By Elaine Dunn
Student protesters had blockaded key government and commerce sites in Hong Kong since Sept. 28. With talks at a stalemate and public support for the students waning, student leaders are resigned to move on to the next phase. What that may be is not clear as this issue of China Insight goes to press. However, what is clear is that this round of pro-democracy protests definitely brought out the deep level of dissatisfaction the HKers have for the government and the discontent in the increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots in recent years.
Following is a recap of activities since Novermber:
Nov. 12: Three men threw bags of pooh and animal organs at pro-democracy activist and outspoken anti-Beijing media mogul Jimmy Lai at a HK protest site. Police took the perpetrators away.
Nov. 15: A Hong Kong Baptist University graduate was denied his diploma at the graduation ceremony after he opened a yellow umbrella as he walked up the stage. The vice chancellor refused to shake his hand or to hand over his diploma. Other graduates then popped open their yellow umbrellas. The ceremony was promptly cancelled and graduates were told to return the following day when the yellow umbrellas were again unfurled. Ceremony was postponed again, until students could “behave with dignity.”
Nov. 17: A Hong Kong Chinese newspaper reported that journalists attending the Shanghai Hong Kong Stock Connect ceremony in Hong Kong had their umbrellas temporarily taken away in a move to prevent pro-democracy demonstrations after a district councilor unfurled a bright yellow umbrella during the Oct. 1 National Day ceremony.
Also on Nov. 17, three student protesters attempting to fly to Beijing to seek “an audience with mainland Chinese officials” were denied boarding rights.
Nov. 18: A small portion of the protest site outside AHK government headquarters in the Admiralty were cleared of barricades without incident. Student protesters had already figured out it was time to move on to the next phase beyond the occupation of key traffic sites.
Nov. 19: Police used pepper spray on and charged the protesters who broke the glass entry to the Legco Building in Admiralty in the early morning hours.
Nov. 21: The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, testified (via video) at a U.S. Commission on China hearing on the "Future of Democracy in Hong Kong" that other countries should not be afraid of standing up to China over the issue of Hong Kong's democratic rights. Patten also shot down Chinese allegations that the pro-democracy protesters behind the "wonderfully principled" movement were foreign puppets.
Reuters reported the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission found Beijing’s election framework “effectively excludes democratic candidates from nomination and allows Beijing to control the outcome … and runs counter to international commitments made by China in the 1984 Sino-UK Joint Declaration to preserve Hong Kong’s ‘high degree of autonomy’ and way of life for 50 years following its 1997 handover.” Expect China to issue a “foreign interference” statement!
Nov. 25: Student leaders Joshua Wong (Scholarism) and Lester Shum (HK Federation of Students) were among 110-plus pro-democracy protesters arrested as police started to clear the barricades at the MongKok protest site. Police ended up using pepper spray cannons to push back the protesters. Both were released though Wong was told to stay away from protest sites.
Nov. 30: Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators surrounded government offices, including the Chief Executive C.Y. Leung’s headquarters, with the goal of stopping government operations. Police again used pepper spray on the crowd. Protesters hoped to force the government to concede to some of their demands after weeks of standstill.
Dec. 1: China denied entry to a group of British Members of Parliament planning to visit HK in investigate whether the handover terms were violated by the mainland. Furthermore, they declared the handover treaty was essential “void” as it only covered the period from signing (in 1984) to 1997.
Dec. 5: Dec. 1: HK’s Secretary for Security rejected claims that China denied entry to pro-democracy activists at the mainland border, calling the accusations “unfounded and malicious slander.” And the HK recession is also blamed on the protests.
Dec. 6: C.Y. Leung, HK’s chief executive, announced there would be no restart of talks on political reform with student leaders. He also declared the most visible protest “camp” in the financial district will be cleared
Dec. 9: Joshua Wong, face of the student protesters, called off a four-day hunger strike, but said he does not think the government should ignore their demands. Meanwhile, C.Y. Leung reiterates the government will not make concessions based on illegal actions (hunger strike) by the protesters.
Dec. 12: Police arrested 247 in the final stages of clearing out protests sites. Protesters linked arms and were peaceful throughout the ordeal.
Meanwhile in London, British Members of Parliament urged Primed Minister David Cameron to summon China's UK ambassador to discuss Beijing's refusal to allow them to visit Hong Kong.
Dec. 16: Causeway Bay, the last of the three protest sites, was cleared with no incident. A total of 955 people were arrested during the 10-week protest demonstration.
As authorities cleared away the three main protest sites and all remnants of the Umbrella Revolution, it is important to acknowledge the students’ efforts, which have injected fresh energy into the citizenry. They managed to have awakened the younger generation and focused their attention on the fragility of Hong Kong’s freedom as well as China’s rising influence over Hong Kong.
It is understandable that Beijing officials do not want to appear too eager to reopen talks while protests are ongoing, but perhaps they have heard loud and clear how unhappy the HKers are with the proposed electoral plan from August 2014.
The streets may be back to “normal,” but it certainly is not the end of the pro-democracy movement. Signs stating “We will be back” and “It is just the beginning” are seen at protest sites. World interest has been aroused and the world will be watching, especially Taiwan.