Asia - Issue 80 - Magazine | Monocle

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View from Hong Kong

The kids are all right


Few of the upbeat crowd that swarmed some of Hong Kong’s major thoroughfares on a Sunday afternoon last September would have thought that the same streets would still be occupied two months later. Waving at the drivers who passed and honked their car horns in support, the group that initially conquered these usually congested Hong Kong roads was markedly different from the one that left in early December. Smaller and less diverse demographically, the final group of protesters was divided and despondent.

To its critics, the 78-day long Occupy Central movement was a failure, having achieved none of the political reforms it called for and impacting not only the infrastructure of Hong Kong but also the city’s economy. But for supporters of the campaign that also became known as the Umbrella Movement, the partial shutdown of Hong Kong last autumn marked the beginning of a process of political awakening.

This spring the city’s Legislative Council – a 70-strong body that governs the special administrative region of Hong Kong – will vote on the controversial decision made by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing last summer. The debate concerns whether Hongkongers will have full suffrage for the 2017 election of their chief executive, their city’s leader, or whether Beijing will limit this. While vowing to uphold the “one person, one vote” promise and thus extend the voting number from 1,200 civic leaders to around five million citizens, the Chinese government has stated that it will approve all candidates, assuring the election of a pro-Beijing chief executive. The 23 pan-democrats who make up the Legislative Council – many of whom were part of Occupy Central – will oppose this but their numbers are just shy of affecting the majority needed for it to pass. But with time before the 2017 election, the fight is not over.

The movement’s shift from one that attracted an estimated 100,000 people on a single night near its beginning to just hundreds at its very end had little to do with the actions of either the Hong Kong or Chinese governments. Few thought either would concede to demands and while the former had limited direct interaction with the protestors, the latter pretty much ignored their existence. Yet while the initial aim may have been unattainable, what is certain is that the city has been irrevocably changed.

The change in Hong Kong is not just marked by a call to political arms but also the emergence of a youth movement that could shape the development of China as a whole. While the Chinese government appeared to care little about what was taking place on Hong Kong’s streets, the global visibility of the protest called into question how China will keep its promises as it becomes an increasingly important geopolitical power. Facing a delicate time in the management of its relationship with not only Hong Kong but also Taiwan and the domestic trouble spots of Xinjiang and Tibet, Beijing should be concerned that this generation of protestors can only get better at marketing their message.

The Umbrella Movement leaders failed to leverage support for their actions from those Hongkongers who either feared the consequences of such action or were irritated by the inconvenience of protest. But they have succeeded in making the political identity of Hong Kong, and therefore China, a talking point.

Key youth movements in China and Taiwan

Scholarism, Hong Kong Part of the Occupy Central leadership, the group was founded by students in 2011 to protest against various communist and nationalist ideologies entering the Hong Kong curriculum.

Sunflower movement, Taiwan Seen by some as a precursor to activism in Hong Kong, this group of students occupied government buildings in Taipei in spring 2014 to protest greater economic and perceived political co-operation between Taiwan and China.

World Uyghur Youth Congress A key component of the formation of the World Uyghur Congress in Munich in 2004, the group works with the international community to peacefully and democratically oppose the policies of Beijing in Xinjiang.

Show me the bunny China

China is turning to the French to satisfy an increasing appetite for rabbit heads. The country is importing almost 100 million heads annually from France according to the Chinese Rabbit Industry Association.

Election watch


February 2015
Date: February
Type: Parliamentary

Candidates: Bet confidently and heavily on a commanding victory for president Emomali Rahmon’s People’s Democratic Party because that’s what always happens. The communists and Islamists will be permitted to make up the numbers.

Issues: Tajikistan is poor, corrupt and suffering from what might be charitably described as a democratic deficit. It will also be nervous about events in neighbouring Afghanistan as western forces withdraw and its dependence on Russia’s wheezing economy.

Monocle comment: The argument always made in favour of Tajikistan’s quasi-tyranny is that it has kept the country stable. This is true up to a point but 24 years since independence and 18 since the end of its civil war, it could aim to clear a higher bar.

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