There is nothing surprising about the huge protests being held in Hong Kong demanding greater political freedom from Beijing. Hon Kongers have always demanded greater freedom and democracy and have taken out demonstrations to voice their demands. In the latest protests, hundreds of thousands of people participated, and the number is likely to swell in future. Having tasted freedom once, and seeing the restrictions on democracy in the mainland, it’s natural that Hong Kongers will not settle for anything less than full democracy. But it will be a tough struggle in which the chances of success are slim. They are fighting against the Communist leadership in Beijing, and Beijing is not known for making concessions for the promotion of democracy.
Though political freedom is the main reason for these protests, there is another one which is equally important. Tensions between people of Hong Kong and China have been rising for several years now, descending into online shouting matches between the two. Hong Kongers are resenting an invasion of their territory by the rich Chinese, who descend in droves for shopping, tourism and other purposes, straining the limited resources of the territory. Property prices in the territory have skyrocketed due to huge investments by the rich Chinese. Also, mainlanders are considered more rural and unrefined, whereas Hong Kongers are refined and polished. Such is the level of anger among Hong Kong locals that they sprayed mainland tourists with water from bottles labeled “locust insecticide.” Many Chinese know locust” is what millions of Chinese tourists who visit Hong Kong annually were labeled in a notorious 2012 advertisement in Hong Kong’s most powerful pro-democracy newspaper, the Apple Daily. Since then, tensions have only increased. This is a culture war that is being given expression in other ways, the demand for greater democracy being one.
Beijing is extremely unhappy with the current state of affairs, because the issue is complicated. The mainland Chinese will continue to pour into Hong Kong, and there is no way their flow can be stopped. It will be unthinkable for the government in Beijing to impose any curbs, which will be opposed feverishly by the Chinese. The leaders of democracy movement in Hong Kong need to rethink if it’s advisable to restrict the flow of mainlanders and if so, they need to come up with practical solutions. At the same time, there is no doubt that their concerns are genuine.
The government in Beijing must respond sympathetically to the concerns of Hong Kongers and initiate some steps before tensions escalate further. It’s better to engage Hong Kongers in dialogue than using brute power to suppress their protester.