24 August 2019
Hong Kong Federation of Students' Alex Chow (left)  and Scholarism's Joshua Wong have been spearheading the student movement, but they need to go back to school to prepare for their bigger roles in the future, Photo: Bloomberg
Hong Kong Federation of Students' Alex Chow (left) and Scholarism's Joshua Wong have been spearheading the student movement, but they need to go back to school to prepare for their bigger roles in the future, Photo: Bloomberg

Protesting students should think about going back to school

The long-drawn-out Umbrella Movement entered its 40th day this Thursday, which is beyond anybody’s wildest expectations.

Most of the protesters have taken to the streets on their own initiative and paid no heed to the government’s calls for withdrawal.

Some also refuse to subject themselves to the guidance of Occupy organizers and student groups.

Views on the 2017 election framework handed down by the National People’s Congress are poles apart: the SAR government insists on playing within the broad outlines laid down by the Chinese legislature, but the majority of Hongkongers simply reject it.

Amid the deadlock comes news that representatives of the Hong Kong Federation of Students are planning a visit to Beijing to petition against the conservative ruling.

No one can foresee how the impasse can be resolved.

Although, according to recent public opinion polls, most locals are sympathetic to the student protesters, Beijing and the SAR government have wasted no time in roping in various groups and public figures to exhort people to leave.

In sensational appeals, some have expressed grave concern over the impact on Hong Kong’s economy and rule of law, while others don’t mince their words when condemning the movement, saying all the organizers and protesters must be held accountable for all the trouble caused.

I found some of the harsh warnings way off the mark. Joseph Yam, former chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, was quoted as saying that “there won’t be any sort of universal suffrage whatsoever, a true one, a fake one, an ideal one, a realistic one nor a pragmatic one”.

With the conservative package, Beijing and the SAR government took a step backward on constitutional development, but it seems that Yam believes it is these protesters who are destroying Hong Kong’s hopes for democracy.

Francis Lui, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and a well-known economist, warned that Occupy would lead to a loss of HK$350 billion (US$45.15 billion), yet it turns out that the movement has hardly created a ripple in the financial and property sectors, after Admiralty replaced Central as Occupy’s epicenter.

Voices from respected public figures and celebrities ought to be fair and balanced, but it’s a shame that in their appeals for withdrawal, none of them acknowledged the students’ demands. Given that omission, it’s a vain hope that they will act as mediators to lobby the government and the central authorities.

Do you hear the people sing? It seems our aspirations have fallen on deaf ears, and officials and those high up in the social hierarchy cannot be bothered to respond.

The longer Occupy lasts, the more vulnerable its organizers will be. This is perhaps the destiny of all prolonged civil disobedience movements.

Top officials have adopted the strategy of waiting out the occupation, and they are not in a hurry to clear the protest zones.

The government has the ball in its court if it truly wants to restore social order: it can demonstrate its goodwill by setting a deadline for withdrawal and promising that those who leave before the deadline will not be prosecuted.

Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think tank spearheaded by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, will be up and running in a week. It is said that it will explore ways to bring the protests to a peaceful end.

I hope the foundation can initiate some constructive discussions.

Beijing’s thinly disguised involvement in combating Occupy is evident (think about the New York Times report last month that said Beijing is directing the Hong Kong government’s strategy), and it doesn’t matter whether local policemen or someone else will implement orders to clear the protest zones.

If excessive, stepped-up force is used in the process, the international community will be able to see no difference between whether it is carried out by Hong Kong police or Chinese troops, as everyone knows who the real boss is, commanding the operation behind the scenes.

If protest zones are brutally cleared in this way, Beijing will have to start an overhaul of the SAR leadership so that the city can resume normal operations.

Pan-democratic lawmakers have been mulling over the proposal that they quit their seats in the Legislative Council to trigger a de facto referendum.

I have no predetermined position in this matter. But I have some reservations about the suggestion that HKFS secretary-general Alex Chow be nominated as one of the candidates from the pan-democratic side in the LegCo by-election.

I believe that if the movement can come to a peaceful end, the students, after due legal procedures, should return to school to finish their studies.

After their graduation, I suggest they either go to the mainland to bring themselves up to date with China’s political and social development or go abroad to get some first-hand experience about how democracy functions in the Western world.

Only after that can they be qualified to re-enter Hong Kong’s political sphere.

All of today’s political figures will fade into history by 2047 — the year the “one country, two systems” principle officially expires — and by then these students, who were born in the 1990s or 2000s, will take the stage.

To prepare for that, this generation of students must keep themselves abreast of the history and present status of the Communist party as well as China, so as to explore a new path to Hong Kong’s democracy under Beijing’s suzerainty.

China is on the road to a great renaissance, and by 2047, it’s likely that the Greater China region will be in a state of peace and prosperity. Hong Kong’s future needs people who are knowledgeable, know their country well and can view issues from a global perspective.

I hope these student leaders can reflect on their gains and losses and continue their learning, especially in political science about governance and democracy, for the sake of Hong Kong’s long-term interests.

This article appeared on Nov. 5 in the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

Translation by Frank Chen

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A famous Hong Kong writer; founder of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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