HK protesters await fallout after site clearances
Comments by senior officials suggest Beijing may take harder line against territory as police launch investigation.

Following two and a half months of protests, Hong Kong has been returning to normal although questions and fears remain about the possible backlash to be faced by those involved in the demonstrations.

Comments by senior officials suggest Beijing may take a harder line against the "wayward” territory to head off further challenges to its authority, possibly by interfering in the territory's judiciary, media and universities.

Zhang Rongshun, deputy director of the Basic Law Committee under China’s National People’s Congress, recently said Hong Kong people need a "re-enlightenment” on the "one country, two systems” formula.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the formula, which promised a high degree of autonomy from Beijing, including universal suffrage.

The protests – which involved more than 100,000 people at their peak -- had been calling for a fully democratic election with open nominations for the territory's next leader, the chief executive, in 2017. The Chinese government says it will allow "one man, one vote" suffrage but that candidates will have to be approved by a body loyal to Beijing.

According to Zhang, some of the city's residents felt they did not belong to China, and the democracy movement had given "alternative interpretations” of the formula and the Basic Law.

Student protest leader Alex Chow expressed his worries that "Chinese methods" could be used in Hong Kong, referring to the intimidation and coercion used against dissidents in mainland China.

"For how long can we maintain Hong Kong's judicial independence?" Chow said in a speech as he and other protesters waited to be arrested at the protest site in Admiralty district, home to many government office buildings, as police closed in.

"We've already seen judges make some controversial rulings. Beijing might be able to put pressure on Hong Kong to charge us [the protest leaders] with more serious offences to shut us up."

A total of 955 people were taken into custody since the beginning of the protests, and more arrests appear likely, according to police chief Andy Tsang. He signaled Monday a far-reaching probe into the protests, saying an investigation would be completed within three months.

"Police will endeavor to complete the investigation as soon as possible, including arresting other offenders, particularly the principal instigators," local English-language newspaper The Standard reported Tsang saying.

"The duration of the illegal occupations, the vast numbers of protesters involved, mobilization capabilities of the organizers, as well as the methods used and the radical acts undertaken by protesters, could not be anticipated."

While many students who participated in the protests have been barred from entering China, it remains to be seen what other forms of consequences they will face.

In one of the most extreme cases, Hong Kong authorities have applied for a protection order for a 14-year-old protester. Police allege the teenager’s parents failed to exercise proper guardianship over the boy, putting his health, development and welfare at risk.

If the court grants the order at a January hearing, the boy could be subjected to a curfew and counseling, or even removed from his parents’ care altogether.

Analysts saw the move as an attempt to intimidate parents out of letting their children attend the demonstrations as a protection order is typically used in extreme cases of neglect, such as abandonment.

In June, Beijing reminded Hong Kong in a cabinet-level White Paper that China holds supreme authority over the city, sparking consternation in the territory.

The protests garnered people from all walks of life, especially youth who were previously apathetic about politics. Analysts say a long-term perspective needs to be taken when assessing the protests' impact.

"Some people say we are naive and unrealistic for thinking that Beijing might give in to our demands. But that's okay. The ultimate effect of this movement might not be known for years,” a protester at Admiralty had told AA hours before police cleared it, declining to be named out of fear of retaliation.

"At the very least, the consciousness of the younger generation has been revolutionized.”

It seems Hong Kong's democracy activists have entered an era of non-cooperation with the government, raising the possibility of further disruptive protest action.

Student leader Chow recently suggested that an occupation of the Legislative Council when lawmakers vote on Beijing's election proposal was not out of the question.

"In order to confront this government, no one can rule out using any particular method.”

Last Modified: 2014-12-18 16:55:12
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