BEIJING HAS GOT its Occupy Central protesters to where it wants them. The energy is draining out of the broad body of protest against Beijing’s insistence that it will select the slate of candidates from which Hongkongers can elect their new chief executive in 2017. The remaining rump, however radicalized it becomes, can be marginalized.
Beijing knows how to crack down on such dissenters. Widespread popular discontent with government is an altogether trickier and more threatening proposition for the Party.
Fears that Beijing might send in the tanks to break up the protest camps in a deadly echo of 1989 in another place have proved unfounded. But the iron grip of the authorities, exercised through a mix of police force and private court injunctions, has been steadily and unsparingly tightened.
The streets of Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok have largely been cleared to allow daily commerce to flourish unhindered once more now popular sympathy for the demonstrators has ebbed. Beijing has also skillfully separated the student and civil activist wings of the protests.
The surviving student leaders threatening a hunger strike can be bought off with face-saving ceremonial concessions without authorities needing to cede anything of substance, not that any political concessions were ever likely. In the equally unlikely event that face-saving is rejected and the hunger strike produces a martyr, it shifts the focus of the protest, and the blame from Beijing’s handling of the situation to Hong Kong’s, and offers Beijing the opportunity of some housecleaning of Hong Kong officials should it so choose or need.
Enabling legislation still has to go through the Legislative Council so there will be more possible points of conflict before 2017 that could require some sacrificial official lambs, and especially. If international business confidence in Hong Kong is at risk.
However, the longest shadow of the Hong Kong protests falls over Taiwan. Last weekend’s local elections on the island underlined the extent of popular concern that Taiwan was rushing too quickly towards potential reunification.
Events in Hong Kong will have done little to encourage many in Taiwan that there is any need to hurry or that the political umbrella Beijing wants to put over the growing cross-Strait economic ties is even desirable.