China. Hong Kong Protesters Face Tough Choice as China Draws a Hard Line.

Occupy Central. October 2, 2014. The protesters who have engulfed key parts of Hong Kong for days faced a dilemma Thursday in the face of a government strategy to wait them out, as they considered whether to escalate their confrontation with the authorities by storming a government building or to begin searching for an exit strategy. The Chinese leadership, meanwhile, issued an unambiguous endorsement of the city’s embattled chief executive and appeared to shut the door on any compromise.

The protesters’ numbers appeared thinner at the main protest site during the day Thursday. And after a two-day public holiday, many Hong Kong residents were due to return to work on Friday, meaning that the traffic delays and disruptions caused by the protests would affect a broader swath of the public, potentially cutting into support for the demonstrations.

Tim Lam, an engineer who said he had joined the sit-ins every day since Sunday, said he expected the occupation to last another week at most. “That’s about how long the protesters’ passion can last,” he said. “After one, two weeks of occupation, protesters would start to think about how it affects the economy, the everyday lives of people.

 

Hong Kong residents reflect on the recent days of protests. Video by Jonah M. Kessel on Publish DateOctober 2, 2014.

Some student leaders have called for protests to expand to other government buildings if Hong Kong’s top leader, Leung Chun-ying, does not step down. Hui Chun-tak, the chief spokesman for the Hong Kong police, strongly warned at a news conference on Thursday afternoon that protesters should not escalate their actions. “The police will not tolerate any illegal surrounding of government buildings,” he said. Images of police officers carrying riot gear into government offices were posted on social media Thursday afternoon.

A crowd of several hundred gathered outside Mr. Leung’s office late Thursday afternoon, many of them demonstrators who said they were determined to stop him from returning to work Friday. Metal barriers and dozens of police officers prevented them from getting closer to the entrance. But none of the officers visible were in riot gear, and the atmosphere in the crowd was more amicable than menacing.

“We won’t try to get inside,” said Jackie Au, an accountant who was setting up supplies of water for the night. “We’ll very politely voice our message,” meaning a call for Mr. Leung’s resignation and for “real elections,” she said. The crowd continued to swell into the early evening.

On Thursday, the Chinese Communist Party delivered its strongest rhetorical attack yet on the protest movement. In a front-page commentary, People’s Daily, the party’s main newspaper, accused pro-democracy groups of threatening to drag Hong Kong into “chaos.”

The commentary laid bare the chasm of expectations between the party and democratic activists in Hong Kong, and, in citing the party leadership, including President Xi Jinping, it appeared to rule out compromise over the demonstrators’ main demands. The protesters want an open democratic vote for the city’s leader, or chief executive; many have also demanded the resignation of the current leader, Mr. Leung.

 “If matters are not dealt with according to the law, Hong Kong society will fall into chaos,” the paper said in its commentary.

Protesters interviewed Thursday gave no indication that a retreat was imminent. But many wondered how long they could sustain the turnout necessary to block key roads in the city and, in the face of the local government’s determination to outlast them, just what would mark an acceptable victory.

Further escalation by the protesters could alienate members of the public not prepared to accept a demonstration that affects their daily lives. But without more aggressive steps, the protests could fade.

“If we take rash actions, we may lose people’s sympathy,” said Niko Cheng, a recent college graduate and protester in Mong Kok, a densely populated area of Hong Kong on the Kowloon Peninsula. “But if this drags on — it’s already turning into a carnival, with people dancing, singing and all that — people may forget what they’re here for.”

Prominent voices in the campaign have indicated that there is no consensus on what, short of an unlikely reversal of the central government’s position, would lead to an end of the protests.

“We have to achieve something that will enable the crowd to claim victory,” said Albert Ho, a pro-democracy lawmaker. “They must retreat with dignity, but that may not necessarily be complete victory. There must be a sense of achievement.”

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 and has preserved its own legal system, free press and civic rights not enjoyed by mainland Chinese citizens. The protesters’ demands have centered on how to elect the chief executive of the city, which China calls a special administrative region.

The Chinese government has proposed that starting in 2017, the territory’s voters would be allowed to choose the chief executive by ballot. But it has stipulated that there can be only two or three candidates, and they must be approved by a nomination committee, which would be dominated by people heeding Beijing’s wishes.

Democracy groups and parties in Hong Kong have demanded election rules that allow an “unfiltered vote,” and they have called Beijing’s proposal a fraudulent voting exercise.

“All the protesters here and Hong Kong people know it is extremely unlikely the Chinese leaders will respond to our demands,” Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political science professor at the City University of Hong Kong and a longtime advocate of fuller democracy in the city, said in an interview at the site of the protests outside Hong Kong’s main government complex downtown. “We are here to say we are not going to give up, we will continue to fight on. We are here because as long as we fight on, at least we haven’t lost.”

Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old student leader, wrote Thursday on Twitter, “Don’t think that this will be over soon. This is fundamentally a war of patience and a test of our endurance.”

The People’s Daily commentary accused Occupy Central With Love and Peace, the movement that has led pro- democracy campaigning in Hong Kong, of “desecration” of the rule of law in the city.

 “The actions of ‘Occupy Central’ have flagrantly violated the laws and regulations of Hong Kong, severely obstructed traffic and disrupted social order,” the commentary said. “This is placing the political demands of a minority above the law, hijacking public opinion in Hong Kong for selfish ends, damaging the social stability and economic prosperity of Hong Kong.”

The paper said the Communist Party’s central leadership firmly backed Mr. Leung, who is loathed by many democrats who accuse him of being a tool of Beijing. Student groups and democratic politicians who have supported the protests in Hong Kong have said that Mr. Leung must step down and take responsibility for the police’s use of tear gas against protesters on Sunday, the confrontation that set off the even larger demonstrations that erupted on Monday.

“The central government has full confidence in the Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and is extremely satisfied with his work,” the commentary said. It added that Beijing would “unswervingly support him in running the city” and would “resolutely support the police force of the special administrative territory in dealing with illegal activities according to the law.”

People familiar with the Hong Kong leadership’s thinking said Wednesday that Mr. Leung and his advisers, with China’s approval, had decided to wait and hope that public opinion turns against the protest movement as it continues to disrupt life in the city. One of the demonstrators outside the chief executive’s office, Kahei Tse, said the movement would struggle to maintain its momentum in the face of such a strategy.

“From the beginning to now it’s been almost five days,” said Mr. Tse, a 33-year-old fitness trainer. “People have gotten tired, and the numbers have been reduced, because there’s been no action taken by the government since the tear gas and pepper spray of the first few days. So people have backed off a little to wait and see the response from the government.” (New York Times)