Protests in Hong Kong continued to grow yesterday while the authorities adopted a less confrontational strategy towards the demonstrating crowds who have brought parts of the city to a standstill since the weekend.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, CY Leung, evaded protesters to arrive by ferry and preside over an official flag-raising to mark the 65th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
Appearing to hold out an olive branch, he later said: “We hope that all sectors of the community will work with the government in a peaceful, lawful, rational and pragmatic manner to duly complete the subsequent consultation and legislative work, and make a big step forward in our constitutional development.”
However, Mr Leung made no real concessions to tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong who demand the right to choose their own chief executive, rather than choose from a Beijing-approved pool of candidates. They protesters have also called on Mr Leung to step down as chief executive, judging him too close to Beijing.
The director of China’s liaison office in Hong Kong, Mr Zhang Xiaoming, accompanying Mr Leung, yesterday declined to comment on the protests, saying only: “the sun rises as usual”.
It seems Hong Kong’s authorities have decided to wait for the protesters to disperse voluntarily rather than break up the protest sites with force. Although today is also an official public holiday in Hong Kong, most residents expect the territory will return to business as usual tomorrow.
Dr Jose Sunsay Yu, a senior Hong Kong businessman who has in the past served on Chinese political committees, told The Australian the protests would come to a natural end, without a victory for the protesters.
“Those young people, they have their own ideas,” he said. “They have a lot of energy. But I don’t think the situation can continue for one week or two weeks. Most of the Hong Kong people, especially the shop-owners, the businessmen, they need the travel from China to support their business.” China, he noted, could easily suspend tourism from the mainland to Hong Kong, turning off the essential tap of tourist funds.
“This (protest) is not important for most Hong Kong people.”
However the protesters continue to declare they will do whatever it takes to be heard. Ken Tang, 23 and a student of philosophy, slept at the protest site in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok district overnight before travelling to Hong Kong island for the flag-raising.
He watched as youthful protesters turned their backs on the flags of Hong Kong and China, and crossed their arms in the air. “We’ll keep going as long as we can, until China gives us what we demand,” he said.
Witty Lee, a 28-year-old office worker, was also at the flag-raising. “The chief executive hasn’t talked to the students, we would like to give him a chance to see we are here,” she said, adding that democracy and liberty were essential for a civilised life. “In China, Hong Kong is the only place that still has liberty, freedom of speech and freedom of protest.”
The protest movement has been careful not to incite antagonism from Hong Kong’s citizens. Rubbish at the protest sites is carted away, noise is kept to a minimum, apologies for the inconvenience are common.
Dennis Yip, a 19-year-old industrial engineering student and an organiser with the Occupy Central movement, was at the flag-raising ceremony but he said he hadn’t touched his megaphone.
“The protesters make the decisions themselves, where they should occupy, and what activities they should do,” he said, explaining they had prevented more radical elements from disturbing the event.
“We are against any violent acts, so we tried to stop them (the radical protesters),” he said. “I think they may have had some negative emotion about our decision. But I think most of the protesters would agree and understand our rationale.”
Yip spent the night in Wanchai, monitoring the site in advance of the event. After the flag-raising, protesters carried away the barricades they had used to block the streets.