[Commentary] Parasol uprising

 

 

“It’s the ‘umbrella revolution,'” said the receptionist Emily Pang as thousand, including Filipino residents  swamped Hong Kong’s streets. Protestors were enraged over Beijing’s refusal to allow open selection of candidates for  in 2017 elections

Rally at the Chinese University in Hong Kong last Sept. 22 (photo taken from http://thetecnica.com/2014/10/12-powerful-pictures-describing-hong-kongs-umbrella-revolution)

Rally at the Chinese University in Hong Kong last Sept. 22 (photo taken from http://thetecnica.com/2014/10/12-powerful-pictures-describing-hong-kongs-umbrella-revolution)

They  wielded  umbrellas to deflect pepper spray and tear gas lobbed by police. That  symbol is the latest addition to a growing list  of non-violent protest against dictatorship.

In the 1986  Philippines “People Power’ revolt on Edsa, citizens placed flowers into gun barrels of flustered  soldiers.  The Filipino  model  was  refracted from Mahatma Gandhi’s march to protest the salt tax in 1930. It sparked Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution”, Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolt” and Ukraine’s “Rose Uprising,” among others.

In contrast, the “Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, floundered. Not one became a stable democracy.

“This is anything but a flash in the pan,” said Scott Harold, a political scientist at Rand  Corporation. Beijing wants to batter  the protests so  Hong Kong’s political freedoms don’t “infect” rest of the country.

State media  blocked reports  about  the “umbrella revolt” from reaching the mainland.  Instagram  Twitter, Facebook and YouTube  were blotted out, other than being allowed to report: “An illegal gathering was out of control in Hong Kong but was being curtailed by the police.”

“Censorship  keeps  the “Umbrella Revolution” hidden in the mainland land, reports  Toronto’s Globe and  Mail. In China, surf  “Hong Kong” on  the Baidu search engine, for example. They only report stories on the negative economic impact of protests. There are no details or photos to give  a sense of the scale of the demonstrations. “Umbrella Revolution” as a search term draws a blank.

On bridges near  Hong Kong’s government headquarters , banners proclaim: “Do You Hear The People Sing?”  That’s lifted from from the play Les Miserables,.  Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying denied the Chinese military  would step in.   “We don’t want Hong Kong to get messy,”

British Broadcasting Corporation’s China editor Carrie Gracie  weighed with with “Hong Kong: 10 things Xi Jinping might he  thinking”  Excerpts:

1)  “’I brought this on myself’”  Xi decided facing down protests now was preferable to risking the emergence of a local leader with real legitimacy.

2) “I have to win’”  Two years since becoming  head of the Communist  Party, Xi  amassed unrivaled personal power. He  makes all the decisions that matter. His anti-corruption campaign has made him powerful internal enemies. They are biding their time and waiting for   him to make a false move. Xi can not  afford to back down.

3) ‘Idealistic students our Achilles heel again.’   Middle-aged academics are easier to preempt. Students form the main “ opposition with a clear sense of purpose – no small feat from a constituency normally focused on books and jobs.  They  were making their voices heard, despite pepper spray, kettling and the detention of leaders.

4) ‘The tail will not wag the dragon.’  There is a news blackout in China.Beijing does not want its citizens getting ideas.  A  color revolution is one of Beijing’s worst nightmares . Pressure the Hong Kong police to act tough and risk provoking more citizens? Or play it low key and  embolden the more cautious democrats.

5) ‘Find me the key to Hong Kong hearts and minds’ . Beijing will try to persuade Hong   Kong’s citizens to stay home by painting protesters as dangerous hotheads, warning the economy will suffer.  It hopes demonstrations will  play out with a light-hand policing hand.

6)  “How many police cells do they have in Hong Kong?” . But once the 500  cells are full,  there’s nowhere  to put  dissidents.  This demonstration has a tipping point:  Exhaustion, pepper spray and threat may drive the protesters home. Or  safety in numbers and fresh joiners may generate a feedback loop and harden defiance.

7)  ‘How dare they fling Deng Xiaoping in my face?!’  Democrats point out  it was Deng who came up with the “one country, two systems” formula. That guaranteed Hong Kong’s way of  life for 50 years.  Xi’s China is moving towards ever firmer one-party control.

8) Blame the foreigners’  Pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong published allegations that 17-year-old student leader Joshua Wong had links with the American government. US and UK governments try  to keep out. The problem for Beijing is foreign ideas rather than foreign governments.

9) ‘I didn’t get to where I am today by backing down. I won’t start now.’  Xi said  the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991 was that no-one “had the balls to stand up for it”. Xi  sees himself in the patriarch mold and believes robust leadership is the answer to China’s ills.

10) It’s shaping up to be a lousy birthday.   October is the 65th anniversary of China’s  communist revolution,  Some 65 years later, Xi  leads a very different party and country.  Rich, yes. Powerful yes.

 

But it has no unifying message beyond xenophobic nationalism. Xi Jinping urgently needs to define his “China Dream” in a way that inspires his fellow citizens, whether in the mainland or in Hong Kong.

 

 

About JUAN L. MERCADO