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Hong Kong Protesters Becoming More Assertive

  • Dave DeForest

January 1 demonstration in Hong Kong in support of dissident Liu Xiao Bo

January 1 demonstration in Hong Kong in support of dissident Liu Xiao Bo

Expert says young demonstrators are impatient with slow pace of democratic reform.

Hong Kong residents unhappy with the slow pace of democratic reform and the territory’s economic situation have recently become more assertive in their protests against the government.

Young demonstrators have lately been uncharacteristically confrontational in their opposition to controversial government plans such as a high-speed rail line to Shenzhen and Guangzhou backed by the Hong Kong legislature. A number of demonstrators have been arrested following clashes with police.

Protesters Want Action

“These are young people, they haven’t been involved before,” explains Douglas Paal, director of the Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “This new group are people who are ‘charged up’ with Twitter and Facebook and other kinds of communications that are very brief and ‘punchy.’ They’re looking for quick action, they are not patient,” he said.

A former British territory, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 with the promise that it would maintain a measure of independence and civil liberties. Democracy activists say democratic reform is coming too slowly.

Only half of Hong Kong’s legislature is elected. The rest of the seats are appointed by various interest groups, most of whom are backed by Beijing.

Lawmakers Resign

A group of five lawmakers recently resigned, hoping the election to fill their seats would rally supporters of democracy. But another group of pro-Beijing legislators walked out of the session, forcing the meeting to adjourn before the five could give their farewell speeches.

“The likely outcome will be that these people will get re-elected and they will claim that they have had a referendum on democracy, and the people who think democracy should not move so fast…will say there is no referendum at all, you’ve not tested anything, and they will reject it,” he said.

Paal said what the move will accomplish is raising the level of discussion about democracy in Hong Kong. But, he is not sure that it will move the issue forward. “I think it will probably perpetuate the differences that exist in Hong Kong before this incident erupted,” he said.

Paal does not think the demonstrations or controversy over the legislative bi-elections will paralyze the government or bring a strong reaction from Beijing.