25 April 2019
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam faces an umbrella protest while speaking at a ceremony marking Spain's national day. Photo: Victoria Wisniewski Otero at Twitter
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam faces an umbrella protest while speaking at a ceremony marking Spain's national day. Photo: Victoria Wisniewski Otero at Twitter

Students should go for foldable umbrellas

By now, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his dedicated officials must be allergic to umbrellas. Those pesky umbrellas are turning up everywhere they go — and it’s not even raining. 

On Tuesday Chief Secretary Carrie Lam was confronted by an umbrella-twirling protester during the national day party at the Spanish consulate general in Hong Kong. It was the second time she witnessed European support for the democracy movement. Earlier, German Consul General Nikolaus Graf Lambsdorff used his mother tongue to voice support for the students during cocktails marking his nation’s 124th anniversary.

Next challenge? The Austrian consulate will hold its national day bash next week.

Ah, October. It’s just that time of the year for national celebrations, revolutions and stock crashes.

The student protest movement has gathered enormous support and sympathy from all corners of the globe, but mostly seething silence from leaders in Hong Kong and Beijing. Vice Premier Wang Yang, while visiting Russia with Premier Li Keqiang, fumed against western instigation for “color revolution” in Hong Kong. 

The challenge facing central authorities is how to pacify the umbrella movement before November 4th when APEC Summit opens in Beijing. Surely, the last thing Beijing wants to see is for Hong Kong to grab the focus of attention at the global leaders’ meeting. At the same time, it can’t afford to move in against the students in front of the world’s eyes.

Given this predicament, the SAR government appears to have resorted to delaying tactics. Almost everyone outside the government expects CY Leung’s administration to hold a dialogue with the students. But CY knows it is highly unlikely that the protesters will pack up and go home after the dialogue.

This was most evident last week when Carrie Lam called off scheduled talks with students and instead flew with her boss to Beijing to meet with their real bosses.

Leung also slammed the door on the protesters, saying the chance of Beijing backing down from its political reform framework was “almost zero”. He also stressed that his resignation, as demanded by the students, would not solve the problem.

But who would trust his words, anyway? Ask the reporters who waited for him in Guangzhou for a late night briefing on Sunday only to find him checking into another hotel.

With no dialogue in sight on the 17th day of the Occupy campaign, the government has garnered support from members of the public who want a return to normal business and are taking action to reclaim the streets occupied by the protesters.

Is this how it’s going to end? Not with a bang but a whimper?

As the students hold on to their umbrellas, the same umbrellas that have sheltered them from the sun and the rain, the same umbrellas they have used to protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray, they will look at this symbol of their protest and be proud of themselves.

Sooner or later, they may probably need a foldable umbrella — said to have been invented by the Chinese — to symbolize their mobility, flexibility, and ability to sustain a long-drawn-out struggle.

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EJ Insight writer

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