The world has been watching Hong Kong.
As tens of thousands of protesters convened in Hong Kong’s Central district on Saturday night, hoisting up umbrellas and lifting illuminated cellphones into a nebula of white light, projected messages of support from around the world floated bright and high on a wall above them.
“Even though we are 13 hours away, I am following you every second,” read one message, from a supporter in Panama. That note flickered above yet another wall plastered in thousands of multilingual Post-it notes from well-wishers.
“You are not alone,” read one note, in English. “Democracy is universal. No democracy, no freedom,” read another, from “a French girl in Hong Kong” who squeezed in her country’s national motto at the bottom: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.”
The beamed-up messages and Post-it notes appeared emblematic of accumulating international support for Hong Kong’s protesters, as the sit-ins in this hub of global commerce extend into a second week and as worldwide fascination with the protesters sleeping in the streets widens.
Hong Kong protesters are well aware they are in the spotlight. At Saturday night’s huge rally, in Admiralty, one speaker turned to the international press pack and addressed them in English, saying that their presence gave protection to the students, who have now been issued an ultimatum to leave the streets by Monday. “Thank you for coming,” he said to the assembled journalists. “And for those of you who haven’t been here before — welcome to Hong Kong!” The crowd, blinking with camera flashes, roared.
The rally on Saturday night seemed to be the largest so far — but it was also perhaps the most emotional. Reactionary mobs had spent the previous day and night attacking smaller student encampments at Mong Kok, across Victoria Harbor, and in Causeway Bay. There were also rumors that the Admiralty occupation was to be forcibly suppressed that night.
Reassurance came from global support groups, who have staged rallies around the world on behalf of the protesters. Over the weekend, they reaffirmed their support for the demonstrators on Facebook and Twitter.
“We are dismayed by and furious with the intimidation of people who support the cause for Democracy in Hong Kong,” wrote United for Democracy: Global Solidarity With Hong Kong on its Facebook page Saturday, referring to the violence in Mong Kok, as well as to what it said were reports of violence on some of the global marches. The group last week organized support rallies in 26 cities worldwide.
Global celebrities, including Mia Farrow and George Takei, have also made high-profile appeals of support for the protesters on social media, the Los Angeles Times reports
“I’ve met the residents, the students — they are very brave and it’s touching to see that they’re fighting for what they want,” Chow told Apple Daily, a local newspaper, on Wednesday.
Anthony Wong, a top-billing Hong Kong actor, also told protesters over a broadcast phone conversation on Saturday night that “what we are fighting for is not just democracy but also to protect our values.”
Meanwhile, global leaders and officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have toughened their tone on China, calling on Beijing to ensure democratic freedoms and end the unrest. Merkel is due to take part in a German-Chinese government summit in Berlin in just a week.
Several former U.S. consuls general to Hong Kong on Saturday night wrote an open letter to the city’s embattled leader Leung Chun-ying, calling on him to “work out a road map with the Hong Kong people that shows clear progress toward the goals enunciated in the Basic Law: universal suffrage, a broadly representative nomination and democratic procedures.”
“We are writing to you based on decades of inestimable interest and admiration for Hong Kong,” wrote the former officials. “We have loved the city, admired its citizens and promoted its vital role for business, culture and commerce for Asia and for China.”
Still, the White House, which answered a petition supporting the protesters with an unambiguous endorsement of their calls for fair elections, has been criticized for not leaning hard enough on Beijing over the lack of democracy in both Hong Kong and China.
David Shambaugh, director of the China policy program at the George Washington University, told the New York Times that China was going through its most repressive period in 25 years. “The administration isn’t speaking out about that,” he said.