In many respects, the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution protests are following the familiar pattern of other protests that have risen around the world in recent years. Just as Middle Eastern governments and the former Pro-Russian Yanukovych government of Ukraine blamed outside influences for their troubles with civil unrest, the leadership of Hong Kong and China are attempting to reframe civil unrest as the product of foreign conspirators.
Although the United States and other democracies can only be expected to openly side with peaceful protesters, or even violent protesters who are trying to defend themselves and others, China’s efforts to frame the Revolution as a foreign plot will be in vain. It is important to recognize Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997 without the China ever fully assimilating Hong Kong. Consequently, in the eyes of those protesting China’s role in Hong Kong elections, the Chinese are seen as the foreigners conspiring to interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs
Meanwhile, protesters fear government leadership is conspiring to quietly crush their movement, even as the Chinese are avoiding the appearance of direct interference. While who is doing what will only be understand as events take place and unknowns become facts, the similarities that connect the Umbrella Revolution with the Ukraine Crisis, the Arab Spring Revolutions, and others offer insight into what is likely to happen.
Because the efforts of the so-called Occupy Movements within the US and other Western democracies turned confrontational then fizzled out, the Chinese and Hong Kong leadership may be assuming police can clear out protesters without broader backlash once the protesters have been given sufficient time to voice their concerns. Western Occupy protesters have, however, returned periodically and will continue to do so until the unresolved issues driving the unrest is adequately addressed in a satisfactory manner.
Unfortunately, the Arab Spring Revolutions and Ukraine Crisis point to a far more bleak future for Hong Kong. Essentially, China is playing the role of Russia in Hong Kong’s democracy drama and that means trouble is likely ahead. Protest leaders, Hong Kong’s leadership, and China’s government do seem to agree on one thing: the protests are growing out of control. If this is true, the Umbrella Revolution may have already reached a critical mass where the disenfranchised must be given concessions or civil disobedience will degenerate into a outright insurgency.
This means a peaceful resolution to the Umbrella Revolution hinges on the Chinese government’s willingness to allow the Hong Kong leadership enough leeway to offer a big enough compromise to appease the broad interests of the Hong Kong People. If the Chinese will not, a violent end to these protests will most likely be the beginning of increasing instability throughout Hong Kong for years to come.
As the Chinese leadership has hesitated to clamp down on protesters in order to avoid a lasting conflict, the potential for the situation in Hong Kong to dissolve into a violent struggle turns the capitalist enclave into a political and economic liability instead of the asset it has been. Where containing revolutionary forces costs money in terms of policing and lost productivity, a Hong Kong under siege serves as a constant warning of Chinese oppression for the many Peoples of China as well as the many countries of the region.
Given the Chinese leadership’s goal is to maintain its control over Hong Kong and the rest of China, while the primary goal of the protesters is to elect their own leadership so the Hong Kong government will address the interests of the Hong Kong People, a peaceful end to the protests must accomplish both interests. As the potential ripple effects of almost every decision and action points to a solution that fails to sufficiently serve the interests of the parties involved, there are only few options for an ideal solution.
Truth be told, even American democracy is not truly open. Due to the cost of elections, our two-party system, layers of political bureaucracy, and the influence of elites, the leadership the American People can vote for is often thoroughly vetted to the point there is little actual choice, especially at the national level. Giving Hong Kong freer election can, therefore, be done without alienating the interests of China’s Community Party.
While the interests of the poor in Hong Kong already need to be better addressed in order to avoid future and far more intense unrest, those who rise to power are likely to see the absolute need to keep in-step with China’s leadership. It is, however, also important to recognize democracy is consuming the world. Even monarchies like Saudi Arabia will have to embrace greater democratic representation on the local level, at the very least.
Recognizing the Chinese government needs to avoid appearing to capitulate on Hong Kong’s democratic reforms, it would better to take a lesson from the US where elections are always a choice between one elite slightly on the Right and one elite slightly on the Left. Instead of “vetting” who can run for the office of Chief Executive through a single 1200-member Election Committee stacked to favor Beijing’s interests, the Chinese would be better served by allowing political parties to vet their own candidates. In turn, they could compromise by only limiting how many parties can field candidates for the Office of Chief Executive. They could also divide the authority of the Chief Executive.
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