17 February 2020
David Wong, a 41-year-old cellist, performs in front of a wall posted with messages of support for pro-democracy protesters in Admiralty. China says the protests left a complex legacy. Photo: Reuters
David Wong, a 41-year-old cellist, performs in front of a wall posted with messages of support for pro-democracy protesters in Admiralty. China says the protests left a complex legacy. Photo: Reuters

Beijing pleased at end of HK protest but angry over its legacy

The Occupy Central movement ended Thursday after more than 70 days. The protesters went home but their grievances remain — and the central government is angry and anxious.

Beijing is delighted to see the streets clear but is angry about how many Hong Kong people turned against it 17 years after the handover, the blatant defiance of the law, the deep split it revealed in society and the inability of its government to prevent or manage the protests.

“The movement leaves a complex legacy,” Global Times said in an editorial on Wednesday.

“It raised the capacity of the whole country to deal with destructive political street movements. What was fearful will no longer be so fearful in future,” it said

“On the other hand, it broke the bounds of Hong Kong’s law. Will this open a Pandora’s box of social unrest? And it increased the split in Hong Kong society. One-half believe even more in the central government while the other half feel even more estranged from the rest of China.

“It has shown the limits of our ability to influence Hong Kong civil society. As a result, it will be hard to rebuild its political and legal systems.”

For Beijing, there were pluses and minuses.

On the good side, no one was killed or seriously injured. The most serious weapon used was tear gas, a world away from the street warfare of Ferguson, Missouri, and the daily killings on the streets of American cities.

The impact on Hong Kong’s economy was limited — the number of individual travelers from the mainland in November, the height of the protests, rose 15 per cent from a year earlier.

The protests were ended only using Hong Kong police.

The heavily armed battalions of the People’s Liberation Army, a stone’s throw from the Admiralty site, were never required, nor units of the People’s Armed Police from Shenzhen or Zhuhai.

“One country, two systems” was preserved.

Mainly thanks to the intense censorship of the mainland media, the protests did not spread to other cities in China.

Support there for the students was negligible. In the age of social media, instant messaging and universal use of mobile phones, this was some achievement.

The foreign media gave extensive coverage to the protests, most of it favorable; this evoked widespread sympathy in the West but did not affect the outcome — at most, it delayed the timing of the clearances.

But there is much in the negative column for Beijing.

The protests revealed a deep anger of a large segment of the Hong Kong people against its political system and their belief that, as long as the Communist Party is in power, it will never grant full universal suffrage.

Beijing was both shocked and angry, believing that, especially after the SARS outbreak of 2003, it had done so much to help the economy of Hong Kong and offered a vote given to no other city in China.

Did it deserve this ingratitude?

Second, Beijing is angry at the government of CY Leung at its inability either to prevent the protest or persuade the participants to leave quickly.

If the party secretary of a major mainland city is unable to control major social unrest, he is replaced.

It is also angry with the Liaison Office and other departments of the central government in Hong Kong for misreporting the public mood and not giving the correct information to Beijing.

Now the protesters have gone back to work or back to school but their grievances remain and Beijing has to address them.

“The young people of China are dissatisfied about many things,” said Zhang Yiwu, a professor of Chinese at Beijing University.

“Before, the young people of Hong Kong and Taiwan had an advantage over those in the mainland. But now they have discovered that the latter are more open-minded and capable. The increasing challenge of globalisation has brought a sense of resignation to the young people of Hong Kong and Taiwan.”

The risk, he said, was that grievances would grow into a “color revolution” as in Tunisia, Egypt or Ukraine.

China’s proper response to the protests and the threats from abroad, Global Times said, is to build up its military and economic strength and make it more attractive to the young people of Hong Kong and win them over.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.