TIME Foreign Policy

Washington Issues Statement Backing Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Protesters

Student protesters gesture outside the Golden Bauhinia Square, venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day in Hong Kong
Student protesters gesture outside the Golden Bauhinia Square, venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day in Hong Kong Oct. 1, 2014. Tyrone Siu—Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to discuss the ongoing protests with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday

The White House issued a statement of support for “the aspirations of the Hong Kong people” on Tuesday, in response to a petition urging the U.S. government to put pressure on the Chinese government.

The Obama Administration’s comments reflect a gradual toughening of its response to Beijing, as the Chinese Communist Party refuses to heed Hong Kong protesters’ loudening call for free and fair elections amid swelling demonstrations in the financial powerhouse.

“The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law,” the statement said. It continued that Hong Kong residents should have “a genuine choice of candidates representative of the voters’ will.”

U.S. officials also said Tuesday that Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss the protests racking Hong Kong with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting in Washington on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, the U.K. also solidified its position on the side of the protesters; Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg summoned the Chinese ambassador in order to convey the British government’s alarm at Beijing’s hardened dismissal of universal suffrage in Hong Kong. The territory was a British colony until 1997.

“It is essential that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice of chief executive in 2017, through universal suffrage,” Clegg said, according to Sky News. Clegg also said he would “reiterate our position and seek reassurances from the Chinese government.”

Tens of thousands of people have flooded several of Hong Kong’s busiest districts, pledging to continue bringing traffic and commerce to a standstill until the Hong Kong and central governments meet two demands: Hong Kong’s top leader resigns, and Beijing grants the Special Administrative Region the right to freely elect a new one in 2017, as opposed to choosing from a list of candidates handpicked by a pro-Beijing committee.

The Chinese government has repeatedly accused the U.S. and British governments of meddling in its affairs and stirring up the protests; both countries’ officials have denied any involvement.

The original petition had asked the White House “to support Hong Kong democracy and prevent a second Tiananmen Square [massacre] in Hong Kong.” If a petition on the White House website collects more than 100,000 signatures within 30 days, it necessitates a response from the U.S. government. The petition boasted 196,942 signatures before it closed.

“We believe that an open society, with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law, is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity,” read the response.

The statement also reiterated White House comments made on Monday, urging “Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint, and for protesters to express their views peacefully.”

Since police lobbed 87 tear-gas canisters at protesters bearing nothing but umbrellas on Sunday evening, the number of officers on the streets has been drastically scaled back, while the number of protesters, galvanized by the disproportionate response, has burgeoned.

At demonstrations outside a flag-raising ceremony on Wednesday to celebrate China’s National Day, protesters said they were intent on remaining peaceful, while also staying put until their demands are met.

“We will not stop them from celebrating,” said T. Wong, 35, a protester standing under a swarm of umbrellas near the ceremony. “But as they celebrate, we want them to listen to our voices.”

TIME foreign affairs

The Needs of Hong Kong’s Silent Majority Are Being Ignored

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY
Three men on a pedestrian bridge look at an empty six lane road blocked by pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong on October 1, 2014. PHILIPPE LOPEZ—AFP/Getty Images

Regina Ip is a Hong Kong legislator, the city's former secretary for security, and chairperson of the New People's Party

As Hong Kong’s quest for democracy rapidly descended into chaos upon the official kickoff of the Occupy Central movement on Sept. 27, world media united to condemn China’s handling of Hong Kong people’s demands for democracy. Rarely has China’s most international city been the cause of more schadenfreude in the West.

How did Hong Kong’s democratic odyssey come to this pass? China said, in a decision by its highest authority in December 2007, that Hong Kong’s chief executive may be elected by universal suffrage in 2017. But its Basic Law for Hong Kong, enacted in 1990, also says that the method for selecting the chief executive must be specified in the light of “the actual situation and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress.”

Hong Kong’s democracy advocates accuse Beijing of breach of faith, but Beijing officials stress that gradual and orderly progress and compliance with the Basic Law are paramount.

It is not as though Beijing were unaware of the potential for controversy. As 2017 approaches, the Occupy Central movement has been pressurizing Beijing into allowing politicians from the pan-democratic camp — the local term for pro-democracy politicians of different parties — to be nominated for the city’s top post. And since March 2013, Beijing has been sending a steady stream of senior officials to Hong Kong to draw a line in the sand: only those considered patriotic are allowed to be nominated. In a decision on Aug. 31, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee made a decision that the pan-democrats thought had all but ruled out their chance of securing a nomination.

In Beijing’s eyes, the pan-dems are after a form of independence. That is probably why authorities in Beijing took pains to issue a white paper in June, reminding Hong Kong people that the “high degree of autonomy” promised is a lower level of autonomy than full autonomy, let alone self-rule or independence.

Beijing understands too well that a democratically elected Hong Kong chief, who will be appointed by Beijing in name only, will not be answerable to it and might not be trusted to safeguard “China’s sovereignty, security and developmental interests.” Hong Kong’s chief executive is more powerful than a provincial party secretary and cannot be replaced at will by administrative appointment. The risks of installing a chief executive whom Beijing cannot trust in a porous, international city like Hong Kong are too great.

Thus, in Beijing’s eyes, the struggle for a more open system of nomination is a struggle for the control of Hong Kong. Beijing’s opponents will not take this lying down and are mobilizing large numbers of citizens, including many young people, to take to the street, causing massive disruption to the daily lives of Hong Kong people, economic losses and, above all, severe damage to Hong Kong’s image around the world.

Chanting democratic slogans and laying siege to major thoroughfares and government installations, the protesters appear to dwarf even the might of China. Yet, a core question has been left unanswered. What do the silent majority of Hong Kong really want? Do they really want an Umbrella Revolution that radically changes the nature of Hong Kong’s polity, or an open, free and stable environment to get on with building their lives? Will a democratically elected chief, irrespective of competence and relationship with China, be able to cure all ills?

As the two camps and two conflicting ideologies clash, the core interests of the Hong Kong people appear to be ignored.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Marks Chinese National Day With Demands for Political Reform

A protester holds up a placard which reads "Peace is our greatest weapon", outside the venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day, in Hong Kong
A protester holds up a placard that reads "Peace Is Our Greatest Weapon," outside the venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day in Hong Kong on Oct. 1, 2014 Tyrone Siu—Reuters

Ceremonial venue is besieged by democracy activists as city enters its fourth day of massive protests

Chaotic scenes stole the show from the pomp and spectacle of Chinese National Day celebrations in Hong Kong on Wednesday, as thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators harangued dignitaries and set up camp on the fringes of the city’s politically sacrosanct Golden Bauhinia Square.

Protesters in jeans and sneakers, many of whom had been on the streets all night, heckled a parade of the city’s oligarchs and tycoons as they attempted to enter the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center for ceremonial speeches.

At one point, the crowd, some wearing gas masks, linked arms and bellowed “Down with the Chinese Communist Party!” and “We want universal suffrage!”

“It’s China’s National Day, not Hong Kong’s,” protester Ivan Chau, 26, told TIME.

Simon Lee, 28, an IT worker, said he felt no love for China’s ruling party and felt more Hong Kong than Chinese. “Everyone agrees we are from Hong Kong,” he said.

Hong Kong has been given a broad degree of autonomy since the end of British colonial rule in 1997. But this sophisticated, freewheeling city of 7 million is deeply suspicious of Beijing and unable to freely choose its own leader.

Calls for democratic reform have built to a crescendo over the last five days, with tens of thousands of protestors bringing several downtown locations to a standstill.

Demonstrators aim to force Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to resign, and are calling for the Chief Executive to be elected by a popular vote in 2017.

Beijing has agreed to elections but only if the candidates (a maximum of three has been set) are first vetted by a 1,200-strong committee largely perceived as loyal to the mainland.

Such a caveat undermines the entire principle of the vote, say democracy activists, who have vowed to paralyze the city through a campaign of civil disobedience in order to foment change, braving police batons, tear gas and pepper spray.

Their movement has been dubbed the Umbrella Revolution after the umbrellas that demonstrators use to shield themselves from pepper spray.

“The Umbrella Revolution only has one ultimate goal: to have true democracy in Hong Kong,” said one protester.

Back inside the ceremony, one guest, district councilor Paul Zimmerman, made a bold display by unfurling a yellow umbrella in support of the protestors. Another guest, district councilor and former radio personality Pamela Peck, was entirely clad in yellow — the Umbrella Revolution’s symbolic color.

Other attendees toasted the “security and stability of Hong Kong,” while a patriotic song celebrating “Hong Kong’s close ties with the motherland,” in the words of the MC, was played in the lavish hall without irony.

The theme of this year’s celebrations was declared to be “Chinese Dreams.”

Outside, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers rouse from their slumber, ready for another day’s protest in pursuit of dreams of a very different kind.

— With reporting by Elizabeth Barber, David Stout, Helen Regan, Rishi Iyengar and Emily Rauhala / Hong Kong

TIME Hong Kong

U.S. Students to Don Yellow in Support of Hong Kong’s Democracy Movement

Secondary school student wears a yellow ribbon pinned to her T-shirt during a rally against Beijing's election framework for Hong Kong, outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong
A secondary school student wears a yellow ribbon pinned to her T-shirt during a rally against Beijing's election framework for Hong Kong, outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept. 26, 2014. Tyrone Siu—Reuters

Campaign supports the tens of thousands who have taken to the street in the Chinese Special Administrative Region to demand universal suffrage

On Wednesday, as the People’s Republic of China celebrates its 65th anniversary, tens of thousands of American undergraduates from universities across the country will dress in yellow, the identifying color of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

The fight for unfettered elections in the former British colony has reached unprecedented levels over the past four days. Tens of thousands of demonstrators continue to besiege the city’s central business and government districts — braving police batons, tear gas and pepper spray — to demand democratic concessions from Beijing.

In a demonstration of solidarity, the Wear Yellow for Hong Kong campaign was launched by Heather Pickerell, who spent the majority of her childhood living in Hong Kong with her American father and Taiwanese mother before moving to New England three years ago as a freshman at Harvard.

The 21-year-old wasn’t “necessarily supportive” of the push for political reform at home, she says, until Beijing issued a White Paper in early June — a sprawling, 14,500-word tract — that effectively left Hong Kong with little doubt about who was in charge.

“Growing up, we had this innate hope that we’d someday have democracy in Hong Kong,” Pickerell told TIME late Monday night. “Now, I’m realistic. Whatever China wants to do, there’s nothing Hong Kong can do about it. The only real tool we have is international pressure and scrutiny.”

Wearing yellow, in other words, is secondary to the conversation she hopes it engenders. She is among the many who believe — or, at least, gravely hope — that the current groundswell of discontent in Hong Kong could encourage a new culture of domestic politics in China if the international response is loud and coherent enough to compel a change.

And so Pickerell created the Facebook event group on Thursday after delivering a dinner speech on the current situation in Hong Kong to several hundred of her peers in Mather House, her residence hall at Harvard. The page had around 300 members on Sunday — and then nearly 30,000 less than two days later.

A friend from Hong Kong at Yale then brought the solidarity practice to New Haven. It was swiftly embraced at Brown, where the Hong Kong Students’ Association had organized a national conference earlier in the spring to discuss the matter of political reform. Then to Pitzer and Wellesley and the University of Toronto, and now at around 50 other universities and counting.

“I saw the pictures of the protests on Facebook and read my friends’ tweets, and I really needed to do something,” Myron Lam, the Hong Konger who brought the campaign to Brown, where he is a senior, told TIME. “The last few days have shown that there is hope in Hong Kong, but we need to act, and show Beijing that the issue is on the international radar.”

TIME Hong Kong

What’s at Stake in Hong Kong

Voting restrictions and an ever-tightening Chinese policies are causing unrest amongst Hong Kongers

(HONG KONG) — Hong Kong’s leader refused to meet with pro-democracy demonstrators by their midnight deadline Tuesday, despite their threats to expand the protests that have clogged the streets with tens of thousands of people in the stiffest challenge to Beijing’s authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.

Protesters counted down to midnight and cheered as the deadline passed, but took no immediate action.

Britain’s deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, meanwhile, said Tuesday that he had summoned the Chinese ambassador to discuss the dispute, saying it was essential that Hong Kong’s people have a genuine right to choose their top leader.

“I am extremely concerned about the recent events in Hong Kong. Britain and China have solemn obligations to the people of Hong Kong to preserve their rights and freedoms,” Clegg said in a statement.

China took control of Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems” arrangement that guaranteed the 7 million residents of the city semi-autonomy, Western-style civil liberties and eventual democratic freedoms that are denied to Chinese living on the communist-ruled mainland.

The protesters want a reversal of a decision by China’s government to screen all candidates in the territory’s first direct elections, scheduled for 2017 — a move they view as reneging on a promise that the chief executive will be chosen through “universal suffrage.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s rejection of the student demands dashed hopes for a quick resolution of the five-day standoff that has blocked city streets and forced some schools and offices to close.

It was unclear what action the demonstrators would take next. There were no immediate speeches or official statements from the protesters, who chanted “Jiayou! Jiayou!” — or “Keep it up!” — while waving their cellphones with the LED flashlights sparkling in the dark.

Earlier Tuesday, Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the organizer of the university class boycotts that led to the street protests, said the students were considering various options if their demands were not met, including widening the protests, pushing for a labor strike and occupying a government building.

As concern mounted over how the standoff might eventually end, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has taken a hard line against any perceived threat to the Communist Party’s hold on power, vowed in a National Day speech to “steadfastly safeguard” Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.

China’s government has condemned the student-led protests as illegal, though so far it has not overtly intervened, leaving Hong Kong authorities to handle the crisis.

Despite the hardening rhetoric from both sides, the mood Tuesday night was festive. Few police were evident, and those who were present appeared relaxed. The crowds were expected to grow, with most people off work both Wednesday and Thursday for public holidays.

Both sides appeared to be waiting out the standoff, as police continued the light-handed approach to the protests they adopted after their use of tear gas and pepper spray over the weekend failed to drive out tens of thousands of people occupying streets near the government headquarters. The sit-ins instead spread to the financial district and other areas.

“We are not afraid of riot police, we are not afraid of tear gas, we are not afraid of pepper spray. We will not leave until Leung Chun-ying resigns. We will not give up! We will persevere until the end!” Lester Shum, another student leader, shouted to a crowd at Admiralty, near Hong Kong’s waterfront.

Leung’s blunt rejection of the demands from the students was not surprising. China’s Communist leadership is wary of any conciliatory moves that might embolden dissidents and separatists on the mainland.

Occupy Central, a wider civil disobedience movement, said in a tweet that the pro-democracy protesters were demanding genuine democracy and Leung’s resignation. It said it would “announce new civil disobedience plans” on Wednesday.

Hong Kong’s free press and social media give the protesters exposure that may help prevent China from cracking down in the same way it has on restive minorities and dissidents living in the mainland, where public dissent is often harshly punished.

The protests have been dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution” by some because the crowds have used umbrellas to block the sun and to deflect police pepper spray.

“We are really basically just calling for the government to speak with us but they’ve been mute,” Peter Chin, a 22-year-old student at Hong Kong University. “We’ll keep staying here until they’re ready to consult with us.”

TIME world affairs

China’s New Identity Crisis

Activists Take To The Streets As China Votes On Hong Kong Election Process
Protesters take part of the rally for the beginning of Occupy Central movement outside Central Government Offices on August 31, 2014 in Hong Kong, China. Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images

Zheng Wang is the Director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Hong Kong is not Beijing, and 2014 is not 1989

Today, students are attempting to occupy the streets outside Hong Kong’s central government complex; 25 years ago, the students occupied Tiananmen in Beijing. However, Hong Kong is not Beijing, and 2014 is not 1989. These similar actions have taken place in entirely different contexts, even though Beijing’s political control is behind both of the events. It is important for us to identify the real sources of the current conflicts in Hong Kong, and not get sidetracked by simple reflections back to Tiananmen.

On the surface, the turmoil in Hong Kong is caused by Beijing’s decision regarding general elections. In reality, the deep sources of the conflict are not so different from the recent large-scale outbreaks of social tensions in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan. These tensions should not be seen as isolated political battles with Beijing, but rather should be heard as both the battle cry of China’s new identity crisis and a conflict of globalization. For these places, globalization has to some extent become “Chinaization” or “Mainlandization.” These recent events can be explained by the globalization theory “Jihad vs. McWorld.” This theory describes globalization as dialectical interactions between modern commercial fundamentalism and traditional parochialism. It argues that the expanding global commerce and the corporate control of the political process has weakened the autonomy and power of local communities, threatening the identity and culture of the smaller communities while at the same time leading to the reassertion of ethnic and religious identities.

In Hong Kong we can see clearly the effect “McWorld” has had, even though the further integration with mainland China brought prosperity to the city. But most of the advantages and profits produced by this process have gone to business tycoons and corporate elites. Much like the American rallies against the “1%” in recent years, the remaining grassroots population experiences the problems that this success has brought.

Due to the arrival of large numbers of newcomers and the flow of outside capital to Hong Kong, the real estate market has skyrocketed, pricing out much of the population while also increasing everyday cost of living. Large numbers of visitors have made the city quite crowded, leading the local people to worry that further integration will threaten their way of living, the identity of the city, and most of all the distinction of Hong Kong from the mainland that they so cherish.

In Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Tibet there is another story of globalization. The Uighurs, Taiwanese, and Tibetans feel they have been marginalized. For the Uighurs population, their response is jihad. In recent years we have seen the violent attacks in Xinjiang and other parts of mainland China. These violent actions can to some extent be seen as local resistance and rebellion in response to this marginalization and threat of identity, though any terrorist actions should be condemned.

Whereas the Hong Kong students went to the street to protest, a group of Hong Kongese business tycoons went to Beijing and met with the Chinese leadership. Beijing was pleased to gain their support. It is similarly common in Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang for elites to have maintained good relations with Beijing. The CCP has garnered support from the successful elites, while keeping their growth tied closely to Beijing. There are many cases of major Taiwanese corporations having relocated their headquarters from Taiwan to the mainland. The huge market the mainland offers has brought enormous profits to the Taiwanese business community. For example, a Taiwanese company in Mainland China manufactures almost all iPhones.

This phenomenon can be explained by another theory of globalization: “integrated on top, collapsed on the bottom.” When the elites of the different regions and industries gain from globalization, they become more united and integrated behind the banner of shared economic interests. On the other hand, even though the living standards of people in the grassroots have been improving in recent years, they have suffered many of the negative consequences of the globalized economy, such as the demise of their established traditions, cultural morality, and identity.

It is in this identity crisis that the different groups have chosen to express their protests. The recent student movement in Taiwan against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with China has been the Taiwanese response. While the protests in Hong Kong and Taiwan should not be confused for any type of jihad like that of the Uighurs’, they nonetheless underscore common issues. Unfortunately, Beijing is not well versed in handling identity issues. Identity-based conflict is different than interest-based conflict. People won’t change their cultural identity, whether by intimidation or by compensation. Both the proposition of bribes and the threat of use of force often only worsen a situation, as people remain steadfast to their identity. Beijing lacks an understanding of this concept and how to remedy it.

Hong Kong’s problem will continue for as long as the structural sources of conflict cannot be addressed. The identity crises in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Tibet will surely become Beijing’s real tests and dilemmas. How well the Chinese leadership deals with these crises will determine China’s rise and future development. From this perspective, the identity issues have a real global impact, as does the street movement in Hong Kong.

Zheng Wang is the Director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Companies

L’Oreal Halts Business Travel to Hong Kong Amid Protests

Hong Kong has been embroiled in protests this week

The cosmetics company L’Oreal said Tuesday that it’s suspending all business travel to Hong Kong amid pro-democracy demonstrations that have brought the city to a standstill, in a troubling sign for the global hub of business and finance.

The company has “a ban on business travel to Hong Kong until October 6,” a spokesperson told AFP.

Hong Kong has been embroiled in protests this week as pro-democracy activists seek concessions from Beijing.

[AFP]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 30

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. China’s real battle is for the hearts and minds of Hong Kong. And China is losing.

By Rachel Lu in Foreign Policy

2. California’s new ‘Yes means yes’ consent law is an important first step toward ending America’s campus sexual assault epidemic.

By Robin Wilson in the Chronicle of Higher Education

3. The English language makes it harder for students to learn math.

By Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal

4. Long lines at polling places dampen turnout and disproportionately hit poor and minority communities. States must devote the resources to making voting work.

By Chris Kromm in Facing South

5. To direct financial aid where it is most needed, colleges should focus on first-generation students.

By Tomiko Brown-Nagin in TIME

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Smartphones

Apple’s iPhone 6 Is Headed to China

CHINA-APPLE-US-TELECOMMUNICATION
A young boy uses an iPhone to take photos in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on September 30, 2014. Greg Baker—AFP/Getty Images

New device faced security concerns from Chinese regulators

Apple’s iPhone 6 will soon arrive on China’s shores. The company’s latest flagship device, along with its bigger cousin the iPhone 6 Plus, will go on sale in China on Oct. 17, while pre-orders will begin on Oct. 10.

For Apple, China has become a critical market that now comprises 16% of the company’s overall sales. The iPhone 6 launch had reportedly been delayed there because China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology was slow to approve the new device. Regulators said as much in a statement on Tuesday, noting that Apple had to address security concerns related to third party access to user data before the device could be sold in China.

Apple has previously been forced to deal with concerns over iPhone security in China. Over the summer, a Chinese state-backed TV station issued a news report calling the iPhone a “national security concern” because of its location-tracking features. Apple issued a swift response pointing out that it doesn’t have access to that location data. CEO Tim Cook has since stressed Apple’s commitment to security in another statement, saying that the company had never allowed a government agency access to its servers. U.S. tech companies have been facing a chilly reception from foreign regulators since Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass government surveillance by the National Security Agency.

Even with security concerns assuaged, Apple faces challenges in China. A new crop of domestic phone manufacturers like Xiaomi now offer smartphones with robust feature sets at a fraction of the iPhone’s cost. Indeed, Apple is not even one of the top five phone makers in the country — but analysts say the jumbo-sized iPhone 6 Plus will appeal to Chinese users’ tastes and could be a big hit there.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Protesters Up Ante on Eve of China’s National Day

Sit In Protest Continues In Hong Kong Despite Chief Executive's Calls To Withdraw
Protesters take part in a rally on a street outside of Hong Kong Government Complex on Sept. 30, 2014 in Hong Kong. Anthony Kwan—Getty Images

Wednesday marks the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China

Tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators continued to clog central Hong Kong on Tuesday, as the movement’s leaders vowed to maintain their campaign of civil disobedience until the city’s Chief Executive (CE) resigns.

In speeches before the teeming crowd in ritzy Admiralty district, leaders of the Hong Kong Students Federation and Occupy Central threatened to expand the protests if Leung Chun-ying, who holds a position similar to mayor, refuses to step down. “[Leung Chun-ying] is not in control anymore,” Alex Chow, the leader of the student federation, told the press.

The groups also raised the possibility of increased labor strikes, in an escalation of their confrontation with the governments of both Beijing and Hong Kong. “The protests are accelerating because the government is doing less and less,” said Chan Kin-man, one of the leaders of Occupy Central, as he addressed the crowd. Behind him lay several umbrellas painted with the phrases “popvote” and “join us.”

The groups on Tuesday also urged their throngs of supporters to continue the sit-in until their demands are met, contradicting an earlier statement by Chan, who had told TIME the previous evening it’s “unrealistic” to expect protesters to continue to occupy key downtown locations for much longer.

Although Chan backtracked Tuesday, the confusion demonstrates the movement is made up of stakeholders with “different interests and aspirations,” says Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He cautioned that protesters “cannot afford to fight amongst themselves because they face a very powerful enemy.”

Since British colonial rule ended in 1997, Hong Kong has been run according to the “one country, two systems” principle and enjoys various freedoms and considerable autonomy compared with mainland China. However, many in the Special Administrative Region accuse Beijing of increasingly meddling in the territory’s affairs.

On Wednesday, China celebrates the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. Although this day of pomp is also typically one of popular protest in Hong Kong, the sheer scale of the current demonstration, and intractable nature of its demands, is clearly exacerbating an already strained relationship.

“In China people think Hong Kong belongs to China. But people in Hong Kong think that Hong Kong is part of China, but belongs to the world,” Julian Lam, a 20-year-old student, tells TIME.

Chao Seng, a 57-year-old private chauffeur, says the Hong Kong government just “wants to polish China’s shoes,” adding that he accepted the governing style of the British and does not approve of Chinese rule. “I’m not from China, I’m from Hong Kong. Every year when they enjoy [National Day], I have no feeling.”

Though protest leaders now say that their principal demand is for Leung to step down, they reiterated that their secondary objective is for Beijing to let Hong Kongers choose their CE by a popular vote in 2017 — and so reversing an Aug. 31 decision by the Communist Party’s Standing Committee that insisted all candidates must be approved by a committee widely perceived as loyal to Beijing.

“If CY Leung steps down it will be a big change,” says student Natalie Chan, 26. “The universal suffrage is something we can’t [control] because the Communist Party is very powerful.”

On Tuesday, Leung insisted that he would not resign and that Beijing would not budge in its insistence of vetting future holders of his job. “The central government will not rescind its decision,” he said.

As the protest leaders addressed the crowd Tuesday, with a huge orange banner reading “Can U Hear The People Sing” hanging nearby, thousands of demonstrators in black T-shirts roused from listlessness, ending their naps and putting packages of crackers aside. One group of students popped their laptops closed and put away the schoolwork they’d brought out.

The protests, which began with a student class walkout last Monday, now represent a mosaic of Hong Kong society. Asked for how long he would support the students, the 65-year-old Eddie Wong replied, “Forever,” adding, “I will be here, I will support this always.”

Numbers swelled after local people grew incensed that police fired 87 tear gas canisters at protesters on Sunday. “To be honest, I didn’t really support this, since I’m not really into politics,” says university student Stephanie Cheung, 20. “But then I saw how the police reacted to unarmed protesters. Now I’m here fighting against violence and how the government treats people.”

Late Tuesday, the heavens opened and umbrellas, adopted as the symbol of the protests, resumed their usual function — yet the seasonal downpours failed to dampen the anyone’s spirits, and the resilient crowds chanted “We will stay here until the end despite the weather!”

Over the last few days, supplies donated by well-wishers — including water, chocolate cake and bananas — piled in the protest’s multiple hotspots have not dwindled, but grown. Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong media mogul and frequent critic of Beijing, told TIME that he did not see the demonstrations ceasing anytime soon. “There’s no compromise for anyone involved,” he said.

—With reporting by David Stout, Rishi Iyengar and Helen Regan / Hong Kong

 

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser