China had to bide its time for more than seventy days, but it appears that they have gotten their way in the issue of the democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Police moved in this week, hauled off the last couple hundred protesters and began the process of tearing down their tents, barricades and symbolic artwork.
The main site of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests was taken apart piece by piece Thursday, ushering in the end of an extraordinary occupation that deepened political fault lines over China’s role in the city’s government.
Down came the rows of colorful tents that had populated a stretch of highway running through the heart of the city’s financial district. Down came the works of protest art that had sprung up during the occupation, including the movement’s emblematic umbrella sculptures.
Police dragged out the last remaining demonstrators one by one and by 9:45 p.m. had cleared them all. The westbound lane of Harcourt Road, which has been occupied for weeks, was open to traffic. Police continued to clear debris from the eastbound lane.
Among some of the protesters there seems to have been a sense of resignation that this wasn’t a fight that was ever going to be won in a single battle.
“If it’s a test of force, there’s no possibility that we can win,” said Jamie Ng, a 21-year-old protester who vowed to stay until the end.
The Chinese government, which has ultimate control over Hong Kong, has steadfastly rejected the protesters’ demand for open elections in the territory, calling the street occupation illegal and letting local authorities deal with the situation on the ground.
Some of the interviews CNN conducted were considerably more upbeat, but still realistic. One spokesperson for the protesters said that they were not naive enough to believe that they could change generations of policy from China in a single season, but that the work they were doing would be remembered by their children. Others promised that there was more action to come, but where and when that will happen can’t be known at this point.
But will China make any substantive changes in response to public protests such as this? There was a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding the prospect of democracy in China following Tiananmen Square, but that was literally more than a quarter century ago and how much has really changed since then? (Guns and Roses Chinese Democracy actually happened faster.) The Chinese have become much better at manipulating modern media and putting on shows to make everything look rosy, but under the covers most observers feel that it’s the same oppressive, brutal society which has been in place for generations. And frankly, as long as they remain a viable economic power, it’s hard to believe that it will be changing any time soon absent some dramatic shift in the form of a limited revolution. As to the idea of Hong Kong becoming more independent, the West isn’t likely to go to the wall on their behalf against Bejing. This isn’t meant to sound completely depressing, but it’s hard for me to envision some sweeping China Spring in the immediate future.