Interviews and Daily observations (Oct. 5 – Sep. 30)

Arise America: Hong Kong Protest Leaders Call for Retreat

Ian Masters/NPR


Victoria Hui, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame in the U.S., suggested the protests partly stem from young people’s anger at decreasing social mobility and their dimming prospects at finding decent jobs after graduating from college, which is also becoming more unaffordable for people outside the upper and middle classes.

“People are attributing their economic grievances to the political system,” Hui said. “Demand for universal suffrage is connected to these material grievances.”


KUHN: Victoria Hui is a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame. She says that in recent years, every chapter in Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy has been led by a different group. This time she says it’s the students’ time to lead.

VICTORIA HUI: The leadership role is also very fluid. It’s taken over by different groups of people over time. In fact, this explains why Hong Kong’s democracy movement has sustained over time.


Victoria Hui, associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, says that a hit on the industries dependent on tourism doesn’t have to be detrimental for the protest movement.

“Many people are already incensed by the effect of mass tourism from the mainland,” she says. “Rents have shot up and many mom-and-pop stores are torn down for the benefit of malls catering to tourists.”


Students should consider alternative ways to pressure the government without inconveniencing regular Hong Kong people, said Victoria Hui, associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame and author of “War and State Formation in Ancient China and Early Modern Europe.” Protesters could organize targeted boycotts or convince people to withhold income tax payments, she said…

“The worry really is that the enthusiasm of core supporters will also wear out,” she said. “If CY Leung was smart, he would just wait out the protesters, he could avoid the choice of making concessions or cracking down.”

[After this blog] Occupy Radio: Occupy Central Report from Hong Kong


Oct. 6

To withdraw or not to withdraw, that is the question now. The Umbrella Movement has to find a way to generate decisions that can earn the support of ordinary protestors. A week after the riot police unprecedentedly used pepper spray and tear gas, Hong Kong woke up to relative calm on Oct. 6. Despite ultimatum-like warnings last weekend that protestors must completely retreat from various protest sites by Monday morning, there was no attempt to clear the sites over night. Tensions eased as protestors partially opened roadblocks and agreed to open talks with government representatives. Over the weekend, protestors debated at protest sites and online if and under what conditions they may make a strategic withdrawal from the occupied sites. Shortly after some protestors announced that they were withdrawing from the Chief Executive’s office and Mongkok, other protestors rushed to re-occupy the sites. Likewise, when the joint leadership of the Federation of Students, Scholarism and Occupy Central asked protestors to retreat from the Mongkok site at the height of thug violence last Friday, people only flooded to protect Mongkok. International observers suggest that the “leaderless” nature of the movement is the source of confusion and disunity. This does not have to be the case. Of course, this so-called “leaderless” movement has been led by student leaders and the Occupy Central elders. At the same time, the movement has been notably “orderly” because protestors are highly civic-minded and self-organized. The challenge is to more tightly link up leaders and protestors. Protestors who are willing to brave both police and thug violence deserve to have a say in the decision-making process. Scholars have long argued that pro-democracy movements should be highly democratic in their own internal structure. The joint leadership can become stronger by more systematically incorporating the views of fiercely independent-minded protestors. If the Umbrella Movement prefects democratic self-governance in its decision-making process, then they can have stronger leverage in negotiating with the government. See Leadership.


Oct. 3

Just when the Umbrella Movement is expected to fizzle out on its own after the coming weekend, new tensions arose as counter-protestors started to beat up protestors. After throwing 87 canisters of tear gas at protestors last Sunday, the Chief Executive CY Leung seemed to learn the hard lesson that police violence would only backfire. The use of pepper spray and tear gas drove hundreds of thousands of people to occupy not just the areas surrounding the Central Government Offices in Admiralty, but also the business district in Central, and shopping districts in Causeway Bay, Mongkok, and Tsimshatsui. The natural alternative to repression is concession. Yet, the proposed negotiation with students yesterday was dead on arrival. The Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who is charged with negotiating with students, has only reiterated that there could be no change to the central government’s decision on the arrangements for the election of the CE in 2017. If neither repression nor concession seems viable, the Hong Kong government probably thought that it had a third alternative: tacitly supporting counterprotestors to beat up protestors and clear the occupied sites. Pictures and videos of the police standing on the sideline or even siding with counterprotestors have gone viral in the last few hours. This is not the first time that thug violence is used against pro-democracy activists and even journalists, from Szeto Wah and Martin Lee to Kevin Lau. The government should know that every wave of thug violence in the last decade has only outraged the population. This current wave against the Umbrella Movement will be more so. Instead of letting the protest sites empty out on their own, thug violence is bringing them back to defend their “democracy zones.” The government has no better option than talking to its citizens about re-opening the consultation process for the CE election in 2017.


Oct. 2

Tensions in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution were diffused at the eleventh hour last night, but could rekindle any time unless protestors find a third alternative between escalating and retreating. Tensions were building up last evening as Hong Kong protestors surrounded the Chief Executive’s office  and threatened to occupy other government office buildings if CY Leung would not step down by midnight. In response, the police were seen to stockpile tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and even bullets for AR-15 at the Chief Executive’s office. Observers could finally take a deep breath when CY Leung announced that he would appoint the Chief Secretary Carrie Lam to open negotiations with students. However, few people are optimistic that the negotiations would amount to anything. Not only that Mr. Leung refused to resign as demanded by protestors, Beijing has also stepped up its hardline position that it will not change the arrangements to vet candidates for the CE election in 2017 — which caused the protests in the first place. Protestors will thus continue to feel that they have to escalate to more disruptive actions or the movement would lose momentum and die out. But protestors have a third alternative. Scholars have argued that methods of dispersal — such as consumer boycotts and nonpayment of taxes — could be as effective as methods of concentration — such as the massive demonstrations that are on display now. If targeted boycotts hurt the interest of business tycoons whose support CY relies on and if nonpayment of taxes make bureaucrats unable to administer Hong Kong, then protestors would have a higher chance of compelling concessions and avoiding direct clashes with the police. And the movement will be sustainable in the long-term even when people have to go back to school or to work.


Oct. 1

International and local commentaries alike are wondering for how long the “umbrella revolution” could last. The CY Leung government learned the painful lesson last Sunday that repression would only backfire. They have pulled back the riot police and protests have surged since then. The government seems to belatedly follow the strategy of ignoring the protests, betting that protestors will eventually go home and the revolution will just fade away without any more clashes for the world to see. Hong Kong people are known for pragmatism as much as their call for democracy. When the rice bowl is at stake, HK people may well slowly retreat from the protest sites. What this strategy misses is that a people power movement could work equally well when it is dispersed as when it is concentrated. Hong Kong people could sustain the movement while still going to work and to school by adopting methods of dispersal. They could, for example, compile a list of business interests closely tied to CY’s inner circle and launch a targeted boycott. Protestors cannot force CY to step down, but may have a chance at forcing his inner circle to force him to step down.


Sep. 30

International media have reported on how hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong protesters have maintained nonviolent discipline and order. International observers see images common to nonviolent movements around the world: strength in numbers, determined faces in front of riot police, slogans, songs, and more. Beneath such broad strokes of similarities, Hong Kong is unlike other cases given the constitutional structure of “one country, two systems” agreed to between Beijing and London. While Hong Kong has only semi-democracy, people are free to protest. While the police sometimes make arbitrary arrests, the independent judiciary inherited from the colonial era routinely releases activists. This constitutional structure presents a very open political space unseen in the rest of China and yet makes it difficult for activists to mobilize the largely contented population. Against this backdrop, the unprecedented use of riot police and the firing of tear gas seemed to have galvanized popular support for the protesters fighting for genuine democracy and increased sympathy for nonviolent actions.

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