In Hong Kong, students lead reform push

Students have been leading a huge and well-organized campaign of peaceful protest in Hong Kong, threatening to take over government buildings and calling for the resignation of C.Y. Leung, the Beijing-appointed chief executive of the city.

Protesters blocked 3,000 government workers from going to work in the city’s executive office building on Friday, according to a televised statement from Leung. Leung also said that protests must disperse by Monday, Oct. 6. 

They did, to some extent, on Sunday morning, as students pulled back from government buildings in an apparent concession. Students continue to occupy other areas, however. 

The Hong Kong Federation of Students has been effectively running the protests, with student leaders representing the protesters in negotiating with government officials. 

“The protests are so well planned that we have relief materials stations, first aid stations, tons of food and water,” said Kate Chan, a law student from Hong Kong who is participating in the protests.  

Chan described a protest that is organized and well-connected through social media. She said that protesters communicate using WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Firechat.

Hong Kong, which is governed as a semi-autonomous region in China, has significant civil liberties that residents on the Chinese mainland do not share. The Beijing government has previously promised Hong Kong residents that Leung’s replacement will be popularly elected with universal suffrage in the election. 

The recent announcement that candidates for that election will first be vetted by a Beijing-appointed committee angered students, leading to the current protests. 

“We are clearer and more determined than the adults about what we are fighting for — unfiltered candidates running for head of the government,” Chan said.

Although police tactics such as tear gassing protesters have been met with further resistance, the great fear is of a Tiananmen-style crackdown. The decision to use force would probably be made by Beijing’s central government, led by President Xi Jinping. 

President Xi has shown himself to care more about order than about meeting the protesters’ demands, increasing fear of a crackdown. He and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi have stressed their belief that Hong Kong’s affairs are China’s affairs and that there should be no foreign intervention in the Hong Kong situation. 

“Many pro-Beijing politicians condemned the Umbrella Revolution as centrally planned and assisted by foreign powers, like the USA,” Chan said.

The United States has barely acknowledged the situation in Hong Kong. Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned it once in a joint press conference with Wang, leading to a quick rebuke from the latter. Wang restated the Chinese lack of tolerance for other nations’ involvement in China’s domestic affairs.

“We are not the source of chaos,” Chan said. “The non-democratically elected government is.”