China Power

After Violent Clashes, Hong Kong Leader Promises Crackdown on Protests

The Hong Kong government warns protestors that it is out of patience.

Hong Kong’s government has begun a final push to clear out the remaining protesters from Hong Kong’s streets, over two months after the protest movement began. Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung said in a statement that Hong Kong authorities as well as the public “have exhausted their tolerance of the protest movement,” according to China Daily.

Hong Kong police began a concerted campaign to clear out protesters on November 25, dismantling protest camps in Mong Kok despite resistance. On Sunday, clashes between police and protesters in Mong Kok left dozens injured; 40 people were arrested. Hong Kong police came armed with a court order telling protesters in the area to disperse. A similar order covering the larger protest sites in Hong Kong’s Central and Admiralty districts is expected to follow soon, in what could spell the end of the protests.

Hong Kong police moved to clear out protesters from the area surrounding Hong Kong government buildings from Sunday night into Monday morning, resulting in more clashes and more injuries. Students attempted to surround government headquarters, but were repulsed by police armed with pepper spray and riot gear, South China Morning Post reported. After Monday’s clashes, Leung said the current situation had become “intolerable” and had to end. “From now on, the police will take enforcement action resolutely,” Leung promised.

The protesters are sharply divided over how to move forward, with some arguing that the current protests have run their course and others insisting activists must step up their tactics rather than abandoning protest sites. Occupy Central co-founders Dr. Benny Tai, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, and Dr. Chan Kin-man urged student protestors to go home and promised to turn themselves in to police by 3 pm on Wednesday. “Surrendering to the police is not a sign of cowardice. It shows our courage to honor our commitment,” the three men said in an open letter. “It’s not a failure but a complaint against the government’s indifference.”

The Hong Kong Federation of Students, meanwhile, called for an escalation of the protests in response to government attempts to clear out protest sites. Student leader Joshua Wong of Scholarism, another protest group, announced that he has started a hunger strike designed to pressure Chief Secretary Carrie Lam into meeting with him for discussions on Hong Kong political reform. Carrie Lam and other Hong Kong officials previously met with student protest leaders for talks, although the discussion did little more than confirm how far apart the two sides are.

With the protestors increasingly divided and Hong Kong authorities pledging to clear out the remaining camps, it seems Hong Kong’s protest movement is drawing to a close. But that doesn’t mean Hong Kong’s troubles are over. None of the issues raised by the protesters have been resolved, leaving large pockets of Hong Kong society with the same frustrations (whether political or economic) they had before the movement began. The Washington Post editorial board warned that the end of the protests could only be the beginning of a “long-term democracy movement” in Hong Kong. Similarly, Chinese blogger Yang Hengjun has argued that by stonewalling protesters now, Beijing may be setting itself up for a headache for a long time to come. Occupy Central may soon be over, but Hong Kong’s problems are far from solved.