The US lawmakers openly supported Hong Kong protesters, insisting Obama should “Press” President Xi on “issues like Hong Kong”. Could that imply that the US has played a role in “Umbrella revolution”? Is this an accurate description and what exactly is the nature of the protest? Radio VR is discussing it with Jonathan Holslag (Brussels), Dr. François Godement (Paris) and Bronislav Vinogrodsky (Beijing).
The Hong Kong crisis could get a new impulse after student leaders said they’d escalate their protests unless substantial progress is made on their demands for how the city's leader should be elected in 2017.
The government reacted by cancelling highly anticipated negotiations with the protesters. Hong Kong's Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said on Thursday that the high-level task force in charge of electoral reform, which had become disappointed and frustrated by the students' recent remarks, decided that the basis for constructive talks has been undermined.
China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong, a longtime British colony, in 1997, pledging a “one country, two systems” form of rule that would give it a higher degree of autonomy over the next 50 years.
On Thursday lawmakers in Washington supported the decision by HK protesters. US Senator Sherrod Brown called on President Barack Obama to press Chinese President Xi Jinping on "issues like Hong Kong" when the two leaders meet next month at a summit in Beijing.
Western analysts have been quick to present the HK protests as another ‘color’ revolution, calling it the Umbrella Revolution. Yet, many say it is not a revolution, but simply a part of the ongoing democratic process.
To quote Simon-Hoey Lee, visiting fellow of the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong, “this so-called Umbrella Revolution is nothing more than a normal interest aggregation process, a political game that takes place in democratic societies elsewhere”.
So, what is the real nature of the protest and what impact could it have?
Says Jonathan Holslag, Postdoctoral Research fellow at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies: “It certainly was an important wakeup call to the Chinese Government for different reasons. And first of all, it showed that the youngsters, and especially the higher-educated students, are increasingly becoming an important force in the social and political affairs, and certainly a force to take seriously inside China’s borders, but also outside.
What I think partially explained these protests, was the creeping censoring, so to speak, that many people in Hong Kong experienced, or at least observed. Beijing has tightened some of its control on the media, and that has been heavily criticized. Then, obviously, also the backtracking from the promise, at least the promise how the Hong Kong people see it, to pave the way for free elections.
And then, lastly, also the economic situation. For the first time in decades the unemployment in Hong Kong has gone up quite a lot. The growth is slowing down and that might also have contributed to this volatility in the city’s state.
The repercussions of that are way beyond this particular event, I think. It has made China more nervous about its relations with Taiwan, because the Taiwanese people are looking closely at what happens in Hong Kong to make up their minds about the future reunification, but also about handling the discontent in general.
So, there is a lot of reflection going on in China nowadays about how to handle protests in the future”.
François Godement, Professor of political science at Sciences Po in Paris, Senior policy fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations: “ … For one thing, the obvious target of the protest was the political system that China prepares to move to for Hong Kong and the issue of how democratic the election of the Chief Executive will be. But there is also an underlying issue of anxiety in Hong Kong about the Hong Kong’s future within Chinese economy and society.
And those who demonstrated were basically the young and the students. That is — not the dispossessed, not the disenfranchised elements of Hong Kong, but perhaps those who have the most stake in its future. And they demonstrated how worried they were about it.
That is, of course, significant, because, in principle, Hong Kong is rich. It is as rich as the richest Western European countries, although it is very unequal. And, of course, China’s growth has brought tons of money and tons of new developments to Hong Kong, yet the people worry. And they worry not purely about the political system”.
Russian expert in China studies Bronislav Vinogrodsky (Beijing):
“I suppose, it is really a very complex issue, from all points of view, because we cannot consider it outside the context of the existence of Hong Kong and that it is really Chinese, anyway. It doesn’t matter that the British influence was so big and for such a long time. I think that it shows nothing special, to my mind. It is not so important, as it might seems, looking at the international media’s account.
First, China is really very big and Hong Kong is not the most important place in China. It is not even considered the biggest city, from the point of view of the Chinese scale as such. So, I suppose that actually the problem is very much exaggerated. It is my basic idea about what is going on.
But what is the nature of the protest?
Bronislav Vinogrodsky: The nature of the protest is that once you unite the two parts, which were separated, there will necessarily be a mutual influence. You should remember the history of the problem, because according to the plan of Deng Xiao Ping of one state-two systems, they have created a special economic zone which was called Shenzhen and which really gradually began to unite current of the influences between the Mainland as such…because it is not actually the mainland. Hong Kong is partly peninsular, but it is anyway a part of mainland. But a habitual name for the communist China is Mainland China, as an opposition to Taiwan and Hong Kong, and partially to Macao.
And when they were united, gradually they began to mutually influence each other. And it was inevitable that the people from the Mainland would go to Hong Kong, where the standard of life is higher than in most part of the Mainland. In the beginning, they tried to get a Shenzhen, where, again, the level of life was also higher than in the rest of China. So, people began penetrating and they have their own life habits, they have their own views.
And of course, coming to Hong Kong, they could not just all of a sudden take all those rules and laws which were incorporated into the life of Hong Kong for such a long time, for almost a hundred years of the British governance there and the international nature of the life there influenced people very much. And so, anyway, a contradiction or a conflict had to accumulate gradually during those almost 20 years of the unification. And I suppose this is the nature of the conflict.
And again, you should consider it in the context of what is going on the planet. And of course, in the context of a change in the relations between the East and the West, which was, I suppose, most evidently reflected in this conflict between Russia and the Western system…because, anyway, to my mind, it is somehow metaphysically or transcendentally related to the Crimea and to all that so-called separatism, and all those phenomena which are going on in the eastern Europe or the western Asia, to call it that way.
So, the young people there are listening and hearing. And, maybe, they don’t really like what the pro-Mainland governor of Hong Kong is doing. And I don’t exclude that somebody also influenced students’ federation, just trying to add some order to what they are doing. They began to protest against the breach of democracies, maybe some mistakes and so on. I see it like this.
But you are saying that the reaction, both inside China and outside of China, has been exaggerated. Why? You are saying that we need to look at that in the context of the global developments. However, we can read this context in various ways. The puzzling thing is that the Americans seem to have been taking it too close to heart. And they even went as far, as issuing a warning to Beijing?
Bronislav Vinogrodsky: It sounds to me a little bit ridiculous – America, which is trying to get into every hole where nobody needs them. It sounds like this, to me.
I don’t think that America is just struggling for the American view of democracy and the American way of ruling the world, trying to make everybody follow them. So, once they see anything in the rhetoric similar to what they say, they try to influence that. To my mind, America becomes weaker and weaker, first of all, in ideology, which America is trying to show to the world and make the world follow their ideology. The farther the world develops, the less people would like to follow the American way, the American model of development.
And so, America feels it and understands that there are new players on the planet, and they are different from all those takes they made before. And they’ve made so many sheer mistakes in the last period of time, that they try to catch any chance to do something. That’s why they at least show that they take it too closely to the heart. But actually, it has nothing to do with America at all. I suppose they have enough of their own problems.
I don’t exclude that America has somehow interfered there, just because they try to influence, they want the influence, because they have less and less influence on the processes of the world. That is the reason. My diagnosis is that they become weaker and weaker and they become ill. They show that they have some disease. I don’t know whether it is a corporal disease or a mental disease, but they really have some deviations in their behavior, interfering where they should not. They are not the best surgeons in the world and, I suppose, they should heal themselves.
What do we need to expect of Obama’s visit to China?
Bronislav Vinogrodsky: I suppose it will have no influence at all, this visit of Obama, because Obama, to my mind, has no really effective ways to influence China. They will have to talk, they will have to negotiate and China is not just a little baby to talk with. They will have to negotiate and China will be able to protect their own interests. I'm absolutely sure.
The 2014, and I've been predicting all those changes in the world politics and the system of power on the planet, for many years I spoke about 2014. It is because of the Chinese calendar and Chinese system of time, and so on. It demands everybody to change their self-esteem, I would say, self-appreciation. It must change. If you don’t change, the world will severely make you to change. So, I suppose that is what America is now encountering on. So, to my mind, there will be no sheer, effective changes or something like this. From the point of view of America, they will have no results after this visit.
They will have to recognize what is going on. Maybe, they will try to do it politically in a mildest way, to say that they have a victory where they don’t have it. They will have to cheat, anyway. They are already cheating and they, at least, must have more skill in this – in cheating, card game cheating. That’s what they should learn better.
They have no way otherwise. Otherwise, they will have to really struggle, but they are not so strong, as they’ve been before. And they’ve shown it in the Middle East on many occasions, that they make too many mistakes.
But, on the other hand, they have been quite successful in Ukraine. And those people who try to draw parallels between Hong Kong and Maidan, perhaps, are quite inspired by the US success in Ukraine.
Bronislav Vinogrodsky: I suppose they are too much inspired by the so-called success of the US in Ukraine. I'm not sure that this is their success. To my mind, this is the failure, anyway. They got nothing there. They have changed the situation and the game is not yet over, and nobody knows who the winner is. And I feel that it is not America. America, to my mind, lost much more than they’ve put at stake, and they just try to show that they won. To my mind, it is absolutely the opposite – that it is not at all a success. They are the real losers in this, they are not successful”.