Hong Kong and the Arab uprisings
The Hong Kong protesters may be disappointed in their televised talks with the authorities, but I’m not. They have achieved something remarkable: a widely disseminated (at least within Hong Kong) public effort by the authorities to justify their rejection of democracy. The fact of their meeting with the students, whose side of the argument was apparently not broadcast by the authorities, speaks louder than words. This is an enormous achievement, even if the talks have inevitably failed to reach a compromise.
The contrast with what is going on in the Middle East could not be sharper. There Islamists are rejecting democracy and secularism, which they associate with autocracy and godlessness. In Syria, Libya and Yemen, large portions of the society (not everyone) have chosen violent means–or tact support for violent means–to achieve their political ends, while in Hong Kong only the police have opted for brutality.
This is as it should be. Nonviolence has a better chance of winning than violence, mainly because some of the forces of law and order will eventually hesitate to use violence against nonviolent protesters. Once a corner of the police is bent to sympathize with the protesters, the Hong Kong authorities will be forced either to call in the army or compromise with the protesters’ demands.
Calling in the People’s Liberation Army would be a clear signal of defeat for the authorities, who have made it clear they fear real democracy would open representation to the votes of the lower classes:
If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month.
This remarkable statement comes from the chief executive in Hong Kong, a loyal Beijing supporter. What has Communism come to?
There is room for compromise here. The nominating committee that is to vet Hong Kong candidates for Chief Executive, slated to be controlled entirely by Beijing, could be opened to broader representation and the criteria for rejecting candidates limited to malfeasance. Only a wide open electoral contest will satisfy student protest leaders, but something short of that might represent real progress in the right direction.
Protesters in the Middle East could learn a lot from their Asian counterparts. The disciplined commitment to sustained nonviolent protest in Hong Kong makes good sense, precisely because the authorities have overwhelming force at their disposal. The protesters have clearly thought this through and are looking to maintain mass support that would be l0st quickly if they resorted to violence. A few may lose patience and head in that direction, but so far at least they have mostly resisted a temptation that would inevitably give the authorities the upper hand.
Would that such discipline were available in the Middle East.