Thursday, 16 October 2014

Looking up to the Next Generation

Joshua Wong (in the red shirt) addresses the crowd at Admiralty
This is an editorial written by Lam Hang-chi, founder and former chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal. The English version was published last weekend, but is still relevant:

Hong Kong's Next Generation of Democrat
The organizers of Occupy Central, as well as the city's democratic lawmakers, are fading into history.

Wednesday was the 11th day of Occupy Central, or the "Umbrella Movement."

It is evident that in Hong Kong's pursuit of genuine universal suffrage and full democracy, young students have come to the fore to lead the campaign. By contrast, Occupy organizers, as well as pan-democratic lawmakers, are fading into history.

It's safe to say that the aspirations of Hong Kong's youth for civil nomination in the selection of chief executive candidates have caught Leung Chun-ying 's administration off guard. Officials have been expecting their enthusiasm to fizzle out. How wrong they are.

Mr. Leung thought his heavy-handed approach early on—deploying riot squads and firing tear gas—would deter the students. This after white terror was unleashed by the early arrest and lengthy detention of student leaders before the sit-in began.

But the scare tactic backfired, galvanizing citizens to participate in the protest after the brutal police action on unarmed and peaceful demonstrators was splashed across the international media.

The truth is that the students are undaunted in the face of crackdowns.

Since the 1997 handover, numerous marches and public processions have earned Hong Kong a reputation as the protest capital. These students, who have been polite and well organized since the first day of the demonstration, have drawn solidarity from people around the world.

The only place that is unmoved is mainland China, where the government-run media and propaganda organizations have labeled the protests unlawful.

Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told his fellow protesters that they have taken a big step forward but a lot more has to be done before final victory is in sight.

I deeply admire these young people and I also appreciate the support from their elders, who choose to maintain a low profile and let the young democrats take the stage. Still, when it comes to whether we can ultimately win, I am still in grave doubt.

It remains unclear whether talks between the students and government can resolve the crisis. Meanwhile, repeated appeals from former government officials, university presidents and other well-known figures for an end to the protest are raising some eyebrows.

I am particularly disappointed with some of our dignitaries and religious leaders, who should have helped dissuade the government from using force instead of showing superficial concern for the students by asking them to withdraw immediately to avoid bloodshed.

These people asked the students to surrender even before the government showed the slightest sign it was willing to compromise.

The right thing to do would have been to lobby the government. Only when there was a chance of a good response should they have told the students to leave.

For instance, when Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong and a predominant figure in the democratic campaign, told the students to leave, it appeared to me his words were nothing but a disclaimer: If you get hurt or find yourselves in danger, it has nothing to do with me.

By the same token, I have some serious doubts about the motive of former chief justice Andrew Li.

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa joined the appeal last week. But I sincerely hope he would also spare some time conveying public views and social sentiments back to Beijing the same way he relayed messages from the central authorities after leading a group of Hong Kong tycoons to the capital last month.

In this sense, I must pay respect to Joseph Wong, former secretary for the civil service; Joseph Ha, auxiliary bishop; Edward Chan, former chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association; as well as a number of university professors and lecturers for their petition to get the government talking as soon as possible and ensure the safety of the students.

Scholarism founder Joshua Wong warned that pepper spray and tear gas are just a prelude to more severe means to suppress the protesters. He urged high-school students to leave first.

The purpose of the protests is not to create martyrs. A mass protest can only last a dozen days and it's unrealistic to achieve all the goals in one go.

What's the point of sacrifice if the protesters are injured and hospitalized before civil nomination is realized? Mr. Wong's remarks show that on top of their dedication and enthusiasm, the protesters are rational and realistic.

When scuffles first broke out in Mong Kok, where several students were shoved and punched, one young student spoke in front of a television camera, saying they would be playing into the government's hands if they surrendered to their fear and gave up.

In him, I see a new generation of Hongkongers who are well educated, more civil and more courageous and committed.

The movement is inevitably causing inconvenience and losses to residents and shops. But taking to the streets to voice our discontent is perhaps the only bargaining chip we have in our pursuit of genuine universal suffrage.

It remains a daunting task to press ahead with the campaign while minimizing disturbance to society and avoiding provocation and further clashes. For the time being, talks without further ado are the only solution.

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