Holy Bastille, Batman! Just when you thought Hong Kong’s Umbrella-Occupy protests were getting nowhere, the plucky pro-democracy students storm the People’s Liberation Army barracks and burn it to the ground. That would be an interesting development. Alternatively, maybe some soldier overloaded the circuits in the dorm with a rice-cooker. (Is that the former Amethyst Block – named for the British ship attacked by Communists in 1949?)
So the reality is that the conflicts on the streets in Mongkok and Admiralty are, indeed, getting nowhere, except more violent. To the extent that this is a fight for public sympathy, neither side is clearly winning, though an excessive outrage by (or attributed to) one side or the other could swing it. As things are, it is also possible for them both to lose.
And the nearest we have to an interesting development is a bid by the pro-Beijing camp to take ownership of the next public consultation on political reform. From the thick of the pepper spray in Lung Wo Road, the whole 2016-17 electoral reform debate seems irrelevant, dead and buried. From wherever the government works when it can’t get into its own offices, ‘Let’s Talk and Achieve Universal Suffrage!!!’ is alive and well, carrying on as if nothing had happened.
If pro-democrats participate in this process, which has been blatantly rigged so far, they risk giving it credibility. By boycotting, they could de-legitimize it. This could force Beijing to yield to their demands for real universal suffrage. This would be delivered by a squadron of flying pigs. To re-phrase, a boycott could force Beijing to do something, though no-one has a clear idea of what it might be.
If the government and pro-Beijing camp are running scared at the prospect of a pro-dem boycott, they are not showing it. Indeed, they quite possibly welcome the idea. They could manage the consultation process as they please, orchestrating a ‘debate’ between mildly establishment and rabidly Leftist factions in such a way as to make the pre-determined outcome look a teeny bit tantalizingly better-than-expected, making the Silent Majority of citizens jump up and down with joy, albeit noiselessly. The pro-democrats would be lost and forgotten out on the margins, carping on about the same old thing and doing their Mega-Sulk act.
That would seem to be the game plan. Devious and clever government operators could bring such a vision into reality. The process would have to look credible and genuine rather than stage-managed. It would have to find a way of absorbing some apparently real scrappiness and dissent. It would have to attract interest and provoke involvement from the real community, not just United Front groups. It would require a degree of subtlety for which Beijing officials in particular are not renowned, and which is not exactly characteristic of our Hong Kong leaders. In short, more flying pigs needed.
Far more likely: childishly falsified public consultations, Jackie Chan TV ads, grinning cartoon figures, fake pro-package marches and menacing Communist growls from obscure Mainland academics. Pro-democrats and students proved right, but unable to do anything about it. More mess, as ever.