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Crackdown or climbdown: HK activists face a stark choice

world Updated: Oct 09, 2014 00:51 IST

Student protesters galvanised Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement with their energy and ideological zeal, bringing tens of thousands of people on to the streets in a show of defiance against Beijing.

People young and old speak of a “new era” of civil disobedience for an already well-established movement, with young and politically engaged activists more willing to stand up for what they believe to be right.

As events of the last 12 days prove, however, sustaining momentum is difficult, and whatever success protesters had in pressuring the government by disrupting city life, they will always come up against a formidable foe — mainland China.

Protest numbers have dwindled markedly to a few hundred people at times, and the focus for pro-democracy activists has switched to talks scheduled for Friday with key officials in the Hong Kong administration.

Already leaders among students and the “Occupy” movement, as well as tacticians in the city’s pro-democracy camp, say they are doubtful of an outcome that will pacify radical and moderate demonstrators, possibly paving the way for another crackdown.

Protesters’ core demands, namely full democracy in Hong Kong including an open nomination process for elections for the city’s next leader in 2017, are not even on the agenda. “After the talks there will likely be another crisis,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who has helped advise the students behind the scenes. “You don’t know what each party will do and what will trigger a crackdown or a backdown.

It’s very difficult to say.” The sticking point is China, which has the final say on what concessions, if any, it might grant Hong Kong. So far, all the signs point to it not budging from an August 31 decision to restrict nominations for the 2017 poll to candidates who get majority backing from a committee stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists.