Let’s not fool ourselves. The peaceful protesters of the Umbrella Movement were defeated.
You can hardly overrun the establishment with a peaceful sit-in protest a la Gandhi when only half of the community supports you and only a fraction is willing to fight.
CY Leung and his Maoist masters in Beijing are not as soft and weak as the British were in India in the dying days of their empire.
Were Gandhi a Hongkonger, he would have been kidnapped and made to restate his mission.
The lack of support from the wider population and the defeat of the civil disobedience campaign resulted in the fracturing and polarization of the movement.
In turn, these gave rise to nativist groups with less ambitious goals but more aggressive tactics.
We saw them in action during protests against the influx of mainlanders and in the violent clashes in Mong Kok on Lunar New Year’s Day.
That is not to say supporters of the Umbrella Movement have melted away or changed their positions.
Their lack of public support weakened them and created conditions for a more aggressive form of activism.
The early leaders — the Hong Kong Federation of Students, Scholarism and numerous other student, community and academic groups — have lost steam.
This was expected.
The natural response to the failure of any movement is to lose hope and energy or radicalize and gradually become more militant.
It’s a potentially effective strategy but it’s likely doomed and plays into the hands of the government.
Which is why Hong Kong Indigenous and its allies will face stiffer opposition each time civil unrest flares up.
Their actions give the authorities just the kind of excuse to go after them.
So why are these radicals pursuing this unlawful and unpopular path?
Partly because the tactic works. The radicals can win small victories.
Being able to protect a few vendors or reduce the number of mainland tourists is enough to keep small movements alive and relevant.
But their true goal is independence, which leaders of the movement and most of their followers know won’t succeed.
Historically, many popular revolts have been massive failures from the Middle Ages to the times of European serfs and Chinese emperors.
Notable exceptions include the French Revolution, the communist rebellion in mainland China and the fall of the Iron Curtain.
While things have improved in the modern age, this is mostly due to a change in political philosophy, mostly seen in liberal western nations where governments tolerate weak, unarmed opposition.
But this kind of movement is far less likely to succeed in Hong Kong with a government that strongly encourages self-censorship in the media and subverts peaceful protests and civil disobedience by force.
What then is in the hearts of these activist nativists?
Simply, they do not believe Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms will survive if they do nothing, so risking the erosion of those rights and freedoms is acceptable to them,
They also believe that any hope is better than no hope at all.
We should not expect things to get better but just the opposite in the run-up to the 2017 chief executive election.
Even if there were no protesters hounding CY Leung, Xi Jinping has decided he wants nothing less than complete and total control of Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party.
Expect Hong Kong to be squeezed like a lemon.
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