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CWA # 180, 1 November 2019

China
Violence in Hong Kong: Will the protests end?

  Harini Madhusudan

At this point, neither the protesters nor the government knows where they are headed; both seem to be waiting it out for the other one to budge.

At this point, neither the protesters nor the government knows where they are headed; both seem to be waiting it out for the other one to budge.

There seems to be no end in sight for the protests in Hong Kong and every week, a new dimension in the protests emerges. In the fourth month of the protests, the question remains, why does the protest continue after its initial demands were met? Is the Hong Kong government doing enough to end the protests or are they incapable? Is the split in the approach of the protesters sufficient to expect an end to the protests? Is fatigue the only way the protests would end?

The protests which began as a movement against the extradition bill, has snowballed beyond the initial idea. Protesters have tirelessly sustained for months because they have learned from the past. The Umbrella Movement failed because it did not escalate, the protesters ended up sitting and protesting while the police took them away one by one. However, the protests are reaching the peak of Hong Kong’s patience. The protests have in a way inspired various anti-government protests across the world. Catalan protests in October 2019 explicitly announced that they were directly inspired by the methods of the protests in Hong Kong. 

Visible Frustrations

The protesters do not have an endpoint in mind. Every time a part of their demand is met, new ones come up. The protests erupted from frustrations and anger, very soon evolved into a youth-led movement for democracy against the Chinese Communist Government. From “Be water” as their rallying cry, the protests have moved to “If we burn, you burn with us.” Multiple rounds of interactions were arranged between Carrie Lam and select protesters, but they refuse to compromise on their demands. The protesters have vowed that, “the protests would not stop until every demand is met.”

On the other side, the administration in Hong Kong is not doing enough to contain the severity of the protests. Other than declaring the death of the extradition bill, there is a very sparse attempt by the Lam government. The CCP too made a conscious decision to not involve directly with the protesters. In a legislative meeting that happened in Hong Kong after months, Carrie Lam addressed expensive real-estate but did not mention the protesters. Lam has announced that “there would be no further negotiations till the protests stop.”

The third set of frustrations come from the groups of people who are on neither side. The daily wagers, the middle-aged workers and old people who initially supported the protests but now would like it to stop, so that they can go ahead with their regular lives. The argument that this is a protest for ‘democracy,’ no longer seems convincing to them. The families of the youngsters have begun to show concern about the violent turn that the protests have taken and question their participation in the protests. 

Perpetual Chaos

Accountability of the actions in these protests is out of question in the case of Hong Kong. The protesters chose to not have a leader and have worked in clusters for months. Multiple online platforms have been used to ensure they hold the upper hand in the current state of protests in Hong Kong. The sustenance of the protests have come to a point where the spectators have begun to question the foundations of the, ‘one country, two systems.’ model of Hong Kong. The protests believe that if they fail to evolve, they will have to lose like they did during the Umbrella Movement. 

The citizens, students; companies that are directly or indirectly providing support to the movement, are all playing roles that they are most comfortable in. Infrastructure damage to even the government property has been massive in the past few weeks. The protesters have targeted facial recognition technology and other human control or monitoring technology, (specifically by China) that were being used in Hong Kong. There is also complete defiance of all appeasement mechanisms and the bans that were announced by the government. For example, there was a ‘no mask’ ban on the protesters but no one followed it. 

At this point, neither the protesters nor the government knows where they are headed; both seem to be waiting it out for the other one to budge. It is important to note that, the five demands laid out by the protesters are very carefully chosen because they know these are impossible to achieve. Another argument that has been laid is that these demands would not solve the problems of Hong Kong. Are the demands in the way of the protests ending?

Split in strategy

The protests started out peacefully. Many observers lauded the attempts in Hong Kong as an ideal attempt at challenging authority. Few weeks in, the protesters were seen indirectly attacking the attempts of the police forces active around them. The first wave of violence in Hong Kong were observed when the protesters walked into the legislative building and damaged the building. Through the weeks the situation has gotten worse. Protesters began to directly attack the police. These police were stationed in areas, with clear orders to not engage with the protesters. 

After the CCP and Carrie Lam expressed their intentions to not engage directly with the protests on the streets, their approach changed. The protesters were seen using provocative means to irk the government. They even burnt a Chinese flag in public. Mid October 2019, a serious split was observed in the groups of protesters. A faction of the protesters show obvious hatred to the police and have been in direct confrontation with the police for weeks now. A large group among the protesters do not want to use violence as a means to get the attention of the government. They began to say that these methods are counter-productive to the cause and they would refrain from helping this approach to the protests. This is seen as the first set of divide among the groups of protesters. 

Conclusion

Both the parties are tired, fatigue may bring an end to the protests. The fact that both of them are waiting for the other one to chicken out, indicates that the protests in Hong Kong are nearing an end. The idea that these protests would ensure the ideals of democracy are intact in Hong Kong may take a back seat. A large part of the protests can be seen as a provocative attempt that failed. China has proved that it values the economy and the power that Hong Kong holds, and has not used the tactics used during Tiananmen or the Umbrella Movement. The demands of the protesters will fail to be entirely met. 

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