anomaly in China - unlike most of the rest of the country, the region retained a free press and an independent judiciary after the UK handed the territory over to the People's Republic in 1997 - and they have exercised their right to assembly and peaceful demonstration at least once a year since then. The formal expression is "One China, Two Systems"; practically speaking, it is a small enclave of economic prosperity, sky-high cost of living and property value, and open internet access, not to mention a place where Americans (and perhaps others, though I can't speak to the experience of citizens of other countries) can visit without paying for China's exorbitantly priced tourist visa.

This time, though, it looks like shit may go down for realz - the demonstrators have taken the streets en masse, and there are whispers of the possibility of a Tiananmen square repeat.
Downtown Hong Kong turned into a battlefield of tear gas and seething crowds on Sunday after the police moved against a student democracy protest, inciting public fury that brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets of a city long known as a stable financial center.

Hours after the riot police sought late Sunday to break up the protest, large crowds of demonstrators remained nearby, sometimes confronting lines of officers and chanting for them to lay down their truncheons and shields. Police officers were also injured in skirmishes with protesters.

The heavy-handed police measures, including the city’s first use of tear gas in years and the presence of officers with long-barreled guns, appeared to galvanize the public, drawing more people onto the streets. On Monday morning, protesters controlled major thoroughfares in at least three parts of the city. A few unions and the Hong Kong Federation of Students called for strikes, and the federation urged a boycott of classes.
The escalation of the protests, and the unusually strong response by the police, pointed to the possibility of a long confrontation between a city government pressured by the Chinese Communist Party’s demands for top-down control and residents’ demands for a city leadership chosen by democratic means.

The protest at the government offices was started by students demanding such electoral changes. Beijing last month proposed that the public would be able to vote for the city’s chief executive, beginning in 2017. But a committee dominated by people loyal to the Chinese government would be able to screen out candidates who did not have Beijing’s backing.
In addition to the NYT, all of the usual suspects - Reuters, CNN, USA Today, BBC, and the Guardian - have constant coverage. Vox has drawn parallels between these protests and the riots in Ferguson. Obviously, it's trending on Twitter, and Reddit has a live stream. Mashable's got a summary so far, and Gizmodo reports that Instagram has been blacked out (big surprise there). Political scientist Jay Ulfelder has some great commentary on some possible outcomes and whether or not the government's response will constitute a "mass atrocity."

I am, of course, always inspired by such peaceful demonstrations, but I am also concerned about the ripples this may have, both in HK and on the mainland. My best friend works in Beijing, and another expat friend from Korea is currently living in Shanghai (I think); the PR China government has used protest activity as an excuse to crack down on foreigners before, and I have already seen Westerners in some of the pictures of these demonstrations. For now, all we can do is watch.