By Ariel Pan
When Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, it was promised a fair amount of autonomy for the next 50 years, courtesy of the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed 1984. However, Hong Kong could only choose its chief executive from a list pre-screened by Beijing. In September, pro-democracy students began peaceful protests for the right to nominate choose whoever they wanted to. Dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution” for the protestors’ use of umbrellas to ward off pepper spray and tear gas, Hong Kong’s fight for democracy has garnered a lot of international attention. However, the protest efforts will ultimately be ineffective due to the lack of support in Hong Kong and the extreme opposition by Beijing.
Mainly backed by students full of idealized thoughts of democracy, the movement lacks the support of many older citizens. For the previous generation, the memory of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre is still fresh. In 1989, students led demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. They called for democracy, freedom of the press and similar rights. However, the Chinese government ultimately used the military to end the protests. Many civilians were killed and wounded in the process. Those who witnessed this experience are wary of China’s response and fear retribution. Meanwhile, many pro-Beijing groups have been attacking the protesters—injuring some—and taking down their barricades. The overwhelming opposition to the protests almost guarantees that the protestors’ concerns will be heard, but not acted upon.
In addition, the protests have taken an economic toll on the local businesses. Businesses have reported losses in sales by 20 to 30 percent because the protesters have left no room for shoppers on the streets. Many high-end businesses have lost much of their clientele since their customers—typically mainland Chinese—do not want to get caught up in the protest. Some businesses support the movement and supply the protesters with food and water. The majority, however, are getting frustrated as incomes drop while the cost of living in Hong Kong remains high. They are not against the protesters, but hope that the protests will end soon so business can return to normal.
The effect on businesses has even led some taxi drivers to actively oppose the student protestors. The taxi business has been hurt the hardest as protests of the movement Occupy Central have blocked traffic in main roads. Police have been trying their best to remove the barricades, but the protesters just build them back up. According to complaints made by taxi drivers, business has dropped by 50 percent. As a result, some drivers have begun tearing down barricades in an attempt to actively work against Occupy Central. The students are protesting to catch Beijing’s attention, but the length of the sit-in has caused problems in Hong Kong and lowered support for the movement.
However, it was a welcome change at this time to have a relatively peaceful protest. Fewer people were hurt as a result of the protest and the Chinese government did not have a good justification to crack down hard on the protestors unlike other countries, but they still have a lot of work to do. Protestors need to gather more supporters. Sit-ins can be reorganized to interfere the local economy less; for example, protestors can work with local businesses to figure out where and how long each sit-in should be or leave the sidewalks empty for shoppers; this will help the protestors gain a larger base of supporters.
Change always takes time. The older generation is stuck in its ways, but newer generations of students and workers might join the pro-democracy movement to form a stronger base of supporters. Currently, the economic effects and overall opposition are hindering the effectiveness of the protests, but some headway has been made.
As a result of the protests, the Chinese government recently reached out to the leaders of the movement about conferences. They have discussed the possibility of direct elections for 2017, but have not made any solid decisions. Regardless, Beijing will not forget the protests any time soon, and this awareness is what protestors want. Many students are aware that they may not succeed now, but are hopeful that they can produce better results in the future.