Protests in Hong Kong are in their fifth day, and the crowds are larger than ever after a China National Day ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of Communist China.
The student-led protest is attempting to use peaceful civil disobedience to force Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign and to persuade Beijing to retract its decision to screen candidates in the the city’s 2017 chief executive poll.
Tensions are now escalating as student leaders vow to occupy several important government buildings if Leung doesn’t resign by Thursday.
“Because the government ordered police to fire 87 rounds of tear gas at protests, there is no room for dialogue. Leung Chun-ying must step down,” Lester Shum, vice secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said at a news conference. “If he doesn’t resign by tomorrow, we will step up our actions, such as by occupying several important government buildings.”
The potential problem with this strategy is that it could lead to a brutal crackdown by Chinese authorities.
“If students were to occupy government buildings, that would be a very dangerous situation because it would give police a reason to use force,” George Chen, a 2014 Yale World Fellow and author of the book “This is Hong Kong I Know,” told Business Insider on Tuesday.
Chinese authorities have so far resisted the broad use of force, instead employing a strategy of waiting protesters out.
“The government can tolerate the blockade of three or four or five areas and see how the demonstrations go, so the only way the demonstrators can go is to escalate it — spread it to more places, and then they cannot sustain it — or they will become violent,” a person who is deeply involved in the Hong Kong government’s decision-making told The New York Times.
But the authorities will not continue to wait if protests escalate.
“The Hong Kong leadership has made clear that they’re not going to accede to the protesters’ demands,” Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer told Business Insider in an email. “They want to avoid a broad show of force … but if they can’t get the demonstrations to disperse through threats and some strategic arrests, we’re likely to see violence.”
Nevertheless, the young people of Hong Kong seem oblivious to or unafraid of the specter of a potential crackdown ordered by mainland leadership.
“For our generation, people in their 20s, we were born here and have witnessed the change since the British handover,” a 25-year-old student protester, referring to China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, told McClatchy. “We feel this is our stand. We have to create a space for free speech and away from the threat of [the Chinese Communist Party].”
According to a poll by the University of Hong Kong, 86% of residents aged 18 to 29 identify themselves as “Hong Kongers.” And they seem to be relying on that identification to make their stand.
“To tell you the truth, we don’t want to be defined as Chinese people,” one 24-year-old told Stuart Leavenworth of McClatchy. Leavenworth noted that McClatchy interviewed several protesters who made similar statements.
“Hong Kong is a special place, with a special autonomy. We just want them (Chinese leaders) to keep the promises they have made,” the 24-year-old added.
When asked if the protesters can realistically get what they want, Bremmer said “No.”
“Allowing the protests to persist (and expand … into Taipei, Macau, and potentially even parts of the mainland) is completely unacceptable to Beijing’s leadership,” Bremmer said.
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