As Hong Kong citizens seek to recover from a horrific weekend of escalated police violence against tenacious protesters, 2 September marked the start of the academic year, with a two-week boycott of lectures declared by student unions in all major universities, widely supported by secondary students boycotting lessons in dozens of schools.
Organisers of the successful city-wide strike on 5 August are planning their next strike to link up with the students.
31 August is the fifth anniversary of the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s decision to deny Hong Kong the right to freely elect its Chief Executive by genuine universal suffrage.
This decision triggered the Occupy Central Umbrella movement in 2014, which was eventually defeated after 79 days.
The organisers of the one million and two million-strong marches in June and the 1.7 million march in August, the Civic Human Rights Front, had their application for a march and rally on 31 August denied by the police. The repeated denial of the right of assembly by the police to many marches, on alleged grounds of public safety, is the most recent attempt by the Government to curb the rising tide of protests.
Together with widely publicised drills of military police across the border in Shenzhen and the leaked discussion in the Executive Council about using Emergency Powers, this white terror of intimidation has infuriated many sectors of Hong Kong society, not just the core of the protest movement.
The inevitable explosive clashes between protestors and police occurred last weekend, right across many parts of the city, gravely disrupting the airport and many MTR [metro] stations. The police claimed over 100 petrol bombs were thrown, and on several occasions policemen resorted to a recently purchased water cannon as well as using live warning rounds.
The MTR management are accused of colluding with the police in denying protestors access to trains whilst transporting the riot police. The police charged into an MTR station chasing demonstrators and beating passengers indiscriminately.
With six protest-related suicides, over 1100 now arrested, and thousands of people injured or suffering from the effects of tear gas released in hot and confined streets and even underground stations, further escalation in September, leading up to the PRC National Day of 1 October looks very likely.
Many have wondered why the Chief Executive has not conceded to even one of the five demands posed by the movement.
Even various members of the pro-Beijing camp have stated in public that they would support the complete withdrawal of the Extradition Bill and some form of public inquiry.
Instead, the administration seems determined to face down the protests with brute force.
A Reuters exclusive released on 30 August, with three independent and credible sources, claims that Carrie Lam’s proposal to meet the protest movement’s demands have been flatly turned down by Beijing. A further exclusive on September claims that she “has caused unforgivable havoc” by igniting the political crisis engulfing the city and would quit if she had a choice, according to an audio recording of remarks she made last week to a group of businesspeople.
This has confirmed what many have suspected, that Beijing has long since been calling the shots and Lam is a mere puppet.
The fluidity and tenacity of the protest movement has surprised the Government, who presumed that as in 2014 they merely had to create divisions between the millions of “peaceful, rational and non-violent” and the minority of several thousand street militants, and just pick off the leaders. Citing a saying by Bruce Lee “to be water”, the seemingly leaderless protest movement has adopted fluid and versatile tactics to constantly wrong-foot the police, deploying social media to share information, discuss and validate tactics and achieve cohesion and unity of action. There is an unspoken unity of purpose and solidarity between the militant and pacifist wings of the movement.
Many citizens are providing water, food, vehicle transport, first aid and overnight shelter to the largely young militants, like a 21st century urban version of how units of the PLA fought their guerrilla war of resistance against Japanese troops in China in World War 2 supported by the peasant population.
Beijing is leaning on corporate Hong Kong to toe the line. Cathay Pacific Airways was forced to sack staff engaged with the protests, leading to industrial unrest and the resignation of its expat Chief Executive. Bankers, businessmen and the property developer tycoons were being lined up to support the Government. But this has had limited effect in curtailing the protest movement.
Tourism, especially from mainlanders, has taken a nosedive and the Hong Kong economy, heavily integrated into the Chinese economy, already adversely affected by the current economic war between USA and China, is forecast to go into recession. This will put further pressure on Beijing.
It seems prepared for a long drawn-out struggle to grind down the protestors, without a Tiananmen-style military clampdown. A military intervention would be a desperate decision by a beleaguered regime threatened with its own survival, and we seem not yet to have reached that point.
As in 1989, there are deep-rooted struggles between interest groups and factions within the party, as well as tensions between the political centre and the provinces in a country the size of China, where the number of Party members (over 90 million) is equivalent to the entire population of many countries.
Xi may appear to be the dictator with absolute powers to purge his opponents and an unlimited number of presidential terms of office but his position is precarious.
The regime’s legitimacy is based on sharing the spoils of economic success to prop up the party membership, but the structural problems of the economy and the inevitable slowing down of GDP expansion is putting the regime under pressure. Xi has few cards to play against a very aggressive and protectionist USA.
The fear of a Soviet Union-style disintegration haunts the CCP more than the scenario of a revolutionary working class opposition. However, the acute pressures of a volatile Hong Kong may be precisely such a catalyst to the regime’s demise.
Hong Kong’s working class, though its organisations have traditionally been mainly loyal to Beijing, is a class with the capacity of bringing Hong Kong to a halt through a city-wide strike. It holds the key to what will happen next.
The protest movement must endeavour to reach out and build links to draw in more local workers into the struggle, particularly those in the transport and banking industries.
Transport worker solidarity
Women members of the RMT rail union have protested to Cathay Pacific airline about its sacking of Rebecca Sy and others for supporting the Hong Kong democracy protests. Over thirty women members of the UK transport trade union put their names to a letter initiated by Becky Crocker which declared that “We are appalled that Cathay Pacific is using its power to terminate workers’ livelihoods as a tool to silence political opposition and spread fear amongst its workforce.”
The letter was handed in at Hong Kong airport by Janine Booth, who happened to be travelling through returning from holiday, A copy was also given to a flight attendant, who was delighted to receive this expression of solidarity.