Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two Systems

Lily & I both had the day off today, so we went to Central to observe more than participate. Neither of us can vote in Hong Kong whether the elections are democratic or not anyway, but we are both sympathetic to the protesters’ cause. Since we are from Canada and the United States, we see voting as a basic right. Other than losing face, I can’t see any reason for the Beijing government to oppose Hong Kongers voting for their own leaders. It’s not like the Chief Executive can make Hong Kong independent from China. The most he could do is disagree with official state policy.

I can’t say if Sunday was more crowded than Tuesday. There was a considerable crowd both times. Sunday was the more eventful day with the tear gas and everyone expecting something very big to happen. It was in the air. You could feel the anticipation. I think a lot of people thought the Chinese government was going to Tiananmen Square this thing. No one seemed to expect anything to happen on Tuesday.

Despite the enormous crowd, it was all very peaceful for a protest. There were some minor scuffles with the police over the weekend with a few minor injuries, but everyone – protesters and police – remained remarkably calm. We could walk across the street and feel safe the entire time we were there. It took a lot longer than usual to move around. This is Hong Kong, so it always takes too long to get anywhere with all the crowds, but this street was wall to wall people. It was even worse than the MTR on Saturday night.

I would be hesitant about walking through a protest of this size in other parts of the world. In the United States, you have to think about getting shot. In Egypt, you have gang rape. Protesters in too much of the world have to worry about pepper spray. The big concern in Hong Kong was whether or not the police would bring out a water cannon. I’m sure that’s not so fun when you’re near the front of the crowd and take the full force of the high pressure stream, but everyone else just gets a little wet. Considering the options, I’d vote for the water cannon. A spray of water in Hong Kong in September is not the worst thing in the world.

By the time we left, it was still going on. No one seems to know when or how it will all end. Unlike most protests in Hong Kong, this one does not want to simply evaporate.

Some of the experts and people who talk too much on TV are worried that China will bring in the military and end it Chinese style. That would be a mistake. Hong Kong might not be as important to China economically as it was 10 years ago, but it is still very important. Hong Kong is important to financial markets all over the world. The communist leaders in China are some of the most capitalist people in the world. They are very aware of money and what it can do for them. It seems unlikely that they will want to throw so much of it away just to save face. Losing face is a big deal in China, but they always seem to find a way to rationalize it when it happens and make up excuses that explain why they did not, in fact, lose face. Saving face is important in China, but saving money is even more important.

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