After a full week of swelling crowds, idealism, exhilaration and courage in the face of violence, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protestors can pretty much declare ‘show over’, take a bow and leave the stage with their heads held high. It was a staggering performance that caught the attention of the world and stripped bare the government’s incompetence and lack of legitimacy.
The conclusion won’t be so neat. As with the whole of the city’s pro-democracy movement, different groups of demonstrators have their own ideas. Some radicals and militants hang on in Mongkok, although public sympathy is likely to dwindle along with protestor numbers. Some student leaders are bogged down in earnest pre-discussion discussions about nominating committees with officials – apparently engaging government in a mutual face-saving exercise. Exhausted people will go back to their daily lives in their own time.
The last few days had an air of drawing-to-a-close about them. A Hong Kong University academic seriously pondered the legalities of People’s Liberation Army intervention in Hong Kong, as if ‘PLA’ and ‘legality’ occupy the same universe. At the same time, the great elders of liberal society (university presidents, moderate pro-dem politicians, clergymen and the former Chief Justice) issued doom-laden pleas to students to go home to avoid a terrible fate. If this was contrived, it was a lot more subtle than earlier attempts to bludgeon hearts-and-minds.
Going from the sublime to the unhinged, Regina Ip blurted out to the New York Times that she has her eye on the Chief Executive position for 2017. No surprise, of course, but it’s the timing: why not just tattoo ‘Desperate Opportunistic Freak Coming!’ on your forehead? By contrast, the repulsiveness of the Leftist and Triad rent-a-mobs was relatively predictable – it was so clichéd you half suspect pro-dem publisher Jimmy Lai bankrolled them.
Despite inevitably ending in semi-chaotic anti-climax, the Occupy Central ‘umbrella uprising’ (or this round of it) has made history. We think the pro-dems are rudderless: for a truly scary lack of leadership and direction, look no further than the Hong Kong government. If it had any sense of decency, it wouldn’t dare show its face around town ever again.
What is the point of having a local administration if all it can do as the streets fill with angry citizens is bleat slogans handed down from Beijing and (apparently in an appeal to our humanity) wring its hands about the wretched retail sector? Previous Hong Kong governments have been detached and isolated, but you could see they sensed it and it made them nervous. This one has simply lost any idea that it might have a role as a representative of the community. The usual way of wording this is to say that the community has ‘lost faith’ in the government, but that’s effect, not cause. What has really happened is that the top leaders and administrators have managed to sever any remaining meaningful connection with their own population. It’s like we’ve gone back to the colonial regime of the 1950s and 60s, which saw the populace (refugees at that time) as a remote, burdensome nuisance.
This seems to be partly the culmination of years of increasingly prioritizing the interests of the tycoons and bureaucrat ‘elites’ over everyone else. That would be disturbing enough. But it also seems to be a corollary of a deeper official deference and loyalty to Beijing. The students and Occupy people have revealed the perverted dynamics of ‘One Country Two Systems’ in 2014 (and all it entails for the wider world): the more the Hong Kong government treats its own people like worthless shit, the more the Communist Party trusts it. For that, they can be proud.