Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Student Organizations to Occupy Central Hong Kong

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters gather to march in the streets to demand universal suffrage in Hong Kong, July 1, 2014.






VOA News

July 01, 2014 1:43 AM

China's state-controlled media are warning against "political confrontation" ahead of a mass pro-democracy rally set for Tuesday in Hong Kong.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters are expected to show up. Some plan to stay overnight as part of a campaign to shut down the city's financial district.

Zhou Yongkang is secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which is among the groups planning a sit-in. He told VOA's Mandarin service his group aims to apply peaceful pressure on Beijing.

“This will be a way to show to society this is exactly what the Occupy movement is about. It can be a peaceful, non-violent and orderly way to carry out this process. It will be a ripple effect, to push the government, to make it understand that it really has a crisis in governance here,” said Zhou.

The protest comes after nearly 800,000 Hong Kongers voted on plans for electoral autonomy in an unofficial, 10-day referendum organized by the Occupy Central movement.

The referendum and protest reflect a growing discontent among Hong Kong residents, who are concerned their civil liberties are being whittled away by mainland authorities.

The state-run Global Times on Monday called the vote "farcical" and divisive. It warned that political confrontation "will not bring about democracy, but will only shake the region's foundation for practicing democracy."

Such mass protests have in the past convinced Beijing to alter its policies toward Hong Kong, but this time Communist Party leaders appear to be standing firm.

The party last month issued a white paper emphasizing its "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong, which it stressed did not enjoy "full autonomy." The paper prompted outrage and helped galvanize support for this week's protest.

Scott Harold, a Chinese foreign policy specialist with the RAND Corporation, told VOA that Beijing's heavy-handed approach has not been helpful for resolving the crisis.

"China is finding that its approaches for dealing with Hong Kong - whether in terms of outright intimidation through the White Paper, or the appointment of pro-Beijing politicians, or even what is widely suspected to be a campaign of covert manipulation through replacement of critical media voices with more pliable media voices and leveraging a triad to deliver messages to those who don't get in line - are not succeeding in cowing the Hong Kong people. Instead, they've only incentivized them to stand up more by essentially revealing that the threat is real," said Harold.

Beijing has promised to allow Hong Kongers to vote for their elected officials in 2017, but has insisted that it will only allow candidates that it pre-approves. 

PLA on charm offensive

As tens of thousands gathered in Hong Kong on Tuesday to demand greater democracy and freedom from Beijing's control, China's military garrison stationed in the freewheeling capitalist hub launched its own offensive - to charm them.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA), the armed forces of China's ruling Communist Party, offered visitors a rare glimpse of barracks life at three of the dozen or so bases scattered throughout the densely populated former British colony, as part of two “open days” on Sunday and Tuesday.

“They never let foreigners in, so I thought I would take the opportunity to come in when they let visitors in to see what my neighbors are really doing,” said one Australian visitor who lives near the Shek Kong barracks in a quiet and lush corner of Hong Kong's New Territories.

Visitors to Shek Kong on Sunday were treated to marching troops in immaculate uniforms and a “counter-terrorism” drill replete with helicopters, smoke flares and an obstacle course of concertina wire. Camo-wearing soldiers raided a small building to capture a masked man in a balaclava.

Beijing has labeled both the ongoing civil disobedience campaign, which has yet to begin, and an unofficial referendum on democracy that attracted almost a quarter of registered voters, illegal, raising fears that the government may try to intervene.

Several current and retired Chinese officials have warned in recent months that Beijing is prepared to unleash the army garrison to handle any riots in Hong Kong. Some activists fear Beijing will use signs of violence as an excuse to bring in the army.

Military drills and Marxist theory

While Hong Kong police have held drills on how to handle protesters, little is known about preparations by the PLA, who raised alarm among some observers at the 1997 handover ceremony when they drove into the Central business district on the back of army trucks with highly choreographed precision.

But since then they have been almost invisible, although armed vehicles are sometimes spotted driving through town at night. The roughly 8,000 troops spend their two-year tours isolated on barracks strictly separated from the public.

In June, a judge sentenced a 15-year-old Hong Kong resident to a night-time curfew for trespassing on barracks property, after he and two others took photos of themselves waving the former colonial flag just inside the gate. The other two were fined.

Many of the soldiers have yet to enjoy the bright lights of Hong Kong, a long-time R&R favorite for visiting western warships. Those stationed at Shek Kong, which in the 1980s had its own nearby bright lights and raunchy bar scene, have no internet access and no cellphones, said one 24-year-old soldier, who gave his last name as Huang.

They get to call families back home in the mainland only once on weekends, watch Chinese state television together every night, and spend their time drilling and studying Marxist theory.

Huang said he had visited Hong Kong once as a tourist before being stationed in the territory, but had not left the base since he arrived a year ago.

The soldiers at Shek Kong also gave children a chance to fire mock assault rifles at a line of dummies that gave off a trail of pink smoke when hit.

“I thought the military camp was a very mysterious place,” said Huang Wen, a visitor from the southern mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong. “But now I can see what weapons they use and how the People's Liberation Army can defend Hong Kong, and defend the motherland."

The open days may also have left a lasting impression with members of a younger generation, such as Josh Lam, a fourth-grader touring Shek Kong.

“I know much more about guns,” he said.

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