- - Thursday, October 16, 2014

Emboldened by Beijing’s increasingly harsh line against the pro-democracy demonstrations by Hong Kong students, Hong Kong authorities began to implement rough police measures to forcibly end the protests and street occupation.

Last Friday, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-chosen top official of the former British colony, abruptly canceled a promised meeting with representatives of the demonstrators, reigniting the fury of a popular discontent.

Then, Mr. Leung authorized the police to forcibly dismantle road blocks and street barricades erected by demonstrators, arresting scores of resisters.

That act was followed by brutal beatings of selected protesters by pro-Beijing thugs to instill raw fear and intimidation.

On Tuesday, police stepped up the use of force in assaulting demonstrators. One YouTube video has gone viral and become the source of heightened tensions in Hong Kong. It shows half a dozen policemen dragging a lone demonstrator off the street to an alley and savagely beating him, causing multiple injuries.

What could have ended with genuine dialogue last week between Mr. Leung and the students demanding true democracy in Hong Kong instead has transformed into a prolonged and violent stalemate, without a clear direction as to where Hong Kong is going next.

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However, in a larger sense, the demonstrators have already won because the intransigence of the Hong Kong government and the government in Beijing has helped crystallize and settle key issues fundamental to Hong Kong’s future.

The first issue is essentially this: Why is it that during the entire 156 years of British colonial rule, there were never any mass demonstrations in Hong Kong demanding democracy, yet within only 17 years of Hong Kong’s return to “the motherland,” people in Hong Kong revolted on such a large scale?

It is not that British rule in Hong Kong was the most ideal form of government. It is because British colonial rule provided three basics of modern society, albeit sans self-government: individual freedom, the rule of law and human rights. And those essentials were guaranteed under British rule as long as Great Britain remains a democracy.

After the 1997 reversion to China, however, while these three essentials remained in Hong Kong, they were not guaranteed because China remains a communist one-party dictatorship with a growing appetite for coercing its peripheral regions under Beijing’s absolute control.

What the demonstrators wanted is therefore democratic self-rule as a guarantee for what the British bequeathed to the people of Hong Kong: individual freedom, the rule of law and human rights. And the goal has been identified by the demonstrators, the struggle for its final realization has just began.

The victory of Hong Kong demonstrations also manifests itself in the awakening of the people of Hong Kong. The facade of Hong Kong as an apolitical paradise for getting rich fast has been forever changed to a model of Chinese civil disobedience that could provide inspiration for the multitude of Chinese still under a dictatorial rule from Beijing, which is perhaps why China is desperately censoring all news related to the Hong Kong uprising.

The exuberant political activism for self-rule in Hong Kong has also largely invalidated the long-standing Chinese government preaching that the most important human right is the right of a rice bowl, as Hong Kong, among the world’s wealthiest regions, is clearly erupting like a political volcano, demanding for far more than just economic prosperity.

The demonstrators in Hong Kong have also severely obviated Beijing’s favorite tactics of controlling Hong Kong. Dubbed the revenge of the nerds, the revolt in Hong Kong is being led by earnest young students whose leader is 17-year-old Joshua Wong. Unkempt in appearance, pure in idealism and determined in spirit, Mr. Wong represents the increasing irrelevance of Hong Kong’s politics by the business elites who have all but become Beijing’s proxy in exercising communist control over Hong Kong’s political machines.

The rise of Hong Kong’s millennials as a decisive political force for progress and democracy may facilitate the demise of China’s celebrated use of “United Front” sophistry, and Hong Kong business elites’ unprincipled subservience to Beijing.

This is particularly true in a place like Hong Kong where the overwhelming majority of its 7 million residents are political refugees, or their offspring, who have escaped the nearly seven decades of Communist Party rule in China.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected] and @Yu_miles.

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