Turn off X-Factor love, Hong Kong’s got something to say

2 Oct

HK protestsA few years ago I walked out onto the balcony of my newly purchased flat in SE17 on a wonderfully balmy summer’s evening, glass of chilled Chablis in hand … and watched the London riots unfold beneath me. A few years later all I can do is watch frustrated on TV as a far more worthy, honourable and well-ordered mass of people decide to make themselves heard, on the streets of Hong Kong.

I’ve no doubt that back in 2011 those images of be-hoodied chavs storming Foot Locker on the Walworth Road (but leaving M&S alone, thank the Lord) were beamed gleefully into homes by China’s Communist Party mouth-and-eyepiece CCTV. “Look at what democracy gets you,” I imagine the state-run broadcaster saying, “mob rule – anarchy!”.

The truth is that democracy is a kind of mob rule, but not in the way that unfolded during the London riots. It’s more like an elective dictatorship where the people in power pander not to the majority but to the minority of curtain twitching, Daily Express-reading xenophobes or lobotomised Family-Bucket-in-front-of-X-Factor charvers who live in marginal electoral seats.

But whatever its flaws, democracy’s better than the alternative, as presented by the People’s Republic of Middle Kingdomland. So when Hong Kong was recently told by Old Man China that it would not be allowed the universal suffrage practiced by virtually every democratic country on the planet, but a special version in which all candidates are effectively chosen by Beijing, it decided to do something. And fair bloody play.

When was the last time you saw such an ordered, polite and tidy mass protest? These are the students I once mocked on this blog for having absolutely nothing going on. Live with parents, study way too hard, have no fun. Well, they’ve finally found a cause – something to get excited about. And it’s spine tinglingly good to see them camped out in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok, Central, trying to hold their ineffectual leaders to account, saying that, “actually, we do have a voice”. The government, the police force – which lobbed 80 cans of tear gas in the crowd early on only to realise that they looked like total dicks for doing so and were ordered back – and business leaders look increasingly out of touch, and desperate.

You’ve had your fun now…

With not a single iota of irony, various vested interests tell the media it’s in Hong Kong’s best interests, best commercial interests, if everyone just heads home and allows business to continue as usual. Well, one thing, it is continuing as usual, by all accounts. And two, the only reason your business is around at all, you tai-pan twat, and not a co-opted state-owned enterprise by now is because of the openness and democratic values that founded this frigging place. The government claims that the protests, which are coming up to a whole week now, have  caused “increasingly serious impacts on people’s livelihood”. Well, no actually; according to pollution indicators in Hong Kong I’ve seen, blockading the roads has actually done the air quality a whole heap of good.

The Party, by the way has gone MENTAL, by all accounts, but as of yet has done it in private. This, after all, is the Hong Kong which has been graciously allowed to keep its civil liberties, its unfettered access to the internet and its Rule of Law (nominally, although I hear the judiciary has been packed with pro-Beijing loyalists since ’97) . How’s that for gratitude?

Time for tanks?

The truth is Xi Jinping is in a very tricky position here. He’s a hardliner in the Deng Xiaoping mode with his tough stance on corruption and aggressive South China Sea policies. But he can’t send the tanks in a la Tiananmen Square. These are different times and the world would react far less passively, especially as it would prove that for all the soft power plays and the human rights speak, the Party is as brutal and single-mindedly power-lusty as it always has been. What’s more, according to this excellent article in The Economist, despite all the talk of Hong Kong’s diminished importance economically for China, it’s actually still more vital than it ever has been, maybe more so.

For all China’s apparent strength, its leaders are constantly in fear of revolution, so it will want this little skirmish ended asap before news filters across the border. But how to do it without whipping up more anti-China fervour, whilst not executing a face losing climb-down over electoral rules? Sacking HK’s ineffectual CEO CY Leung would go some way to appeasement, but won’t satisfy the hardcore. No, I reckon Beijing will sit it out and hope that eventually the students will go back to school, pressured by parents worried about their grades.

If they don’t, expect to see some pockets of covertly state-sponsored violence and anti-social behaviour suddenly and incongruously erupting in various areas. That’s all the police need to step in and then it all escalates. Then and only then will world leaders finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief that Big Brother is back in charge – denouncing the “violent” protesters who have befouled the good name of democracy as they do it.

Democracy?  Judging by the turnout at the last UK general election, we’re pretty close to forgetting the meaning of the word.


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