Police in Hong Kong granted pro-democracy protestors permission for a rally, planned for Sunday. The decision follows months of unrest, including increasingly violent confrontations between protesters and the police. It also comes at the heels of an unprecedented victory for the pro-democracy camp, which won 90 percent of available seats at recent district council elections. Cornell University experts say that police may be trying a new, less confrontational strategy by giving the green light for the weekend’s demonstration.
Allen Carlson is professor of government at Cornell University and an expert on Chinese politics and foreign policy.
“For much of November, whispers were growing increasingly loud regarding the degree to which Hong Kong’s population had supposedly grown disillusioned with the months long, and increasingly volatile, protest movement that has brought the city to a near standstill. However, such skeptical voices were silenced by the resounding victories scored by pro-democracy candidates who ran in last week’s district council elections. In it, 17 of 18 districts were won by such candidates. This result seriously undermined Beijing’s narrative that the protests were nothing more than the work of foreign forces and lacking in grass roots level support.
“The question then became how would China and Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, respond to this new reality. The recently announced decision by Hong Kong authorities to permit a large rally in the city this weekend may be an indication that they are now willing to implement less confrontational policies in dealing with the protesters.
“This is not an insignificant development. However, it also seems unlikely to be enough to mollify those within the protest movement who have repeatedly made it clear that they have ‘five demands, not one less’. Satisfying the protestors, especially after last week’s elections, will take much more than simply allowing them to march. As a result, the situation in Hong Kong is likely to remain precarious in the coming weeks.”
Eli Friedman, assistant professor at Cornell’s ILR School, is author of “Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China,” and studies state responses to workers unrest in China.
“It seems likely that the government is somewhat chastened following their bad defeat in the recent election. Their strategy has been to refuse any concessions, with the hope that protestor violence will drain public support from the movement. That has not happened, and the elections clearly demonstrated ongoing dissatisfaction with the government and police responses to the protest.
“It is impossible to know why they decided to allow this march to go forward, but they would be foolish to not try a new strategy. Dialing back the use of police violence will be an important first step in trying to win back the public, so hopefully this march can proceed peacefully.”