September 30, 2014

Pro-democracy Academics in Hong Kong Say They Face Threats

September 30, 2014 6:48 AM


FILE - (L-R) Founders of the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement, academic Chan Kin-man, academic Benny Tai and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, attend a rally, attended by thousands, in front of the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sept. 27, 2014.

Some academics at the forefront of Hong Kong's fight for more democracy say they have become targets of death threats or other intimidation as the former British colony remains near-paralyzed by the biggest protests since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong has freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, but Beijing last month rejected demands for free elections to choose the city's next leader, prompting outrage and protests by tens of thousands of people, mostly students, who have blockaded roads in the global financial hub.

Riot police fire tear gas and pepper spray at large-scale rallies over the weekend. Although Monday was relatively peaceful, protesters were on edge on Tuesday, fearing a new round of police action.

Chan Kin-man, a professor of sociology at the Chinese University who has been on the frontlines of the protests, said he has a stack of envelopes containing death threats scrawled in Chinese characters.

“I understood that once I joined this movement, they would attack me and treat me as an enemy,” Chan told Reuters, his head shaved in protest against Beijing's decision to rule out free elections for the city's next leader in 2017.

Chan is a co-founder of the “Occupy Central” group that wants to lock down the business district.

Another co-founder, Benny Tai, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said he had also received death threats, some addressed to “The Devil”, with one envelope containing a razor blade.

Five other academics told Reuters they had suffered intimidation because of their activism.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the intimidation or threats. Chinese officials, worried that calls for democracy will spread to cities on the mainland, threatening the Communist Party's grip on power, have said the Occupy movement is illegal. But Tai doesn't believe Beijing sanctioned the letters.

“For Beijing, I think it's important to protect me,” Tai told Reuters. “If I am in trouble, the blame will be on Beijing.”

Neither Chan nor Tai reported the death threats to police. Tai told Reuters he did not believe it would be possible to trace them while Chan said he was advised by Tai not to make it a police case.

Occupy impact

Tai said a handful of core Occupy organizers abruptly left the movement and he attributes their departure to intimidation, possibly through their business ties with mainland China.

“We know that kind of thing is happening,” he said, declining to give details or say how many people had left.

Another academic and Occupy supporter, Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at City of Hong Kong University, said he has also been targeted.

Pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po has accused him of plagiarism and not reporting extra income, charges he has denied, though complaints were also lodged with his university, which said in an e-mailed statement that it was investigating in accordance with established rules and procedures.

Wen Wei Po declined comment and Hong Kong's office of mainland affairs and its liaison office did not respond to phone calls or faxes requesting comment.

Cheng told Reuters his computer has been hacked, his access to databases and relationships with mainland academics has deteriorated and he has struggled to obtain research funding.

Pro-Beijing groups had stormed his lectures, urged the city's anti-graft agency to investigate him and harassed him outside his home, he said, adding that his wife had also been followed.

The anti-graft agency, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, declined comment.

“Anyone who speaks up, they can really destroy you, they can exert a lot of pressure on you,” Cheng said.

The intimidation comes at a time when two academics in the nearby former Portuguese colony of Macau, which returned to China two years after Hong Kong, were sacked for expressing their political views.

None of the academics in Hong Kong has lost their jobs, suggesting that academic freedom, in its strictest sense, remains intact. In terms of formal, legal protections for academic freedom, Hong Kong is among the toughest in the world.

However, Chan, the sociology professor, said there was “zero chance” of his returning to mainland China in the near future, fearful of physical harm or attempts to ruin his reputation.

“If I go back, my friends warned me that they will use whatever dirty tricks,” he said. “You might be hit by a car or they will send a woman to your hotel room.”

Hong Kong’s democracy movement has moved way beyond just students

Lily Kuo 

43 minutes ago

Protesters block Hong Kong's financial district.Reuters/Carlos Barria

HONG KONG—While tens of thousands of students continue to paralyze Hong Kong’s financial and commercial districts for a third day to demand free elections, across Victoria harbor in Kowloon the pro-democracy movement is starting to look a little different. In Mong Kok, a dense working class neighborhood, demonstrators are older, quieter, and in some ways, a little more cynical.

“The politics here are so bad. That’s why we have to fight for democracy,” 78-year old Li Kon-wah tells Quartz. Li says Hong Kong’s top official, the chief executive CY Leung answers only to Beijing, a government that he remembers most for having ordered a violent crackdown on nonviolent democracy protesters in 1989. “I was so angry. I cried,” he says, after carefully taping a sign onto a nearby bus that reads, “Blood bath Tiananmen Massacre.”

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Li Kon-wah points to a bus decorated with signs supporting Occupy and calling for chief executive CY Leung’s resignation on a bus in Kowloon, Hong Kong.Quartz

What started as a pro-democracy movement mainly among the city youth—sparked by student activists as well as another pro-democracy group, Occupy Hong Kong—is starting to capture a broad cross-section of the city’s population of seven million. The majority of these residents initially opposed Occupy’s strategy—to disrupt the city’s economy and force the government to withdraw electoral reforms that give Hong Kongers direct elections in 2017 but allows Beijing the ability to vet candidates for the city’s top office.

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Now, news reports and footage ofpolice clashing with students, as well as tear gassing or pepper spraying them, have brought more people into the streets. In Mong Kok, thousands of demonstrators, including students, retired local residents, and workers have overtaken Nathan Road, a main thoroughfare. They are decorating streets with chalk drawings of umbrellas—the latest symbol for the demonstrations—and plastering signs on a row of buses that had to be abandoned when drivers couldn’t move in crowds that descended on the street late Sunday.

Elderly demonstrators like Li mill around the area listening to speeches, handing out yellow ribbons and leaflets. Another retiree, Chan Kin-hoi, 76, wears a hat with a sign that reads, “Oppose the communist party, save Hong Kong.” Chan says: “I’m here because I support universal suffrage.” Local workers, like delivery drivers have volunteered to bring goods to demonstrators.

Young and middle-aged professionals are also joining the protests during work breaks or after work. Grace Fu, 22, who works at an office nearby, is under no illusion that the protesters’ demands will be met. Chief executive Leung said again today the government will not change its stance on how Hong Kong elections will be run, despite the spread of “illegal” protests.

But, says Fu, “Even if this [movement] doesn’t change anything, it’s good that people can now know what’s going on in Hong Kong. That would still be worth it.”

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Protesters at a rally in Mongkok today.Reuters/Tyrone Siu

Other segments of society are joining, too. Teachers in at least 31 secondary schools are boycotting classes, and Hong Kong’s Professional Teachers Union (PTU)—80% of the city’s primary and secondary school teachers are members—has pledged its support to the movemet. Instead of teaching classes, teachers are holding “civic lessons” for students to learn about Hong Kong politics and activism, according to Fong King-lok, head of computer development at PTU.

And though many of Hong Kong’s construction workers, drivers, small shop owners and others are apolitical, at least one organized group of workers is participating—a development that labor observes say could eventually be similar to the support workers gave gave pro-democracy student activists in China in 1989. One of the city’s most influential trade groups, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, has called on workers to strike and demonstrate at protest sites. Support from other unorganized workers has trickled in as well: 200 delivery workers at a Coca Cola plant have also gone on strike.

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Chan Kin-hoi, 76, in Kowloon wears a sign on his shirt that says, “People rise up to defend Hong Kong, support Occupy, and student strikes.”Quartz

These workers may have even more reason to push for genuine direct elections than students, many of whom feel their economic and career prospects have been compromised by the current government. Collective bargaining for workers is weak—workers often have to accept poor terms and can be let go for striking.

“Organized workers as a group feel that they have as much at stake as anyone,” says Rick Glofcheski who teaches labor and employment law at Hong Kong University. “The thin blanket of protections workers are offered has to do with lack of accountability of the government in Hong Kong. The workers have a strong conviction about that.”

Activists have said they plan to keep protesting until Leung steps down; Leung himself says he expects the protests to last “quite a long period.”

By early evening today, more people had started streaming in to Nathan Road to support the demonstrators. A 63-year old woman who would only give her surname, Li, sat along a traffic barrier, chatting with her sister and other neighbors. Asked why she’s come, Li says: “It’s our responsibility as Hong Kongers. If we don’t come out today, when will we?”

HK leader says China adamant; students seek talks


Published: 35 minutes ago

HONG KONG (AP) - Pro-democracy protesters demanded that Hong Kong's top leader meet with them on Tuesday and threatened wider actions if he did not, after he said China would not budge in its decision to limit voting reforms in the Asian financial hub.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a speech ahead of Wednesday's National Day holiday, vowed to "steadfastly safeguard" Hong Kong's prosperity and stability. He said Beijing believes Hong Kong will "create an even better future in the big family of the motherland."

China's government takes a hard line against any threat to its monopoly on power and has condemned the protests as illegal, though so far it has not overtly intervened, leaving Hong Kong's semi-autonomous government to handle the crisis.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's rejection of the student demands dashed hopes for a quick resolution of the five-day standoff that has blocked city streets, forcing some schools and offices to close.

It drew a defiant response from the students.

"If Leung Chun-ying doesn't come out to Civic Square before midnight ... then I believe inevitably more people will come out onto the streets," said Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the organizer of the university class boycotts that led to the street protests.

Chow said the students were considering various options, including widening the protests, pushing for a labor strike and possibly occupying a government building.

The crowds swelled Tuesday night, and a brief cloudburst cooled the air, seeming to energize the protesters, a group of whom shouted "Jiayou," or "Keep it up," and waved their cellphones with bright LED flashlights sparkling in the dark.

Leung's blunt rejection of the demands from the students, who are pushing for him to step down, comes as no surprise. The Chinese Communist leadership is wary of conciliatory moves that might embolden dissidents and separatists on the mainland.

Hong Kong police continued a light-handed approach to the protests, having shifted tactics Monday after their use of tear gas and pepper spray over the weekend failed to drive out tens of thousands of people occupying streets near the government headquarters. The sit-ins instead spread to the financial district and other areas.

"We are not afraid of riot police, we are not afraid of tear gas, we are not afraid of pepper spray. We will not leave until Leung Chun-ying resigns. We will not give up, we will persevere until the end," Lester Shum, another student leader, shouted to a crowd at Admiralty, near Hong Kong's waterfront.

The protesters want a reversal of a decision by China's government in August that a pro-Beijing panel will screen all candidates in the territory's first direct elections, scheduled for 2017 - a move they view as reneging on a promise that the chief executive will be chosen through "universal suffrage."

Occupy Central, a wider civil disobedience movement, said in a tweet that the deadline set by the pro-democracy protesters includes a demand for genuine democracy and for Leung's resignation. It said it would "announce new civil disobedience plans same day," without elaborating.

China took control of Hong Kong from the British in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" arrangement that guaranteed the former British colony separate legal and economic systems and Western-style civil liberties.

Hong Kong's free press and social media give the protesters exposure that may help prevent China from cracking down in the same way it has on restive minorities and dissidents living in the mainland, where public dissent is often harshly punished.

"The people on the streets are here because we've made the decision ourselves and we will only leave when we have achieved something," said Chloe Cheung, a 20-year-old student at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. "We are waiting for the government to respond to our demands for democracy and a say in what the elections will be like."

With dozens of bus routes canceled and some subway entrances near protest areas closed, Hong Kong's police and fire departments renewed their calls for the protesters to clear the streets.

The protests have been dubbed the "Umbrella Revolution" by some because the crowds have used umbrellas to block the sun and to deflect police pepper spray.

Many of the protesters were born after an agreement with Britain in 1984 that pledged to give China control of the city of 7 million, and have grown up in an era of affluence and stability, with no experience of past political turmoil in mainland China.

Their calls for a great say in their futures have widespread support among many in Hong Kong disillusioned by a widening gap between the city's ultra-wealthy tycoons and the rest of the population.

"I am committed to taking part in the protests as long as they remain peaceful," said Peter Chin, a 22-year-old student at Hong Kong University.

"We are really basically just calling for the government to speak with us but they've been mute. We'll keep staying here until they're ready to consult with us," he said.


Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach, Louise Watt and Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Aritz Parra in Beijing contributed to this report.

PLA likely to step in, CY’s fate up to Beijing, says Chung

Allen Lee (left) and Chung Sze-yuen (right) are seen in public with Martin Lee (center) in 2013. Chung has been keeping an eye on the pro-democracy campaign. Photo: HKEJ

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PLA likely to step in, CY’s fate up to Beijing, says Chung

Retired political heavyweight Chung Sze-yuen is worried the pro-democracy protest could get out of control and thinks it is likely that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would eventually step in.

His thoughts were conveyed by commentator Allen Lee Peng-fei, am730 reported Tuesday.

As for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, whether he goes or stays is not up to the public but will be decided only by the Beijing government, Lee quoted the 97-year-old Chung as saying.

Lee told the newspaper that Chung has been keeping an eye on the pro-democracy campaign and was shocked to see the police use tear gas and pepper spray on demonstrators.

In a telephone conversation with Lee on Monday, Chung questioned the government’s decision to send riot police to suppress students and citizens who were just staging a sit-in, treating them like terrorists.

Chung is rarely seen in public in recent years but he is still concerned about Hong Kong’s future. He and his protege Lee have been discussing politics regularly over meals each Tuesday.

Chung was the senior unofficial member of the Legislative Council and Executive Council in 1980, the highest-ranking Chinese politician under British rule at that time.

When Tung Chee-hwa became chief executive in 1997, Chung was appointed as the convenor of the Executive Council and served until he retired in 1999. He was appointed in 1982 as a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. 

When the anti-British riot broke out in Hong Kong in 1967, Chung was chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries. He called it the worst public riot in the city’s history.

Chung now is concerned about how the Hong Kong government will continue to govern having lost the people’s trust and with the administration basically paralyzed even if Leung were to resign.

Lee said no one can tell how the chaos would end but he hopes there will be no bloodshed.

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Hong Kong people’s trust in police takes time to mend: Chan

Is this the same CY who denied backing a crackdown on marchers?

More workers and students join pro-democracy campaign

Some 3,000 students from more than 20 secondary schools have boycotted their classes. Photo: Facebook

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More workers and students join pro-democracy campaign

Social workers, factory hands and more students have joined the pro-democracy campaign.

Supported by their teachers, some 3,000 students from more than 20 secondary schools have boycotted their classes, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported on Tuesday.

About 2,000 social workers and social work students have also declared a strike in support of the campaign to press for genuine universal suffrage, the report said, although hospital staff and caretakers for the elderly and those involved in emergency services were excused from joining the protests.

Meanwhile, 200 employees of Swire Coca-Cola HK Ltd. took to the streets in response to a call from the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.

Mass support for the campaign increased after police use of tear gas and pepper sprays on the demonstrators triggered widespread condemnation from the public.

Workers called for the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, saying he should be held responsible for the use of violence against the peaceful protesters.

Class boycotts have been reported in top schools such as Queen’s College, La Salle College and Queen Elizabeth School, as well as public schools like Sha Tin Government Secondary School and Tsuen Wan Government Secondary School.

CCC Ming Kei College has allowed its students to take part in the class boycotts or wear black clothes to school in support of the pro-democracy campaign.

Meanwhile, the Education Bureau said in a statement on Monday that it is a great pity to see the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union supporting the class boycotts.

It called on teachers to stick to their posts and do their best to take care of the students, adding that they should prevent disturbances in schools.

It reminded parents to keep their children from leaving home to participate in activities that may break the law.

The bureau also said classes in all kindergartens, elementary and middle schools as well as special education schools in Wan Chai, Central and Western district remained suspended for the second day in a row on Tuesday amid the protests.

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Classes suspended in three districts amid protest

Secondary school students to join class boycott Friday

Bar association slams police use of tear gas

Police said protesters wearing goggles and covering their faces with plastic wraps indicated they were preparing to break into police lines. Photo: AFP

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Bar association slams police use of tear gas

The Hong Kong Bar Association has condemned the excessive and disproportionate use of force by the police in dealing with the pro-democracy protesters.

“Even though on occasions, a minority of demonstrators became confrontational with the police, the overwhelming majority of the demonstrators were visibly conducting themselves peacefully,” the influential group said in a statement.

Similar condemnations of the police use of tear gas were issued by the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association.

Cheung Tak-keung, assistant police commissioner for operations, said the officers used tear gas to keep a distance between the police and the protesters, Ming Pao Daily reported.

Cheung said he believed the protesters were attempting to break through the police lines as they covered their faces with plastic wraps and wore goggles.

According to police figures, a total of 87 rounds of tear gas were fired across nine locations, or 2.5 times the 34 rounds police used against protesting South Korean rice farmers during theWorld Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong in 2005.

When asked if Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was among the decision-makers who authorized the use of tear gas, Cheung said the police commander on the site was responsible for the call.

Cheung did not respond to questions on whether any police officers should step down because of the operation, stressing instead that the public and the police should work together.

So far police have arrested 89 people, aged 16 to 66, on charges of unlawful entry into government buildings, illegal assembly, disrupting public order, and assaulting police officers. 

At least 12 police officers have been injured, the report said.

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Police saddened by plunge in public confidence

Tear gas-throwing Hong Kong police accused of abuse

How Leung allies lost the fight for hearts and minds

Chief Executive CY Leung (second from right), former security chief Regina Ip (left) and anti-occupy Central's Robert Chow (second from left) support police chief Andy Tsang (right) in his decision to use tear gas on protesters. Photo: HKEJ

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How Leung allies lost the fight for hearts and minds

If anyone needed proof of public support for the ongoing democracy protest across Hong Kong, they need only open their eyes and ears.

The movement has spread beyond the main business and financial district to Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok. It’s going strong hours after the government announced the pullout of riot police from the streets.

Clearly, the government bungled its response to the protest.

Instead of turning public opinion against the protesters for causing disruption to daily life, it galvanized support for the movement from ordinary citizens who saw the police — their own sworn protectors — move on peaceful unarmed civilians with tear gas and pepper spray on Sunday night and early Monday morning.

When it was all over, 87 tear gas canisters had been fired, dozens of people had been injured and arrests made, according to reports.

But that is hardly the whole story. When Hong Kong people woke up Monday morning to news of the overnight fiasco, they showed their anger at their government and outrage at the police by swelling the ranks of demonstrators.

The government found itself backed into a corner and announced that riot police would be withdrawn from the streets but the protesters were unmoved.

That is perhaps the first sign the public has lost trust in the guardians of public order, although it has long been suspicious of their government.

Until now, even as they opposed the policies of their unpopular leader in protest marches, Hong Kong people have seen the police at a respectful distance, lending their presence only to maintain order. 

When Executive Councilor Bernard Chan lamented the harsh police action and warned public trust in the police force could take time to mend, he expressed a rare public admission by a Hong Kong government official that, indeed, things could have been better managed.

So did Executive Council Convenor Lam Woon-kwong.

But pro-establishment politicians were unrepentant.

Former security chief Regina Ip trivialized the incident by saying nothing would have been achieved if the tear gas was thrown into an empty park.

Ip is forgetting that she is no longer a government security minister but an elected representative of the people.

She went on to blame the demonstrators for the chaos and said they were being directed by certain individuals behind the scenes.

Her remarks rekindled memories of the time she backed a Beijing-sponsored anti-sedition bill in 2003 which drove Hong Kong people in their hundreds of thousands into the streets in protest.

As if that wasn’t enough, Ip got an assist from Robert Chow, the leader of a Beijing loyalist group opposed to Occupy Central.

Chow, who famously vowed to leave Hong Kong if Occupy Central won wide public support, continued to belittle the movement even as he asked the demonstrators to confine their protest to Admiralty and Central and “give Causeway Bay and Mong Kok back to ordinary citizens”.

If Chow had been hoping to win points for his call, he was mistaken.

In fact, he blew too many points trying to win Hong Kong people over just when it was beginning to look like he might succeed.

It happened during the summer holiday when his Silent Majority group convinced Hong Kong’s middle class that Occupy Central wasn’t the only way to go — until he announced a hotline to tell on student protesters who were planning a class boycott.

Now Chow and his allies are trying to salvage what little public sympathy they might still have.

Which, to me, is very, very little.

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Protest leaders to announce next move Wednesday

Hong Kong people’s trust in police takes time to mend: Chan

Govt backdown or calm before another storm?

Tens of thousands of demonstrators are shown in a vigil in Admiralty last night. Earlier, the government withdrew riot police from the streets. Photo: Bloomberg

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Govt backdown or calm before another storm?

The contrast could not be starker.

On Sunday, police in full riot gear cracked down on unarmed student protesters with tear gas and pepper spray in Admiralty, turning it into a virtual battlefield.

The next day, when tens of thousands of Hongkongers joined the rally in Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, most of the policemen were gone, no riot squads in sight.

When EJ Insight reporters visited Admiralty last night, there was no acrid smell from tear gas. Canisters had been removed. Not a single policeman was seen in Harcourt Road and Queensway or inside the Admiralty MTR station.

About 30,000 protesters had gathered in a closed section of Harcourt Road and on nearby flyovers. Morale was apparently high.

The government maintained virtually no police presence in the area after announcing the pullback of anti-riot units earlier in the day. There were fewer than 10 policemen near the footbridge entrance to the Central Government Offices and none of them carried heavy weapons.

Also, media reports said policemen were nowhere to be found in certain areas in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok where protesters had gathered.

It is said the government backed down after a fierce public backlash over repeated and excessive use of force by the police against the demonstrators.

But the almost complete police absence from the protest venues has raised safety concern given the large crowds. This is when police are needed in case of emergency.

On Tuesday, rumors were rife about a government conspiracy.

Occupy Central figures including Hong Kong Television Network chairman Ricky Wong took to Facebook to warn the protesters that troublemakers might infiltrate their ranks, giving the police an excuse to mount another crackdown.

Chan Kin-man, a co-organizer of Occupy Central which is spearheading the protest, echoed a similar warning.

In Facebook posts, users urged the protesters to remain calm and avoid any confrontation or violence. Some Facebook users participating in the Mong Kok sit-in wrote that they saw a number of tattooed people acting suspiciously near the protest site.

A group of demonstrators in Argyle Street and Nathan Road in Mong Kok panicked when a speeding Mercedes-Benz car charged into them early this morning. No one was hurt and the driver was later arrested.

RTHK reported a slight commotion near the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts in Wan Chai early this morning when someone blew a whistle, sending everyone up on their feet.

So far, the protesters have been orderly and peaceful.

Some volunteers were seen going around protest sites collecting trash and spraying air freshener. The protesters have given way to ambulances and service vehicles.

And, unlike mass protests elsewhere, there has not been a single overturned vehicle or burning tires, no smashed shop windows.

British newspaper The Independent called them the “world’s most polite protesters”, cleaning up, recycling waste and even apologizing to policemen after a night of chaos.

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Protests spread to more districts; CY Leung told to step down

How Leung allies lost the fight for hearts and minds

Is this the same CY who denied backing a crackdown on marchers?

Henry Tang (right) points at Leung Chun-ying in their 2012 election debate. Photo: TVB


Is this the same CY who denied backing a crackdown on marchers?

The past has come back to haunt Leung Chun-ying.

In a 2012 chief executive election debate, Henry Tang asked Leung a pointed question.

Did he or did he not recommend sending riot police against demonstrators protesting a proposed anti-subversion law in 2003?

Leung, who was then convenor of the Executive Council, said he did not.

“You’re lying,” Tang snapped back.

Fast forward 11 years and you have police in full riot gear armed with pepper spray bearing down on pro-democracy activists.

In the ongoing student movement, some protesters have been forcibly removed and arrests have been made.

This time, Leung is in charge.

Now we know Leung is prepared to use force to crush protesters.

We dread what he might do next. Secretly ask China to send the PLA?

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A phalanx of policemen in full riot gear stands behind barriers in the protest area. Photo: RTHK

Riot police remove protesters from a pedestrian overpass near government headquarters on Saturday Photo: RTHK

Protesters shield themselves with umbrellas as police use pepper spray to hold them back. Photo: RTHK

Britain, US back protesters but urge non-violence

Riot police fire tear gas at demonstrators in Admiralty as they try to break up the protest. Photo: HKEJ

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Britain, US back protesters but urge non-violence

Britain urged different parties in Hong Kong to continue to hold constructive conversation as a mass civil disobedience movement began to choke off parts of the main business and financial district Monday.

It said Hong Kong people should exercise their rights and freedoms including the right to protest, public broadcaster RTHK reported, citing a statement from Britain’s Foreign Office.

Hong Kong’s former colonial sovereign said the prosperity of Hong Kong people is based on basic rights and freedoms and that universal suffrage is the best way to ensure those rights and freedoms.

Different parties should continue to have constructive conversations toward a consensus, the statement said.

Meanwhile, the United States said it supports peaceful assembly and freedom of speech in Hong Kong.

In New York, hundreds of immigrants and students from Hong Kong took to the streets for the second straight day to express their solidarity with the Hong Kong protesters who are fighting for genuine democracy.

They accused the Hong Kong police of using excessive force against the demonstrators with their use of tear gas and pepper spray.

Similar protests sprung up in Chicago and Boston, the report said.

An American-born Chinese petitioned the White House to support democratic elections in Hong Kong.

“We strongly appeal to the US government to make it clear to the Beijing authorities that any effort to crack down on peaceful demonstrations by force will be strongly opposed and severely punished,” the petition said.

The petition drew more than 157,000 signatures, with a flood of supporters signing on after reports that Hong Kong police had started to use violence to quell the protest.

The Japanese, Australian and Italian consulates warned their citizens to avoid the protest venues.

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Protesters choke off a major artery in Hong Kong’s main business and financial district. Photo: HKEJ

Chinese national flag hoisted upside down

Protesters cheered upon seeing the inverted flag, regarding it as a sign of silent support from employees at Admiralty Centre. Photo: RTHK

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Chinese national flag hoisted upside down

A Chinese flag was seen hoisted upside down outside the Admiralty Centre on Monday morning as thousands of protesters blocked a main road in the financial district as part of the Occupy Central campaign.

Protesters cheered upon seeing the inverted flag, regarding it as a sign of silent support from employees at the commercial tower. But soon after, building workers came and returned the banner to its normal position, RTHK News reported.

Pro-democracy activists kicked off their civil disobedience campaign early on Sunday to press their demand for genuine universal suffrage in the city.

They have been blocking Harcourt Road in front of the government headquarters since Sunday afternoon.

Police repeatedly fired tear gas at the swelling crowd to disperse them Sunday afternoon and early Monday, but the activists regrouped and returned to the site overnight. 

Some of the riot police left the site at about 4:00 a.m. on Monday. Others tried to catch some sleep on the ground as they awaited further instructions.

As of Monday morning, thousands of protesters were also occupying key roads in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.

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Why protesters are more civil than the police

With crude protection, the protesters showed they came not to fight but to defend themselves.

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Why protesters are more civil than the police

Obviously, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying underestimated the scale of the Occupy Central protest on Sunday and failed to anticipate that it could be peaceful.

If Leung had been waiting to intensify police action against the protesters if things turned violent, he could be in for a long wait.

It would have been impossible for the demonstrators to show such restraint in the face of tear gas and pepper spray if they did not follow their own rules.

At the time, Occupy Central organizer Benny Tai was on a platform outside government headquarters, away from the main staging area of the protest. Joshua Wong, leader of the student movement which was a prelude to the occupation of Central, was in detention until late Sunday evening.

The protesters reminded one another not to fight back after police tried to disperse them with tear gas and pepper spray. They stood their ground but refrained from provoking the cops — no taunting, no throwing of empty cans and bottles or anything.

They used umbrellas and plastic against tear gas and pepper spray — crude implements that showed they did not come to fight but to defend themselves.

They showed more civility to the police than the officers were ever capable of giving back.

When the officers called in an ambulance, the protesters gave way, instead of using it to break a police barrier.

Looking closely at the protesters, I couldn’t believe I was looking at people who are experiencing the kind of police action they’re facing for the first time in their lives.

Most were young people in their twenties and thirties who are too young to remember that Hong Kong has had tear gas used on demonstrators only five other times in the past. Some were elderly who may not have known that the last time Hong Kong police clashed with protesters, it was with South Korean activists who were demonstrating against globalization during the World Trade Organization meeting here in 2005.

Young ladies in shorts carrying handbags and thin young men with glasses were among the crowds. How violent can they be?

Sure, some protesters might have become edgy after experiencing limited mobile phone access but they did not panic.

At about 7:50 p.m. a hundred young protesters in Admiralty packed their things and began to leave after being told to move to the International Financial Center in Central.

“Come back. There’s no such plan,” they were later told after student group Scholarism posted a denial on Facebook. 

Rumors were rife about an imminent attack by the police using rubber bullets and about the Chinese army moving on the protesters.

The protesters kept calm and mindful of the ground rules. That’s why we’re not seeing burning tires or overturned vehicles in the streets.

At 8 p.m. in Wan Chai, a popular staging area for protest marches, a protester suggested moving a passenger car parked on the roadside to block traffic. He was quickly stopped by fellow protesters. “Don’t touch any car,” a warning promptly went out.

Still, despite incidents like this, the protesters are not turning on each other.

They are focused on their cause and keeping the conversation to the issue at hand. They all want the same thing — true universal suffrage for Hong Kong.

They are pressing on with the protest despite being told by Benny Tai and Cardinal Joseph Zen, another key figure in the democracy movement, to go home last night.

But by no means is that an indication they have become unruly. There’s no evidence of that.

Some protesters moved road blocks and others threw tear gas canisters back across the line, not at the police.

That’s hardly an excuse to move on them with excessive force.

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A protester makes good use of a scarf to protect himself from tear gas. Photo: EJ Insight

Holding their ground, the protesters maintain order in their ranks. Photo: EJ Insight

Young girls in shorts and carrying handbags. Young men in glasses. How violent can they be?

A protester wears goggles to shield himself from tear gas and pepper spray.

Protesters make way for an approaching vehicle.


Retired officers: Cops misjudged protesters’ determination

Tear gas-throwing Hong Kong police accused of abuse

Retired officers: Cops misjudged protesters’ determination

Young protesters (left) face down riot police who reportedly fired rubber bullets on demonstrators. The police denied the report. Photo: AFP

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Retired officers: Cops misjudged protesters’ determination

Hong Kong police may have underestimated public sentiment in their handling of the Occupy Central protest, Apple Daily reported Monday, citing several retired officers.

They failed to anticipate that unfazed protesters would spill into the streets after police barricaded roads and overpasses and more people would join them.

Police commanders might have been convinced they could contain the crowds in the protest area outside government headquarters which had been the site of a week-long student protest, the former officers were quoted as saying.

Also, the police missed a golden opportunity to clear several protest sites in the early hours on Sunday when protesters had left Tim Mei Avenue, a major protest artery, before other participants arrived, they said.

At that time, the police were capable of clearing up to 10,000 demonstrators.

Meanwhile, the arrest and “unreasonably long” detention of Joshua Wong, a leader of the student movement, galvanized the protesters and drove more people to join the protest.

They were provoked even more when lawmakers Albert Ho, Emily Lau and Fernando Cheung were taken away while bringing equipment and protest materials to a protest site.

Their numbers grew to a point where they were beyond the capacity of the police to handle, the retired officers said.

The police have had to resort to tear gas and pepper spray — even rubber bullets, according to some reports — to hold off surging crowds.

By that time, the protest had spread to Central and Admiralty, they said.

Hong Kong’s reputedly hawkish police chief, Andy Tsang, has taken over the police operation, the report said.

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Tang slams police ‘overreaction’ in tear gas attacks

Henry Tang supports police action to maintain public order but is critical of the use of tear gas on demonstrators protesting for democracy. Photo: HKEJ

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Tang slams police ‘overreaction’ in tear gas attacks

Former Hong Kong Chief Secretary Henry Tang said the police overreacted when they used tear gas and pepper spray on demonstrators protesting for democracy.

Tang called on the government to communicate with relevant parties in the protest movement to avoid clashes and excessive use of force, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported Tuesday.

However, he said he supports police action to maintain public order, adding the level of force necessary to ensure it is entirely up to the authorities.

The criticism was seen as another jab at Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Tang’s opponent in the 2012 election, whom he accused of recommending a crackdown on marchers protesting a proposed anti-sedition law in 2003.

Leung was the convernor of the Executive Council at the time.

As a society under rule of law, Hong Kong should not allow unlawful assembly, Tang said.

He warned that any collapse of public order will hurt Hong Kong’s reputation as a major world city and financial center.  

Tang said China will not change its mind about its proposed election plan for Hong Kong’s next chief executive election and any discussion about the issue is impossible under the prevailing political atmosphere.

He said the government showed goodwill when it announced the withdrawal of riot police Monday morning.

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Is this the same CY who denied backing a crackdown on marchers?

Protest widens to key districts ahead of public holiday

Macau democracy group slams HK govt over police use of force

The New Macau Association is striving for universal suffrage in the chief executive election in 2019. Photo: Facebook

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Macau democracy group slams HK govt over police use of force

The Hong Kong government should stop using force to crack down on peaceful protesters and restart the political reform process, a Macau pro-democracy group said.

Hong Kong people are forced to join the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement because the central government has blocked genuine universal suffrage, the New Macau Association said in a statement.

It expresses its “strong anger” that the non-violence protests in Hong Kong are met with pepper spray and tear gas. 

Safeguarding citizens’ right to vote and to be voted is the cornerstone of a democratic society, the association said.

It urged the Hong Kong government to stop deploying force on protesters and send the political reform proposal back to the National People’s Congress.

The government should engage the people in a direct dialogue and start political reform all over again, it said.

The association acknowledges that Hong Kong and Macau have a lot in common and if Hong Kong implements fake universal suffrage in 2017, it will deal an irreversible blow to democratic hopes in Macau.

It calls upon people in Macau to pay close attention to the civil disobedience movement in Hong Kong.

The Association of Juridical and Social Affairs formed by the middle class in Macau also condemns the police force, saying that Hong Kong police has deployed unnecessary force against protesters.

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Britain, US back protesters but urge non-violence

Ip defends HK police action: They’re not violent

Police fire tear gas at medical volunteers

First-aid volunteers at the protest sites were themselves fired at with tear gas by riot police. Photo: EJ Insight

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Police fire tear gas at medical volunteers

Police fired tear gas at volunteer first-aid teams providing medical service for pro-democracy activists, Ming Pao reported on Monday.

“Police have fired tear gas on the temporary aid station beside the Red Cross many times. Then we retreated to the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, which agreed to offer the place for 24 hours for rest and medical aid,” a medical volunteer named Charmaine said in her facebook account.

“However, police called shortly after we started operation. And we were told leave before 12 a.m., or the police would break in after that and we would be treated as [among the protesters] as well. There are rumors that police would start shooting at the crowd after 12. So we were forced to leave,” she said.

“It’s the first time I felt so frightened and sad to see police on the streets. I felt unspeakable sorrow as I watched the clashes between the protesters and the police,” she said, adding that they felt so “hopeless” as they tried to look for a safe place where they could treat the injured.

The medical team of the Occupy Central movement released a statement condemning the police for obstructing rescue efforts.

“They did not provide any assistance, and even obstructed medical staff from carrying out first-aid treatment on the scene. The police fired tear gas at the medical staff, and prevented them from entering the protest sites,” the statement said.

“We feel extremely angry and perplexed,” it said, adding that the medical team is made up of volunteers from the medical and healthcare sector, including professors, doctors, nurses, medical students and other professionals.

“The medical team has been neutral as far as the movement is concerned. We are trying to provide care and help for anyone in need. We understand and feel grateful for police efforts in keeping order, but they have obstructed our rescue efforts many times, which is a disregard for life,” the team said.

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Protests spread to more districts; CY Leung told to step down

Pro-democracy activists occupy a major thoroughfare in one of the protest sites. Photo: Facebook

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Protests spread to more districts; CY Leung told to step down

Protesters continued to gather at key downtown areas in Hong Kong on Monday after enduring another sleepless and chaotic night of clashes with the police.

Defiant protesters occupied major streets in Central, Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok in the afternoon, RTHK reported. The government said riot police have been withdrawn and told the protesters to disperse peacefully as soon as possible.

As people gathered at Yee Woo Street in Causeway Bay, a senior police officer arrived at the scene around noon and told the crowd not to obstruct road traffic.

“We respect that the protesters have the freedom to express their views, and believe that their voices have already been heard,” the officer said.

“But protesters should not obstruct road traffic and shift to the footpath.” 

Nearly 1,000 people gathered at the intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street in Mong Kok, the report said. They put up a tent in the middle of the road to allow the protesters to take a rest. Some were distributing supplies including bread and water.

In Admiralty, activists continued to occupy Harcourt Road. They sat on the street with others using loudspeakers to shout slogans and make speeches. Meanwhile, police in the area had taken off their helmets, shields and guns, the report said.

Negotiators sent by the police arrived at the scene in the afternoon to try to persuade the crowd to leave and stop obstructing traffic, but the protesters demanded to talk to Commissioner of Police Andy Tsang Wai-hung.

Crowds continued to gather in Central and extend the road block to the entrance of the Mandarin Hotel.

Civic Party leader and lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit assailed the police for using tear gas on the protesters, saying it was unnecessary.

The activists said would convene an emergency meeting to launch animpeachment motion against Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

“The government should withdraw all riot police as soon as possible and everyone should discuss this in a peaceful manner. Hong Kong people should adhere to sensible ways to protest as there are lots of painful violent movements worldwide,” said Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing.

However, Lee Cheuk-yan of the Labor Party demanded that CY Leung step down and Beijing to withdraw its decision on electoral reform for the 2017 chief executive election.

“Otherwise, the fight for democracy won’t stop,” Lee said.

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Car charges into Mong Kok protesters, no injuries

People scamper to safety as the Mercedes-Benz car plows through. Later, the driver (right) surnamed Cheung, said he had every right to use the road. Photo: Now TV, Apple Daily

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Car charges into Mong Kok protesters, no injuries

A speeding Mercedes-Benz car charged into a crowd of protesters in Mong Kok, causing panic but no injuries, Ming Pao Daily reported Tuesday.

The driver was later arrested after the car license registration was traced to a man surnamed Cheung.

The black luxury vehicle with plate No. SM5654 came out of nowhere and headed into a group of protesters in Argyle Street and Nathan Road shortly before 2 a.m.

The driver sped away, with some protesters giving chase, the report said.

The incident was captured on video by a reporter who later obtained the car’s registration details from the Transport Department, leading to the suspect’s arrest.

The man claimed he was in a hurry to meet someone and insisted that as taxpayer he had a right to use the road that was being occupied by the protesters, according to Apple Daily. 

Some protesters said the suspect tried to provoke the crowd and could have acted deliberately to harass them.

Later, the protesters blocked the road with cars and and trucks.  

Chan Kin-man, a co-organizer of Occupy Central which is spearheading the protest, warned trouble makers might infiltrate the movement.

He questioned why the police couldn’t stop such an incident from happening.

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Protests spread to more districts; CY Leung told to step down

Civil disobedience offensive clogs main streets

China’s biggest challenge since 1989

By Gideon Rachman

The demonstrations on the streets of Hong Kong present China with its biggest political challenge since the pro-democracy movement was crushed in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989. The parallels between the demonstrations in Hong Kong now and those in Beijing, 25 years ago are eerie – and must be profoundly unsettling to the Communist party leadership. Once again, the demonstrations are led by students demanding democratic reform. Once again, the central authorities have lost control – and risk facing a choice between repression and a humiliating climbdown. Once again, the ultimate question is the power and authority of the Communist party in Beijing.

The differences between Hong Kong in 2014 and Beijing in 1989 are also significant, however. In the intervening 25 years, China has become an immeasurably richer and more powerful country. The Chinese authorities will also be hoping that the current demonstrations in Hong Kong, which started under the banner of the “Occupy Central” movement, will have more in common with “Occupy Wall Street” – which fizzled out – than with the student movement in China in 1989. Finally, the authorities have more leeway than in 1989, if they choose to use it, because Hong Kong is not the capital of the country – it is a regional city, which enjoys a special status under the formula of “one country, two systems” that underpinned the handover from British to Chinese rule.

Under that formula, Hong Kong continues to enjoy a free press and an independent judiciary – freedoms that do not exist on the mainland. The question now is whether Hong Kong will be allowed to take the next step towards democracy and to choose its own chief executive, without the candidates being pre-screened by Beijing.

An intelligent response from the Communist party would allow Hong Kong to act as a testbed for democratic reforms. The formula of one country, two systems – allied with the territory’s wealth and sophistication – is perfectly designed to allow Hong Kong to proceed with democratic reforms without triggering immediate demands for similar changes on the mainland. A successful and democratic Hong Kong might then serve as a model for the gradual introduction of similar reforms at a local and city level in the rest of China.

Unfortunately, the central government in Beijing seems determined to take the opposite path. It cannot risk allowing democracy to flourish within China’s borders. It cannot allow the express wishes of the party to be flouted. By taking this decision, China has set itself on the path of confrontation with the demonstrators. If they do not drift away, the risk of violent intervention by China obviously rises.

It did not – and does not – have to be this way. For some years after the handover in 1997, it looked as if China was handling Hong Kong with impressive tact and sophistication. The press stayed free; the courts stayed independent. Beijing even allows a moving commemoration of Tiananmen to take place every June 4. Four years ago Martin Lee, the veteran pro-democracy campaigner, told me that he had been “pleasantly surprised” by the extent to which China had allowed Hong Kong to preserve its freedoms. But earlier this year, when I met Mr Lee again, his views had changed completely. Now he warned that Beijing seemed intent on denying Hong Kong democracy and eroding the independence of the courts.

What has changed? Perhaps the Communist party in Beijing has become more assertive and less tolerant. Perhaps it was never willing to risk real democracy emerging in Hong Kong.

Over the next few days, the world’s eyes will be on the streets of Hong Kong. But the public’s reaction in mainland China will also be crucial. The development that Beijing must fear most is the spread of pro-democracy demonstrations to the mainland.

Beijing is trying to block news from Hong Kong on the official Chinese media and on the internet. If the demonstrations continue, it may also try to exploit a latent antagonism between mainlanders and Hong Kong citizens. In Hong Kong, mainlanders are sometimes portrayed as uncouth interlopers. In China, Hong Kongers are sometimes portrayed as spoiled brats with an unpatriotic nostalgia for colonial rule.

The idea that Hong Kong citizens are less than truly Chinese is something that the nationalist press in China may exploit if the protests escalate. In that, the official reaction to Hong Kong could be reminiscent of Russia’s reaction to demonstrations in Ukraine. The Ukrainians and Hong Kongers are embraced as brothers, in Moscow and Beijing, as long as they stay in line. But if they err, they can quickly be denounced as tools of western imperialism.

The difference, of course, is that Hong Kong is part of China’s sovereign territory whereas Ukraine is now an independent country. However, a violent denouement to the demonstrations in Hong Kong will disrupt relations between China and the west, almost as surely as the annexation of Crimea destroyed business as usual between Russia and the west. The government in Beijing is now pondering its next move. In the interests of Hong Kong, China, the global economy and international political stability, it is crucial it gets it right.

UK treads softly over Hong Kong protests

By Kiran Stacey, Political Correspondent

Britain has urged China to guarantee a “meaningful advance for democracy” in Hong Kong as thousands continue to occupy the territory’s streets in protest against Beijing’s plans for electoral reform.

Hours after the Hong Kong authorities removed heavily armed riot police from the streets, the British Foreign Office released a rare statement on the issue, calling on both sides to carry on discussing China’s controversial proposals.

A government spokesperson said: “The British government is concerned about the situation in Hong Kong and is monitoring events carefully.”

In a carefully calibrated statement designed to show support for the protesters while avoiding causing offence in Beijing, the person added: “Hong Kong’s prosperity and security are underpinned by its fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to demonstrate. It is important for Hong Kong to preserve these rights and for Hong Kong people to exercise them within the law.”

The protests are in response to China’s plans to place strict limits on who can stand for election to be chief executive of the territory, which would make it impossible for critics of Beijing to run.

Hong Kong’s political system is underpinned by the agreement signed between China and the UK which led to Britain handing over control of the territory in 1997.

But British officials say that nothing Beijing is proposing breaks the joint agreement, and point out that Britain did not offer universal suffrage to choose a chief executive either. They describe their approach as “softly-softly”.

The British government is treading a difficult line in its response, between supporting democracy and maintaining its relationship with China, having made a pitch to do more business with the country.

On a recent tour of China, David Cameron, the prime minister, said: “I think it’s a positive sign of economic strength that we are open and welcome to Chinese investment.”

But Britain’s lack of willingness to criticise China over human rights, especially in Hong Kong, has drawn criticism. Lord Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, told the Financial Times in July: “The joint declaration was an international agreement . . . between China and Britain guaranteeing Hong Kong’s freedoms and pluralism under the rule of law for 50 years.

“It is wholly reasonable for Hong Kong citizens to express concerns to both signatories if they think the terms of that joint declaration are being questioned or undermined.”

Westminster MPs have also expressed concern at the UK government’s approach. Rory Stewart, the Conservative chair of the cross-party defence select committee, told the Financial Times: “We have a special relationship with Hong Kong and we need to find a way of putting as much energy as we can, politically and diplomatically, into supporting them.”

Officials say they are working behind the scenes to ensure there is a transition to proper democracy, but warn against what they call “megaphone diplomacy”, which they say will only box in Beijing and leave China less willing to negotiate.

Sir Richard Ottaway, chair of the foreign affairs committee, said: “If the UK is not satisfied that the undertakings in the joint declaration are being upheld they should register a protest. But we have to be honest and recognise we are in a weak negotiating position, and registering a protest is about all we can do.”

Britain hopes China will surprise many western powers by relaxing its rules in the future to allow a slate of candidates for the chief executive position that is more pluralistic than many expect. But officials also admit that the UK has little influence over Beijing on the issue, either through diplomacy or the terms of the joint declaration.

Xi is on the Wrong Side of History in Hong Kong

Written by Our Correspondent


A tone-deaf government in Beijing misses the importance of the student protest

It was a coincidence but a symbolic one. On the day that Hong Kong’s police launched repeated volleys of tear gas onto pro-democracy demonstrators in the heart of the city, Chinese President Xi Jinping was reported to be calling on all Chinese to embrace the spirit of Mao Zedong and protect the position of the Communist Party.

Hong Kong’s police have in the past mostly been viewed as relatively tolerant towards demonstrators, reflecting the fact that these are ordinary policemen from ordinary homes who likely reflect the majority view in wanting political progress for Hong Kong and the maintenance of liberty, but not violence.

But on this occasion, doubtless at the behest of Chief Executive CY Leung, himself under orders from Beijing, they came well prepared for offensive action to clear the streets of those they claimed were disrupting public order and assembling illegally. Helmets, batons and huge amounts of pepper spray aimed directly at demonstrators’ faces were deemed insufficient, hence the resort to large quantities of tear gas.

In the background stood other police armed with guns that threatened the use of rubber bullets.

So strong was the police response to what had been a peaceful occupation of public space – albeit one deemed illegal – that some of the leaders advised withdrawal rather than face injury in the face of police tactics.

Of the demonstrators, the largest number were students but they also included legislators and religious leaders such as Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen and many ordinary people who wanted to show support for the students and or backed the Occupy Central movement that aimed to bring the Central business district to a standstill.

The movement’s aim is to draw world attention to China’s failure to allow real universal suffrage for the election of the next chief executive in 2017. Beijing’s version of universal suffrage is to allow everybody to vote, but to handpick the candidates they will vote for.

In the event, the students proved rather better organized than the Occupy leaders and although numbers temporarily dwindled the demonstrators are not going away and it is likely that October 1 will see a new wave of protests – it is China’s national day and a public holiday and good reason for those who reject the divine right of the Communist Party to rule Hong Kong to go to the streets.

The build-up to these events has shown just how out of touch Beijing – and Hong Kong’s quisling leadership – have been in assessing the mood in the territory. Suspicion of the Party and Beijing goes deep in the older generation who remember being refugees or victims of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Meanwhile the students have shown an unsuspected degree of radicalism and willingness to endure sustained discomfort and even injuries in pursuit of more democracy. For some, democracy may be an end in itself, but much of the student action is based more on fear that existing liberties are gradually being taken away as Beijing tightens its grip on this long free-spirited but law abiding society.

Beijing’s attitudes have hardened significantly since Xi came to power and have spurred radicalism in Hong Kong. Its refusal to make any concessions to moderate democrats and allow a modicum of choice in the candidates for chief executive mean that there could no longer be any middle ground. All democrats had to oppose the phony “universal suffrage” laid down by the central government with a small group of appointees nominating the candidates.

Making matters worse, Beijing then aligned itself with the territory’s richest men, who were invited to a meeting with Xi himself. These tycoons mostly became mega rich thanks to their cozy relationships with the government over land deals. These are the very class of people, the landlord exploiters, who were executed when the communist party led by the now re-sanctified Mao Zedong came to power.

Xi is clutching at any symbol to back up his own push to be elevated to the ranks of Mao, Lenin, Stalin and, maybe, Deng Xiaoping. Yet the same president who purports to back Mao’s “spirit” of class struggle and perpetual revolution is also advocating a return to the values of Confucius, the “feudal reactionary” so fiercely condemned by Mao.

Confucius’ emphasis on order and hierarchy comes in handy for defending rule by the party elite. Confucius also has the merit of being Chinese, unlike that other leading source of ethical value in China – Buddhism, tolerated only as long as its stays apolitical.

Xi’s mix of Mao, Confucius and robber-baron, party-led capitalism is inherently unstable. That explains why he fears any development of liberal democracy in Hong Kong and tars it as a dangerous western and anti-Chinese idea. Hence the hard line response in Hong Kong is also an aspect of his reliance on nationalism, as seen in his policy towards Japan and the South China Sea, to build his power at a time when the economy is faltering.

But if Hong Kong’s past is anything to go by, Xi is now behind the curve of history and the students of Hong Kong will find their mainland counterparts open to their example when the occasion arises.  This is something for the government to be extremely worried about.

China Can’t Back Down

Written by Our Correspondent


Hong Kong’s protests demonstrate that it was never going to work

The seeds of what is going on in Hong Kong today, with tear gas being used on local protesters apparently for the first time in history and student heads being busted by police, were sown in 1997 with the promulgation of the territory’s Basic Law, the foundation document that is supposed to govern Hong Kong for 50 years. 

There was never going to be a time, in retrospect, when Beijing could accept universal suffrage for Hong Kong despite the promises in the Basic Law.  That is because, despite the enormous uplift of China’s 1.3 billion people since Deng Xiaoping began to open the country to new economic ideas, it remains a communist dictatorship. Dictatorships by their nature can’t back away in the face of provocation.

That is especially true of Xi Jinping, who since he was named to head the politburo, has been out to demonstrate that the two weeks he once spent on an Iowa farm when he was a teenager didn’t make him into a democrat.

Accordingly, unlike in the past when police tolerated the largely irrelevant Occupy Central movement and its tents under the HSBC building and other spots, troopers clad in riot gear are gassing and pepper spraying student protesters to stop them from blocking traffic on main roads in and around the Central business district. Those who run the Hong Kong government are a vivid demonstration of why the city needs to pick its own leaders, not be handed a slate of loyalists from Beijing.

The differences in perspective between Hong Kong and Beijing are enormous and unbridgeable. What the country’s leaders in Zhongnanhai see and fear is an ungrateful upstart. And, in the inevitable calculus of relationships between large, totalitarian governments and small democratic economies, the large, totalitarian government is going to win, no matter how many student heads are busted before that happens.

There was a naïve hope, in 1997, that China would absorb some of the principles left over from 152 years of British rule, which included a fair judiciary, the rule of law and tolerance for civil liberties that were real and tangible despite the fact that, as the critics say, the colonials themselves also never granted the territory’s citizens the right to vote.

China has absorbed nothing democratic.  It has absorbed instead the lessons of Tiananmen Square in 1989, when the murder of students put a black eye on the government that lasts to this day .  Instead, Beijing if anything, has hardened its stance on domestic protesters to make sure nothing like that happens again -- including in Hong Kong. 

The leaders in Beijing seem to have lost respect for the city’s open economy and society partly because of conditions of their own making.  In 2003, China gave Hong Kong the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement, a generous free trade act that provided a major economic lifeline for the city.  Mainlanders responded by moving their (often illegally gained) assets into Hong Kong property, and pouring money into branded boutiques for items that escape Beijing’s tax authorities. Beijing sees, meanwhile, is a city where its crooks could find a bolt hole – at least until Hong Kong literally becomes just another city on the Pearl River Delta, at which they will have to move their cash again, perhaps to the British Virgin Islands.

In addition to those irritations, Hong Kong’s citizens have had the temerity to rise up again and again, first in 2003 against a sedition law that would have prohibited most protest, and later against attempts to introduce Chinese patriotic education into the schools.  The waving of British colonial Hong Kong flags, which has occurred over the past year, has stirred outrage in Beijing as well, giving rise to the suspicion that instead of Xi Jinping’s “China Dream,” the city’s 7.5 million residents are loyal instead to the west.  After all, the ancestors of a great many Cantonese – who prefer to speak their own language, not Putonghua – swam down the Pearl River in the 1960s and earlier to get away from Communist China.

There was a time, during the 2008 Olympic Games, when millions of Hong Kong citizens turned out in a burst of patriotism.  That extraordinary display is long gone. There is no indication that Hong Kong wants to share the mainland’s common destiny, if that common destiny includes the willingness to trade rising prosperity for destruction of civil and social rights.

The week-long boycott of classes by Hong Kong students to protest of Beijing’s refusal to allow for a freely elected chief executive has gained the support of many in the academic community.  It remains to be seen how much support the Occupy movement and its student allies will get from a wider spectrum of the citizenry. But it is abundantly clear that a majority of Hong Kong’s young want nothing to do with the way Zhongnanhai is running things on the mainland.

The big question is whether mainland citizens – if they can find real news about Hong Kong in China’s censored press ‑ will ask why they can’t enjoy the same kinds of freedoms.  If Taiwan is any harbinger, that is a real danger.  Half a dozen years ago there was strong sentiment for reunification in Taiwanese government circles, and public disillusion with the pro-independence forces. Now sentiment has begun to swing back.  Recent polls show that the events in Hong Kong have made Taiwan more cautious about the dragon’s embrace.

China has been described as a “tinderbox” faced with growing suppression and that the events in Hong Kong could provide the spark. The students in the streets of Central are a real threat to Beijing. They hope that just as the citizens of Hong Kong drew inspiration from the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989, when hundreds of students were crushed under the army’s tanks, mainland students will now draw similar inspiration from Hong Kong.

That would only usher in a stronger reaction from the government. Xi and his fellow communists are riding a dragon they cannot dismount.

HK Police and Officials Botch Protest

Written by Our Correspondent


Tear gas outrages public but a practical way forward must be found    

The political leadership of Hong Kong was largely absent as university students declared a week of class boycotts stating last Monday, September 22, to protest China’s reneging on the Basic Law promise to allow democratic elections.

The students and their many supporters denounced the National People's Congress Standing Committee’s August 31 ruling calling for the existing Election Committee of largely pro-Beijing appointees to pick three candidates for the voters of Hong Kong to elect a chief executive in 2017.

Last Wednesday, student leaders moved from campus to government headquarters near Admiralty to demand that the chief executive meet them. CY Leung ducked the invitation.

Leung also did not address the Hong Kong people throughout the week, other than to make a recorded statement on Sunday that was given wide publicity on the mainland, saying he hears the students but urges them to end their “illegal” occupation of the streets for their own safety.

With the protests still alive, now under the name “Umbrella Revolution,” and the streets shut down in various parts of the city, a way forward will have to be found but so far there is little evidence that Hong Kong’s government or its mainland masters have the inclination –or perhaps even the means – to listen.

Instead the mishandling of the protests have given the movement a name and an identity -- the use of umbrellas to deflect tear gas on Sunday night ‑ that is considerably broader than Occupy Central could ever hope to be.

Pepper-spray & teargas spark outrage

When Leung ignored the student demands for a dialogue, a vanguard of about 100 students vaulted the police barricades on Friday. Police pepper-sprayed, corralled and handcuffed them, dragging the teenagers into waiting police vans.

Joshua Wong, a student leader since the age of 14 when he led the group Scholarism to oppose “patriotic education” in 2012, was denied bail and his home was searched in a classic mainland-style tactic to intimidate family, friends and neighbors. The High Court ordered his release on Sunday as the police could offer no credible grounds to detain him and his colleagues beyond the 48-hours allowed under Hong Kong law.

The rough handling of unarmed students and the heavy police-state methods upset the wider public. They attribute the aggressive police tactics to directives from the CCP. Sunday brought forth a massive, spontaneous outpouring of citizen support for the students. Many old folk said they wanted to “protect” the students from harm.

But this was again a signature Hong Kong mass demonstration ‑ no rioting, no rowdy behavior, no aggression, no damage to public property. The students held their arms aloft in front of the police to show they had no aggressive intent.

The riot police, looking like mechanical Samurai warriors, seemed entirely out of place facing the peaceful crowds. All the violence came from the riot police who on cue, shot waves of teargas shells into a peaceful crowd on Sunday. A police spokesman said 87 teargas rounds were lobbed at nine locations.

Hong Kong has seen massive multiple annual public protests since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre first galvanized public sentiment  with no need for teargas or water cannons. The crowds are too well behaved. The frontline marchers on Sunday temporarily dispersed to recover from breathing difficulties but they were back when the smoke cleared. The unprovoked teargas and baton charges only steeled the people to continue defying the riot police.

Outraged citizens boost Occupy

The Occupy Central leaders who planned to kick off their movement on the October 1 national holiday, brought forward their date to Saturday to ride the momentum of the student protests and public anger at the police. The generally lackluster public response to the idea of blocking business traffic in Central had so discouraged the organizers that they had even considered calling the protest off. But Friday’s initial display of police intimidation sparked renewed public will to make a stand.

By the early hours of Monday morning, Hong Kong awoke to simultaneous occupation of Causeway Bay, parts of Mongkok, Nathan Road, Wanchai, Admiralty and Central. Hundreds of bus routes were cancelled or diverted. MTR exits were shut at several points. Civil servants were asked to check their transport routes. Schools were closed. Commuters listened to radio and TV reports for traffic disruption.

The Occupy leaders describe their movement as “civil disobedience”  ‑ they will not resist arrest but will link arms and lie on roads to make it awkward for the police to cart them off. This strategy needs Gandhian patience and the support of masses of people with little else to do. Hong Kong is short of both. The movement will fizzle if the authorities don’t over-react.

 Pro-Beijing apologists spin

Former security secretary Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, an aspirant to replace Leung as chief executive who hopes to regain the power she lost in 2003 when her Article 23 Security Bill was aborted, suggested that the students were being manipulated by unknown forces. That is in line with CCP paranoia about foreign agents fomenting unrest to de-stabilize China, charges used regularly to vilify and imprison mainland writers, human rights activists, lawyers and those who challenge land-grabs by local communist party officials.

Robert Chow Yung, the “silent majority” conjuror who amassed a million “Anti-Occupy” signatures from anyone including clueless mainlanders bussed-in from Shenzhen, off-duty domestic helpers and passing tourists, solemnly declared that the riot police behaved with great restraint. He said it with a straight face.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, a stalwart Beijing loyalist who once served as Secretary for Justice, has been warning for months that Occupy will end in dire strife. She is deputy director of the Basic Law Committee and an adviser to the NPC Standing Committee. She told everyone to go home to safety. She has not yet spelled out the punishments awaiting those who don’t.

 Lock in the gains

The die is cast on the 2017 election formula. Hong Kong’s current leader has done its people no favors. CY Leung is highly unpopular, ineffective and held in contempt one suspects, even by the puppet-masters in Beijing.

The Hong Kong deputies to the annual Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing are a ragtag bunch of self-promoters who leverage their exalted status for business opportunities, appointments to corporate directorships and positions on think tanks. As a result Hong Kong gets little genuine representation at the highest councils of the PRC.

The Hong Kong pulse instead is taken by the China Liaison Office, whose primary function is to manage the United Front network to infiltrate all the institutions of the SAR in the civil service, politics, commerce, academia and media. The CLO is well funded and relentless.

Hong Kong’s Democrats have a tenuous ability to deny the two-thirds majority needed to pass the 2017 chief executive Election formula into law. But to what end anyway? Petulant non-cooperation is not a strategy. Challenging the CCP to a test of wills is not either. They have the guns and goons.

Pragmatists have suggested that the democrats lock in the concession on one-man, one-vote to make even the nominated future leader accountable to the public. No other province in China enjoys even that concession. The CCP has never sought a referendum on itself from the citizens of China since taking power in 1949 and it is in no hurry to do so.

The 2017 Chief Executive ruling also allows for direct elections to the legislature in 2020. Direct elections hold candidates to results. Such accountability is good. It allows constituents to evict ineffective representatives. The Democrats should lock that in as well.

The Democrats will have to learn to use the system to extract maximum value for the people of Hong Kong. They should deny the two-thirds majority to pass the dangerous Article 23 Security Bill, which the CCP needs to take away Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms.