Will Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement Move China?

What started as a
pro-democracy student strike
has turned into a occupation of
the central business district in Hong Kong. Originally
organized as a rebuke to the Chinese government for their shifty
denial of the right of Hongkongers to directly elect their chief
executive, the protest has grown demographically, as have the

Hong Kong in the street

Led by by the student group Scholarism and the rare
local Occupy outfit with an actual agenda, Occupy
, tens of thousands of citizens have spent the past
several days blocking an eight-lane thoroughfare in the heart of
the economic hub of 7 million people. They have been tear-gassed,
pepper-sprayed, and the 17-year-old leader of the student group
that started the uprising was arrested
and held for two days
 before being released with a
standing threat by Hong Kong authorities that more serious charges
could be imminent.

As thuggish responses from government agents on unarmed
civilians sometimes draw more attention ot protests rather than
shut them down, the previously unnamed protest is now being
referred to as the “Umbrella Movement,” umbrellas being the defense
of choice among the crowds to protect themselves from the
paralyzing toxins being sprayed at them. 

As noted by J.D. Tuccille
earlier today
, the protesters are very conscious of the optics
of their movement and are taking pains to be peaceful,
eschewing—and even apologzing
—vandalism. The students remian dutiful,
doing their homework
while maintaining their

For the most part, they are not anarchists, but hard-working and
ambitious young people merely demanding the “one country, two
systems” they were promised as babies when Great Britain’s lease on
the city ended and Hong Kong returned to mainland Chinese rule in

A great many in the Umbrella Movement were not yet alive in May
1989, when thousands of pro-democracy students were slaughtered by
police and military in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, but

the fear of a bloody reprise
is on many minds.

It is also important to note that Beijing has never known
anything close to the freedom that Hong Kong residents accept as
their birthright. One student made that point to the

Huffington Post
, saying, 
Tell the world what
happened to Hong Kong and tell the world China and Hong Kong are
different. We are not Chinese, we are Hong Kongese.

You could make the argument that because 2014 Hong Kong’s
ecomonic importance dwarfs 1989 Beijing’s, any sustained clash
between citizens and authorities would have far greater global
impact. Perhaps that’s why the international response has been so

White House spokesman Josh Earnest
expressed support
for Hong Kong’s self-determination but added
that he hoped both sides show “restraint,” which is an odd response
to a violent government’s attack on disciplined civil disobedience,
and hardly a robust defense of democracy.

Hong Kong’s
former colonial masters in Britain
have done little more than
call the Chinese ambassador in for a tête-à-tête and release
statements with dispassionate throwaway lines like “Britain
and China have solemn obligations to the people of Hong Kong to
preserve their rights and freedoms.

The international business community wants no part of a
sustained shutdown of Hong Kong’s major business artery, and the
world’s four biggest accounting firms said as much in a
joint statement last June

“If Occupy Central happens, commercial institutions such as
banks, exchanges and the stock market will inevitably be affected,”
the accounting companies said. “We are worried that multinational
corporations and investors will consider relocating their
headquarters from Hong Kong or even withdrawing their

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has
rejected negotiating
or even meeting with leaders of the
protests, and the Chinese Commuinst Party’s official line is that
they trust their man in Hong Kong to deal with the unrest.

For their part, Hongkongers have a
history of bold protest
 and affecting change, as
they did in the early in 2003 when they held massive protests
against Article 23,
anti-subversion law which
contained severe curtailments of civil liberties.

Come at me, bros!

The Chinese government is anxious to stamp out trouble spots all
over its fraying empire. In Tibet, they are mandating a
“happiness” festival
; in the restive Xinjiang region,
foreign journalists are barred from interviewing
ethnic Uighurs
; and
Taiwan’s president rejected
a Chinese reunification proposal
based on the “one country, two systems” proposal proving so elusive
in Hong Kong. 

China doesn’t need another domestic headache, but they’ve
got one in Hong Kong.

With the Umbrella movement growing in boldness and
international stature by the day, who blinks first? And if
Tiananmen 2.0 unfolds live on Youtube, what will—or should—any of
us do about it?

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