These student protests in Hong Kong will continue to run on and on

Growing affluence and education among the mainland’s middle class has produced a powerful urge for change along Hong Kong’s lines

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The Independent Online

Some of my colleagues are jumping the gun.

David Pilling wrote in the Financial Times on Wednesday: “As the high-stakes poker game between students and the Hong Kong government draws to a thankfully blood-free close…”

It ain’t over, David. And while it has to date been largely blood-free, give or take a few cracked skulls in Mong Kok, the conclusion of this extraordinary political event has yet to be written. The protest goes on, the anger is unassuaged, and the end is not yet in sight. 

Yesterday, protest leaders called for a big attendance in Harcourt Road, the area they have re-named Umbrella Square (umbrellas are a symbol of the protests), in front of government headquarters, for this afternoon, to put pressure on the negotiations with Carrie Lam, the top civil servant, that were due to start then.

Ms Lam responded by cancelling the talks. It is highly unlikely, given their bullish mood, that this will prompt the protesters to cancel their planned assembly. The struggle has only just started.

Since Monday attendance at all three of the protest venues has been down on last week. But that’s because last week, “Golden Week”, was a holiday for students and many workers. This week few can afford to skip work or classes.

However, their passion has not waned. Many continue to show up at the protest sites as and when they can. They have not given up, or changed their ideas.

Hong Kong’s protests are focused on Beijing’s decision to pre-select candidates for the chief executive elections of 2017, thus vitiating the promise of universal suffrage. But the reason they have drawn such enormous support is because, with that decision, Hong Kong’s likely future as the vassal of Beijing became starkly clear.

At the handover in 1997, Hong Kong was granted a 50-year, “special relationship” with the mainland in the expectation that the differences between the two would steadily narrow: the mainland would become more like Hong Kong, the lingering rigidities of the Maoist years would soften, the society would steadily open up, and the eventual merger would be painless.

Nothing of the sort is happening. Or rather, it would be happening if the authorities allowed it to, but they don’t; on the contrary, they are digging in their heels to prevent it. Growing affluence and education among the mainland’s middle class is producing a powerful urge for change along Hong Kong’s lines – but it is an urge which terrifies the ruling Communist Party because it inevitably brings into question the party’s legitimacy, its right to rule China for ever, and that can never be questioned.

Last summer an internal directive was circulated to party members with a list of “do not mention” topics. They included democracy, universal values, civil society, market liberalism and media independence. But those unmentionables  are Hong Kong’s precious jewels, the things that make life there bearable.

As the years before integration slip by, they are slowly being eroded, and the deeply unpopular rule of C Y Leung is a harbinger of worse to come.

Hongkongers are protesting while they can and because they can, and now they have started I suspect they will continue for as long as they can.

Young Hongkongers reject the idea that their freedoms can simply be shredded by the mainland.

This one will run and run.

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