City Beat

Beijing's rallying cry to Hong Kong … and 1.3 billion mainlanders

Hard line on protests is a message to all of China as central government tries to galvanise support

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 October, 2014, 5:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 1:02pm

So after a week of protesters occupying the city's busiest areas, the question over the weekend was not when will it end, but how will it end.

As this goes to print, the entrance to the government headquarters in Admiralty is still blocked. The situation is still tense in Mong Kok, where opponents of the Occupy movement continue to clash with pro-democracy protesters. And the key organisers of the mass rallies that have paralysed parts of the city and made headlines around the world are still working behind the scenes with key figures from across the political spectrum to bring the protests to a peaceful end.

But amid all of this, there is one aspect that should not be overlooked: who was Beijing targeting with its reaction?

The central government has taken a hard line on the protests - against the National People's Congress Standing Committee's decision in August to vet candidates in the 2017 chief executive election - in state media editorials last week.

Official mouthpiece the People's Daily has for four consecutive days run strongly worded editorials, and reports on state broadcaster CCTV have carried the same message: the Occupy movement is illegal; it is intended to challenge the NPC, the country's top legislature; and this is an attempt by a minority to incite a "colour revolution" on the mainland from Hong Kong.

"Colour revolution" was widely used to describe various movements in the former Soviet Union during the early 2000s that led to the overthrow of governments. It was also applied to Middle East uprisings in recent years.

The assumption is that these warnings from the central government were aimed at the protesters - or, specifically, the people it perceives to be the masterminds of the civil disobedience campaign.

But it's not that simple. Reading between the lines it appears that Beijing's message was targeted at all of China.

The most direct, if not alarming, message came on Saturday night, soon after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying vowed to restore order by today. Xinhua put out an editorial stating that "all cadres and masses across the country" supported the central government's policies on Hong Kong and would "resolutely oppose" the illegal Occupy activities.

The commentary was released amid a flurry of rumours about an imminent forceful removal of protesters - especially those surrounding the government headquarters.

But this message of support from "all cadres and masses" for a "resolute" measure was not directed solely at Hongkongers, or indeed just the protesters. It was also meant for 1.3 billion mainlanders.

Regardless of how Beijing intends to "resolutely oppose" the protesters, to bring an end to the campaign, the central government needs the understanding and support of mainlanders as much as it needs backing from Hong Kong.

So the more profound question is: what's ahead for relations between Hong Kong and the mainland - both officially and unofficially?

Officially, there is no doubt that Beijing's policies on Hong Kong will become tougher than ever. But unofficially, how the majority of mainlanders view the Occupy saga, and how Hongkongers view Beijing, will have a significant bearing on future dealings.

Many in Hong Kong will question Xinhua's claim about "cadres and masses across the country" supporting Beijing's policies. But the potential shift in how mainlanders view Hong Kong after the drama of the past week cannot be ignored.

Hongkongers may like, dislike or even hate the ruling Communist Party. But like it or not, Hong Kong is part of China. And learning how to deal with Beijing in a more effective and skilful way would be the pragmatic way forward.

The student protesters, academics and others have tried to calm the situation by making clear that the Occupy movement was not intended to be a "revolution" - despite it being dubbed the "umbrella revolution" by foreign media, impressed by the sea of umbrellas used as shields against tear gas and pepper spray, the sun and the rain.

So if it's not a revolution, and "one country, two systems" continues, what should be the new positioning for Beijing and Hong Kong when all this is over? It is going to take a lot of work from both sides.

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