For the first time in months, cars are driving through the central squares occupied by the pro-democracy protest camps in Hong Kong, after the government cleared out the last of the demonstrators in the main sites. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Traffic flowed freely down two major thoroughfares that had been taken over by the protests since late September. Police had the majority of the site cleared by late Thursday evening after removing protesters who had peacefully offered themselves for arrest.Alex Chow, the 24-year-old head of student protest group the Hong Kong Federation of Students, was released unconditionally around 8 a.m. Friday, according to a tweet by the group. Alvin Yeung, a lawyer representing several of those arrested, said most protesters were released unconditionally. Another HKFS leader, 21-year old Eason Chung, was charged with unlawful assembly and obstructing police and released on bail.“It’s not a happy ending but it’s a peaceful ending,” said Democratic Party lawmaker Sin Chung-kai, who was among a group of opposition legislators also arrested on Thursday. Mr. Sin said he was released after less than 12 hours.
Since the Occupy Central protesters first took to the street to demand real democracy in their Special Administrative Region, rather than the right to choose between a group of candidates hand-picked by Beijing, many predicted that it had to end this way. China simply had too much to lose, either by granting precedent-setting concessions or by cracking down truly brutally. Beijing seems to have taken its time and finessed the issue smartly, so it has won the day.But that doesn’t mean it has won the future. The numbers show that Hong Kongers are by and large unhappy with their government, if less so than during the emotional peak of the protest movement two months ago.
The most recent available polling data, from mid-September, shows that a majority of Hong Kongers are not confident in the “One Country, Two Systems” model. A yearning for democracy may have been placed on the back burner, but it’s still simmering. It’s only a matter of time until increasingly globalized and prosperous citizens demand dignity and independence again.Plus, that’s not the only cost Beijing will pay. The handling of the Hong Kong protests was no Tienanmen, but it was still somewhat brutal. In Taiwan, which just due to size should be much more important to Beijing than Hong Kong is, any reunification fence-sitters who previously believed in the promises of the PROC to hold to a “one country, two systems” agreement have had their faith badly shaken. As we’ve said before, as Beijing presses on with this strategy, it will at the very least need a brand overhaul.