HK govt achieves the apparently impossible

The Hong Kong authorities achieved something amazing over the weekend. They started off facing a smallish, peaceful week-long sit-in/teach-in at Tamar by students boycotting classes. That gathering was augmented by distinctly non-ferocious high-schoolers on Friday and a slow stream of sympathizers during Saturday. SCMP-TearGasThat could have been the end of the story, with scholars heading back to class as we speak. But no.

(The following might not be in exact order, but roughly recounts the ‘gradual and not so orderly’ progress from just-another-protest to worst-mayhem-since-1967/’Umbrella Revolution’ in less than 48 hours.)

As weekend approached, bureaucrats and police decided to impose pointless and irritating conditions on the student sit-in. They started by denying permission to use the Tamar park area, giving a permit instead to a crudely contrived and barely attended patriotic event featuring dancing grannies in pink. Then the cops, having wedged protestors into the avenue next to the government/legislative complex, started restricting access. Convenient pedestrian routes from the nearby MTR station were closed except to people leaving, and with the road blocked at either end by metal barriers, people arriving had to line up to get through a narrow space. This gratuitous inconvenience (like all that followed) was streamed live to the rest of the city, and the numbers of people deciding to join in rose significantly as Saturday progressed.

The breaching of the wall and the taking of Civic Square was a provocation the police could have shrugged off. Similarly, they could have ignored rather than disrupted the shipments to protestors of bananas, water and goggles. But they didn’t, and the mood got more defiant.

With the demonstrators bedding down on the street for the night, Benny Tai announced that this was now the official Occupy Central – previously slated for Wednesday in, well, Central. Student activists resented this hijacking of ‘their’ protest.  If there was any opportunity for the government to exploit this division over branding, they didn’t take it.

Instead, after isolating and penning in the original protest, the cops found themselves surrounded by a newer and bigger one of reinforcement demonstrators. So they spent Sunday establishing an even bigger cordon around them – blocking roads, obstructing overhead walkways and sealing off MTR exits.

If anything, this seemed to encourage yet more citizens to turn up. By yesterday afternoon, subsequent waves of arriving protestors spilled onto one (later two) of the main roads linking Central and Wanchai, bringing traffic there to a halt. Chief Executive CY Leung and apparently drugged top officials gave a wretchedly unimpressive press conference, reciting zombie-style, how Beijing’s political reform package reflected public opinion. The police launched an attempt to start clearing demonstrators, squirting pepper spray around.

Within hours as evening fell, yet even more thousands of pissed-off people were turning up. Incapable of detecting a pattern here, the cops then started firing tear gas and strutting around in gas masks and helmets with CS guns and shotguns. The Remingtons were presumably loaded with non-lethal munitions, but rumours started spreading about threats to use live ammo, and about plans to cut off the Internet over whole districts, and about the PLA sending tanks in.

Then it’s as if the whole city erupts. As Sunday night fell and progressed, crowds turned out and blocked off streets not only in Admiralty but in Causeway Bay and Mongkok. Not just any old streets, but the main ones, like Nathan Road.

Monday morning, this being Hong Kong, everyone goes to work. But several key intersections on both sides of the harbour remained occupied by determined – and exhilarated, defiant and radicalized – protestors who have just given the city’s government the biggest slap in the face anyone could recall. As on the day after the 2003 July 1 march (when then-CE Tung Chee-hwa retreated into a bunker for a week), there’s a good feeling. Not least because of the huge drop in traffic in many downtown areas; could get used to this.

So to recap: a police force with a long record of calmness and efficiency sets out to handle a gentle, law-abiding and basically normal student protest in a highly civilized city, and ends up losing control as citizens rise up and occupy districts in scenes that look like Tahrir Square. The reason, obviously, was the use of violence, which appalled and then attracted huge numbers of additional protestors. Why did the authorities depart so drastically from their usual tried-and-tested minimum-force tactics? Unless the senior operations cops have become stupid overnight, it can only be because of political pressure. And that can only come, ultimately, from Beijing. After a whole string of heavy handed, clumsy, cretinous miscalculations (white paper, cyber-attacks, fake referendum, etc, etc), it comes to this.

To Beijing, this is not about Hong Kong, but about the danger of the infection of rebellion spreading from that irritating pimple to the Mainland. The Chinese leadership will not give way on political reform, and after the experience with Tung will instinctively want to stick with CY on principle. The rational – and not especially challenging – option would be to ask why people in Hong Kong are angry, and fix it. But of course that goes for Xinjiang and much else. Clearly, China is being run by mouth-frothing paranoiacs smashing anything that moves with a sledgehammer. They, not the Occupy Central organizers or the Hong Kong Police, are the ones who are out of control. At this rate, they’ll nuke the Diaoyu Islands before end-year.

What happens next? Best-case semi-realistic scenario is that – after the Occupy Central actions blow over – local officials convince their Mainland overseers that Hong Kong needs to address at least a few of its social problems, and in a high-profile way. A boost in welfare spending, cheaper student loans, an emergency housing programme, or whatever it takes to convince some pretty angry people that their leadership is not totally deaf or malevolent. It might buy time, at least. Worst-case scenarios don’t even bear thinking about.

Causeway Bay reclaimed – tourists find new backdrop for photos…

CausewayBayReclaimed

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53 Responses to HK govt achieves the apparently impossible

  1. pie-chucker says:

    Talk upon darth vader boys heightening tensions…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0r4jKkcDA7E&feature=player_embedded

    20 secs

  2. Maugrim says:

    I attended a meeting attended by the Chief of Police. He rebuffed comments from local businessmen and the usual Kaifong sorts about the need for stern measures to be taken if and when an occupation occurred. Despite this, I had a suspicion that a few within the police force were looking for an opportunity to do Leung’s bidding and sink the slipper in a bit of they ever got the chance following the Mongkok debacle over a year ago. I may be wrong, but I feel there are some itching for a fight.

  3. Scotty Dotty says:

    I walked around all of Central/Admiralty this morning and was struck by how determined the crowd were yet how peaceful (and how much it smelled of piss).

    What retard escalated to CS gas and baton charges is the story to emerge from this weekend. Got to be a or b:

    a) some face conscious Plod officer. Perhaps… suffering from PMT (these days plenty of women under the respirators) who just flipped. You can imagine: “my arse is wet, I need a hot shower, I’ve got pimples all over down there, sod it, get the gas.

    b) Or was it CY, Cretin Extraordinaire, who thought that will show em.

    Either a or b, as Hemmers says, what retarded move

  4. Chris Maden says:

    Bang on!

  5. Joe Blow says:

    Christine Loh: WHERE ARE YOU ?

    Zimmerman: SPEAK UP !!

  6. gweiloeye says:

    Being overseas at moment n being in transit from saturday night n not looking at news until this morning nz time, I cant believe the speed of escalation of this.

    what the fuck are these police thinking using tear gas against a bunch of weedy kids. they have lost all respect from this gweilo. are asias finest now asias communist red guard thugs or just incompetent?

    read the scmp comments and the 50centers are out in force.

    Sad day for Hongkong.

  7. stanley gibbons says:

    I had a wander around Tamar at lunchtime also. What struck me is where are the democrat legislators?? Surely as they only have one issue to espouse this should be their time? They should be front and centre in this, but so far not a peep. Cnuts.

  8. Scotty Dotty says:

    @gweiloeye

    Anson agrees with you. She’s come out and said the CS gas and batons have shamed Hong Kong in the eyes of the world

    Of course with Anson, you’ve got to price in everything she says carries the message, “If only you’d given me the reigns in 97 as Chris’s rightful heir…”

    Still, I think this time she’s right

  9. Stephen says:

    Credit for having an attempt at “what happens next?” I think they are going to have to get very creative with the nominating committee. Restrictive enough to satisfy the CCP yet open enough to convince a handful of Pro-Dems to commit electoral suicide and support the “reforms”. Tough ask even for a competent Government.

    CY is looking a bit like dead man walking – is it time for him to rehearse the “For the sake of my family…” speech?

  10. gumshoe says:

    Great article. Who can completely overshadow the sloppy and mixed message Occupy Central protest with even more myopic actions? The Chinese government, of course.

  11. Whatever says:

    Perfect observation. Police pushed this situation every step of the way until they were faced with a “whole world is watching” disaster. This thing could have fizzled out last night without a bunch of kids going home to play Xbox but instead became an international incident.

    Stupid police leadership. Absolutely stupid.

  12. PD says:

    This is the best news we’ve had since, well, about as far back as 1945! At last a crack in the China-HK dictatorial nexus: hoisted by their own petard, CY and even Peking are running scared, making stupid panicky choices that prove in fact to be the best way of pouring oil on the fire.

    At worst, CY will be forced to leave his bunker and face up to some of HK’s deep-seated problems.

    At best, he’ll be impeached, further tanks will try to sneak in via, say, Sha Tau Kok, the world will finally realise what’s going on and/or revolutionary changes will happen. We might even get some degree of democracy and adherence to the Joint Declaration.

    It all just shows that just when the tunnel looks darkest, when the pessimists amongst us are reduced to wringing their hands, then that’s the very time that HKers show our political, social, economic, even ontological impasse can be broken.

    For 60 years, HK has been a model for China in all sorts of ways, but no one dared say so. Will the penny finally drop?

  13. anon says:

    Do you suppose Property prices will now fall & housing here will become affordable? Like the rest of Democratic world? Just asking…

  14. Sir Crispin Bentley-Smythe IV says:

    I bet Henry Tang is thanking his ancestors that he lost the election now.

  15. delboy says:

    Heard Virgina Ip on the radio this afternoon commenting on the student protesting. ‘They’re not allowed to do this…because it’s illegal’.

    What a stupid, stupid, stupid woman.

    Viva la revolution.

  16. Not a Real Tax Payer says:

    The students and co. must be in the right if they can cause Fanny to cry, CY to look shame-faced and Regina to become totally incoherent and nonsensical (“Exco member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the protestors in the Occupy Central movement are well organized as they all have unlimited supply. And the authority must not undermine their power, she said in a radio program. The chairwoman of New People Party said the police used forces instead of violence.” — The Sub-Standard).

    And they’ve solved the traffic congestion at a stroke.

    If CY was to jump or be pushed, presumably Carrie would take over (should wipe the smug smile off her face) — that or bring Donald back or direct rule from Up North. In any case, HK may yet be proved ungovernable, in which case even the dotard waxworks will be forced to understand that their thuggish methods don’t always work.

  17. Laguna Lurker says:

    I think many police are becoming increasingly conflicted. They are mostly working-class and earn relatively low salaries. They can identify with the problems of those they are tasked with policing, and understand that they are often used as tools of oppression. However they are deterred from dissidence by livelihood concerns and are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. Caught between dependence on the government teat and calls of conscience, they become extremely frustrated and vent their rage on the easiest targets: members of the public. By moot consensus between the working cops and their masters, a culture of impunity has arisen that both accommodates and perpetuates this situation.

  18. nulle says:

    the HK Police (ordered by the CCP) TOSSES MULTIPLE ROUNDS OF CS gas and pepper spray at DEFENSELESS STUDENTS.

    HK Police have become thugs and HK Gov’t (at CCP orders) also use triads thugs to force pro-democracy factions to surrender.

    Who needs tanks across the border when CCP got a PLA garrison at Sha Tin with a boatload of APCs and Light tanks. I have a feeling those remingtons loaded with ACTUAL live ammo. the bloody 1967 events are repeating itself again…

    HK is very quickly becoming mainlandized just like Tibet and Xinjiang. What happened just proved my point that the CCP CAN’T EVER BE TRUSTED, period.

    Where are the British gov’t and the UN to enforce the SinoBritish Treaty of HK? (Maybe a bunch of wusses kowtowing to China)

  19. MonkeyFish says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eob49hfqCAc&list=UUgFP46yVT-GG4o1TgXn-04Q

    Very interesting video segment about what is going on in HKG, based on an analysis of the Xi vs. Jiang factional struggle in the CCP.

    Zeng Qinghong was a driving force in the noughties in running the united front in Hong Kong, and was also Jiang’s no. 1 behind-the-scenes political strategist. He also happens to be dear CY’s mentor and guardian in Beijing – CY is his man all the way, and is widely acknowledged to have been Zeng’s bitch/puppet/protege-in-training for decades.

    Could it be that a ruthless, evil clique of old-school Maoist peeps in Beijing and Shanghai, under threat of losing their influence (and their control over the multiple hundreds of billions of gravy for the domestic security budget, which is now greater than the PLA budget) are intentionally fomenting dissent, violence and strife in Hong Kong, in order to damage and distract team Xi Jinping, and derail the Jiang faction purge, sorry i mean the anti-corruption drive?

    An old-school clique of “party elders” using bloodshed, violence, and manipulation of the “mass forces” inherent in the “societal contradictions” central to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism for their own narrow political objectives, in this case political survival? I know, hardly believable … one must needs possess a vividly imaginative mind capable of advanced yoga-like poses, particular head-stand inversions, to imagine such scandalous, perfidious infamy.

  20. MonkeyFish says:

    p.s. Zhang Dejiang, Chairman of NPC Standing Committee, releaser of incredibly badly-timed decisions about HKG political reform (timing so profoundly bad, that it is almost as if the timing was actually intended to inflame opposition and get us famously bolshoi HKG-ers onto the street) -> one of only 3 remaining allies of Mr. Jiang on the CCP Standing committee.

    A desperate discovered attack on the white king by a black knight and black bishop, in order to stop the onslaught of forced checks and forks which threaten the black queen?

  21. JS says:

    @ Stanley Gibbons – I did a lunchtime walk around Causeway Bay and saw both Albert Ho and Short Hair.

  22. pcatbar says:

    Sorry Hemmers, I don’t buy ‘the PRC leadership directed HK police to provoke and then assault the students’ interpretation of events.
    More likely there was panic when it became clear on Sunday afternoon that the opportunism of Occupy to piggy back on the student protest had provided some real momentum for a very large sit in on the Govt doorstep. Rather than react with political strategy to counter this as a competent administration might, CY and the Police Commissioner collectively wet themselves. Imagining how embarrassing it would look for their Masters’ visit on Wednesday to witness such an encampment they decided to try and ‘nip it in the bud’ by getting out the gas.
    The spectacular ‘backfire’ which resulted may have been an obvious risk but no certainty. It was a gross error by possibly no more than 2 men rather than the carrying out of ‘orders from above’.

  23. Maugrim may be right that some cops are itching for a fight, but I suspect there are many others who are not at all comfortable about what they’re being asked to do. And as for the democrat legislators, stanley gibbons, several (Albert, Emily, Fernando) were last seen under arrest before they could even reach the protest, apparently for the “crime” of attempting to bring in a PA system in order to exercise their right to free speech at greater volume.

  24. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    Interesting situation. What happens next? China has probably already put a stop to tourists given the lack of sightings on the Peak this afternoon. Fido and I were unhindered by our friends from ‘up-north.’ I expect the Hong Kong people will now be punished, with a gradual withdrawal of capital and perhaps a hit on the property market. The latter is to be welcomed.

  25. nulle says:

    why doesn’t everyone around the world start picketing every chinese embassy everywhere?

  26. anon says:

    ah so! just as we thought…

  27. Joe Blow says:

    stanley: I saw Albert Ho in Causeway Bay around noon, in front of the students, giving a TV interview. This evening I saw Margaret Ng, doing the same.

  28. Sage of Mui Wo says:

    The CCP are not “running scared”. In the next day or two they will shaft us in the perfect response to territory-wide civil disobedience. When I have finalized my solution to the “problem” I suspect they are going to throw at us, I shall return. Watch this space.

  29. stanley gibbons says:

    @JS

    Short hair is a Trotskyite, not a Democrat

  30. Mark Davies says:

    HK people need to get a grip – you can only push Beijing so far – remember Tienanmen!!- you’re part of China deal with it!

  31. Mark Davies says:

    The rest of China can only wish for what HK has already got! People of HK count your blessings.

  32. Scotty Dotty says:

    Best image of the day?

    Surely the up-turned China flag at Admiralty centre. When CY saw that he must have wet himself. There aint enough kowtow’s in the world gonna square that with Xi.

    Close second? Must be in the Admiralty MTR park, around the corner near Police HQ. “Fuck The Police” grafitti. Clarse.

  33. Joe Blow says:

    Christine Loh is a CCP whore.

    I think this is what her plan is: hang in there as long as possible, and collect as much money as possible.
    Then when the whole thing crashes, she will retire to the US with her blood money.
    Three years later she will re-appear with a sob story that “I just wanted to serve Hong Kong”, “…I didn’t really support CY” and “I was misunderstood blah blah blah “.
    “You know, I am really a Joan of Arc, but with a Chanel suit”

  34. Sage of Mui Wo says:

    Not one shot needs to be fired to fix the CCP’s “problem”. The next several days it will very rapidly see HKer being pitted against HKer.

  35. pcatbar says:

    Delboy, Im no fan of Regina either but obstruction of the highway is illegal though NT villagers seem able to do it without being tear gassed!

  36. pcatbar says:

    Sage is onto something. I expect plan B to involve bussing in an army of CCP minions, (DAB blah blah operatives) over the 2 day holiday to counter demonstrate and clash with Occupy/students so that police will have to ‘restore order’ in a ‘divided society’. Pretty obvious really!

  37. Not a Real Tax Payer says:

    Come on, Sage, you’re an awful tease: don’t keep us on tenterhooks with your finalised “solution”.

    Two of the CP’s greatest fears are: that contagion from HK will affect the mainland; and that social unrest will again spin out of control as it did in 1989.

    All three of their anointed CEs have proved abject failures: they’re frightened out of their wits that henceforth any CE will not be able to govern effectively.

    If they’re not soiling their underwear at the prospect of an out-of-control HK, they should be!

  38. Foxtrot orca says:

    Well done Mark Davis, that earns you $1. Enjoy.

  39. PD says:

    SMW, You should read the BBC, on http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-29405195 :

    China’s leaders must be sitting uncomfortably in Beijing.

    As long as the protests continue, there is a chance they will spread to the mainland, where many are unhappy with one-party rule. The Chinese government is taking clear steps to limit information about events in Hong Kong by censoring internet search terms and forums discussions.

    But if the protesters hold their ground, how far will Beijing allow events to spiral before getting directly involved?

    The sight of Chinese troops confronting Hong Kong protesters, particularly students, would be a disaster for Beijing, leading to an international outcry. Beijing could revisit the dark days following its violent response to 1989’s Tiananmen protests.

  40. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    I’m baffled … what did people think the Police were doing for years at Fanling? It started with the Brits in about 1967, when the PTU came into existence. Their kit and tactics were on display when the Korean farmers kicked-off a few years ago … an event applauded by the local population as the Koreans got a hammering. Further back, everyone was cheering when the PTU blasted the Vietnamese in Whitehead, High Island and elsewhere. It’s fine and dandy to use these methods on ‘others’ but not the locals. Strange, how the world turns.

    Anyway, Fido is looking forward to another relaxing walk tomorrow, uninterrupted by our delighful friends from ‘up-north.’

  41. Real Tax Payer (Retired) says:

    Having spent most of yesterday and today walking around the protest areas on the Island there’s two things that come to mind :

    1. How lovely to have empty streets !

    And with the MTR till working we can all get around even without all the buses , trams and tycoon-carriers

    2. I have a horrible feeling this will end up badly for us all – just as happened in 1989 , when today’s students were just a twinkle in their parents’ eyes

  42. Yellow Peril says:

    Riddle me this……
    What’s gonna happen when the rest of HK gets pissed off with the inconveniences to their lives?
    What’s gonna happen when the rest of HK realises they are not making $$$$$?
    What’s gonna happen when the preparations for National day Fireworks have to be made?
    What’s gonna happen when “Leftists”/Agent Provocateurs stir things up?

  43. Real SCMP Commenter says:

    Sage of Mui Wo – I had a nagging feeling on the street and on the MTR this afternoon. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but while I was delighted to see all the people hefting boxes of supplies and wearing black t-shirts or yellow ribbons, something made me wish they weren’t all quite so young. Not that I am buying this crap that young people have no idea what they are doing and are too easily led, but because it would have been better to see a wider base of support.

    Exactly why the feeling that it would have been better eluded me, but I think you may have hit upon it – this is a demographic divide, and division is at best uncomfortable, and at worst downright nasty and easily exploited. For all the support for the umbrellaed masses, I’ve heard plenty of (generally older) people say that these young people are ruining Hong Kong. The logic generally seems to be the abuser’s defence – look what they made Beijing do! – but it’s there nonetheless.

    I hope you are wrong, but fear you are right. Fingers crossed.

  44. Pornstar Wong says:

    When they go in, they’ll have no option to go in really hard unless this peters out. I’m predicting a state of emergency, but I don’t think anyone cares.

    Outside chance that Tsang Yok-sing might bring down CY.

  45. Real Tax Payer (Retired) says:

    Just came back from a late night stroll around Admiralty.
    The crowds in Connaught Road / Harcourt Road are at least 10 x what I saw this morning .
    There must be at least 50,000 people there by now
    Causeway Bay / Sogo this afternoon was totally occupied
    All very peaceful and a multitude of regular field kitchens for water and other essential supplies . Impressive organisation
    The impromptu speech – makers with loudspeakers read their script off their mobiles, presumably from some central source.
    ..

    But THE most interesting thing is that the protesters are 99% all young Chinese – all student age – not school kids.
    The other 1% are old fogy gwailos (like me)
    Nary a single old Chinese person
    Where’s the DAB supporters when it counts and they are not organized?
    .
    PS: I experienced tear gas last night when the first shots were fired. Very VERY unpleasant.

  46. Nutter says:

    Cops are a cross section of society with the same cross section of political views as everyone else.

    They aren’t the enemy here.

    Just hope those ‘peaceful protestors’ who’ve been pushing, shoving, insulting and spitting at them realise that sooner rather than later.

  47. Sage of Mui Wo says:

    Buy lots of imperishable food and get lots of beer tokens from the bank. Practically every single calorie consumed here in HK comes from over the border. Food shortages induced by the 2-day holiday as well as emptied ATMs, because they are not being topped up, could cause a snowball panic. Toss in 3-4 volleys of rubber bullets for garnish and bobs-yer-uncle. All the Mainland has to do is help this scenario on its way and you’ll have HKer up against HKer. I’ve just picked up 24 kgs of rice and loads of oats, plus a fair few tins of food. In the worse case scenario, there’s a fresh supply of water in the stream that runs past the front of the house (hydration for the dry carbs). Don’t say you were not warned.

  48. Not In My Back Yard says:

    Fanny Law is the ultimate product of the colonial system. She can not bring herself to stand firmly with anyone, and so is reduced to tears out of fear she may wind up on the outside. I’d call her a prostitute but that would be a smear on the honest business women of Shamshuipo.

    Regina “Fingernails on the Calkboard” Yip is a laugh preaching about what to do. First, Regina is wrong about is that China will give her any power, A party, with a base of one person and no money backing it will not get any reward from Beijing for toadying.

    She’s also wrong about Beijing backing the use of force here. Partly because Taiwan has saved the day for Hong Kong yet again, Beijing isn’t willing to give any further excuse to the US Congress to allow advanced weapon sales to Taiwan.

    But mostly she was wrong because Beijing knows force isn’t necessary, Beijing will just wait it out, even if HK self-imploded — they will never yield an inch. The anti-mainland, such as the “locus” adverts have pretty much quashed public sympathy over the boarder, so Beijing are not worried about protests spreading. They only worry about appearing to bend, and thus giving hope to local actors in China. Thus they will do no compromise of any sort in anyway that can be attributed to them.

    Beijing will wait for reality to bite — bills due at the end of the month, families to feed, the inability of the public to hold it’s will, it’s heat of anger for an period of time, etc. The sum of these will kill this thing just as human nature has allowed every revolt to eventually fall back into the hands of some new elite, which usually turns out to be the old elite in disguise. Beijing must be furious at the three prats the oligarchy of HK gave them for CE. Hopefully Beijing did learned that the best thing is to hire two faced professionals trained by the Brits — Donald “The Duck**” Tsang did the least damage, as everything is slowly being sucked north to Shanghai, or over the boarder into Qianhai, Shenzhen.

    ( ** Duck = Gigolo in Chinese, and oh how Donald did whore for his supper)”

  49. Stanley Gibbons says:

    @ Nutter. I smell pork..

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