22 August 2019
Student leaders speak to reporters after they were not allowed to travel to Beijing to hold talks with mainland officials. Photo: HKEJ
Student leaders speak to reporters after they were not allowed to travel to Beijing to hold talks with mainland officials. Photo: HKEJ

As fatigue sets in, time for students to admit defeat

Student representatives’ petition visit to Beijing was foiled last weekend even before they could board the plane. Upon arrival at the Hong Kong airport, the three delegates from the Hong Kong Federation of Students were told that their ‘home return permits’ had been invalidated by mainland authorities. Denied entry at the starting point itself, they had to cancel the trip.

Many had already foreseen this, but the way the students were turned away – not at an immigration checkpoint but at the airline counter before they could check-in – reflects Beijing’s cold efficiency. It is obviously not swayed by any public sentiments.

That said, one shouldn’t be too disappointed as not much was expected in the first place.

It’s surely a breeze for Beijing to cancel a few travel documents but I see more to it. Paying a petition visit to Beijing is never encouraged, let alone welcomed, on the mainland. But initially, I reckoned that perhaps the Hong Kong students would be received by their mainland counterparts for a discussion on constitutional development.

Talks could have been interesting as HKFS representatives had demonstrated their eloquence during their previous open dialogue with Hong Kong government officials, and as mainland elite students are also equally good at debating. Yet it has turned out that Beijing, while ruling the roost, thinks a debate is totally unnecessary.

But I have to warn student representatives that the Hong Kong government may try to find fault with them, just like local officials on the mainland will do with petitioners.

The Umbrella Movement has entered its 54th day on Thursday and the entire protests are like an egg trying to break against a hard, high wall. The egg is crushed before leaving even the slightest scratch on the wall. Now there are also cracks in the movement’s moral ground as more people are getting fed up with the nuisance and inconvenience caused.

While many Hong Kong people want democracy, a lot more are economic animals that prioritize financial benefits over political issues.

China remains one of the fastest growing major economies, and Hong Kong benefits from it — so, why should we spoil the party, most people reckon. There is simply no urgency to press for democratic rights.

Many even complained about the students’ selfishness and said the movement was attempting something impossible.

The Hong Kong government’s strategy to wait out the protests has worked well as students’ enthusiasm fizzles out and anti-Occupy resentments is on the rise.

As the government has shut the door on further talks and as the latest polls show that more people oppose the movement than support it, students should seriously consider admitting defeat. A pullback may indeed be good as students can rethink strategy and preserve energy for a long-term battle.

It’s probably time for the Occupy movement to wind up. But that does not mean the campaign has achieved nothing.

The fact that people took to the street on their own initiative and formed a resilient coalition shows that civil movements have taken a new shape in the cyber era.

I guess we have to blame the defeat on the absence of the right environment. China is a rapidly rising economic power. Even many countries that advocate democracy would have to balance their quest for China market and China investments with showing support, if any, to the protest.

The dominance of President Xi Jinping is another huge headwind.

Xi is never shy to assert his authority. The new “Chinese emperor” attaches great significance to a unified and authoritarian system to consolidate his power.

Having done that, he is free to lead and govern as he pleases. One example is his ice-cold handshake and long face when meeting Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō at the APEC summit in Beijing earlier this month. Refusing to budge an inch to Hong Kong protesters over the chief executive election process is nothing but just another example of Xi’s way.

In the face of an extremely resourceful and militant regime with carrots and sticks, the odds of a victory range from slim to none. Under such a circumstance, perhaps we have to call off the battle at least for the time being.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 18.

Translation by Frank Chen

– Contact the writer at [email protected]


Student representatives were not allowed to board a plane to Beijing last Saturday as their travel permits were invalidated. Photo: RFA

A photo posted on Facebook shows seats meant for student representatives on Cathay Pacific’s Beijing-bound plane were covered by special signs.

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

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