There is no end in sight to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy rallies. With Hong Kong’s leadership and Beijing not budging on five key demands, we may have reached a stalemate. It’s now a question of who will give up the march first.
According to protesters, around 800,000 people were out again on Sunday to protest the local Hong Kong government of Carrie Lam, and the man many see as her boss in Beijing – Xi Jinping.
Some held up images of Pepe the Frog, considered to be an alt-right icon and your basic “meme beast” for anything anti-establishment, according to stories and images running in the pro-democracy news outlet Apple Daily. Similar masks and images were used in October.
Local advocacy group, the Civil Human Rights Front, said affiliated pro-democracy groups brought out 800,000 people to Victoria Park on Sunday. Police said turnout was only around 183,000.
“The political message is clear. People are resilient and people are persistent with the five demands,” said Eric Lai Yan-ho, one of the leaders of Sunday’s march. He said Lam needs to meet the five demands of the civil society organizations running the anti-government rallies. These include an independent inquiry into police use of force, removal of the term “rioter” on the police record of arrested activists, and the right to vote for its leaders.
Protests against the government increased in June. While the initial reason for the protests was a law that would allow for mainland China courts to try people in Hong Kong accused of crimes, the protesters have extended their demand, with universal suffrage being the hardest demand to realize seeing how China is set to take over Hong Kong fully by 2047.
Activists say that China is not abiding fully by the so-called Basic Law that allows them to pick the Chief Executive. China and Lam differ.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in a march seen as a … [+] test of the enduring appeal of an anti-government movement about to mark a half year of demonstrations. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A lot can happen within a generation. But for now, Lam has only ceded the extradition bill, withdrawing it from the legislative agenda.
Lam is the most unpopular leader since the British handover of Hong Kong to China in the early 1990s. She has said she understands people want to express their grievances, but has called for protesters to put an end to disruptive, city-wide protests.
“Everybody wants to go back to their normal life and this requires the concerted efforts of every one of us,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported her saying on November 26, following a landslide win for pro-democracy candidates in District Council elections. “So, as I have said repeatedly, resorting to violence will not give us that way forward.”
There have been calls for a citywide strike on Monday, with traffic disruption expected if activists take to the streets again tomorrow.
“I never knew Hongkongers could be so concerned about society, and so selfless for one another. We have a generation of passionate young people. I am very thankful,” the South China Morning Post quoted a 66-year-old retiree who was quoted as Mr. Shum in the Sunday edition. “I am pessimistic about the future. I think the central government will only tighten its grip on us. It wouldn’t let us go,” he said.
Probably not. For Beijing, they’ve held up to their end of the bargain. For Hong Kongers…not so much.
Protest organizers managed to get police approval for Sunday’s rally. Their first permit since August, according to the Post.
Police reportedly arrested 11 people and seized a semi-automatic pistol, bullets, knives and other weapons as some segments of the protest movement increasingly consider themselves at war with local authorities.
The ongoing protests are a key variable in the trade war. The more the U.S. is seen as picking sides with government protesters in Hong Kong, the harder it is for Xi and Trump to agree on trade.
Former U.S. diplomat, Brian Klein, wrote in an op-ed on Sunday in the South China Morning Post that the recent Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, signed by President Trump, is more symbolic than anything else, however.
The portion of the new law with the most teeth is the potential reclassification of Hong Kong’s special trading status, Klein wrote.
“That may look like a significant point of leverage, but to put it bluntly, a major revision in U.S.-Hong Kong economic relations is unlikely to happen any time soon,” he wrote today. “Conditions in Hong Kong would have to deteriorate to such a degree that international businesses would already be fleeing, making the loss of preferential trading status less significant.”
So far, China has shown restraint. President Xi Jinping has not launched a major crackdown with People’s Liberation Army officers in Hong Kong. Hong Kong still has a free press, including Apple Daily, which is no fan of Xi or Lam.
If China did act to curtail liberties in Hong Kong, then Washington might act to revoke its special trading status. But doing so would be a blow to the economy and therefore a blow to the Hong Kongers Washington would like to protect.