The protests over Chinese attempts to toughen their stance towards a Hong Kong fed on democracy and free thinking under the British before the country came under Chinese control, are escalating day-by-day without a clue to the authorities on how the protesters are to be tackled and peace restored. The protesters have grown in numbers geometrically with thousand taking to the streets after several high-profile activists and pro-democracy lawmakers were arrested last week. As government helicopters hovered and riot police used tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons to subdue them, the protests grew more and more strident and defiant over the last weekend. Saturday happened to be the fifth anniversary of the day that Beijing announced a plan for limited democracy in the territory. But it angered the protesters ever more. The protesters prepared to march through the streets even as the authorities declined to issue a permit for the march. The warnings by the police fell on deaf ears.
It was clear that the country’s chief executive Carrie Lam had turned very unpopular with the people at large for her repressive measures at the behest of the Chinese government and the police too was the target of vicious attacks. Students fought running battles with police outside government headquarters. Ten weeks of increasingly violent protests have plunged the Asian financial centre into its most serious crisis in decades. Hong Kong’s stock market plunged to a seven-month low on Tuesday. Reports said Hong Kong, home to seven Fortune Global 500 companies including tech giant Lenovo—grew at its weakest pace since 2009 in the first quarter. This has come at a time when many companies are already feeling the strains of higher tariffs and a weakened Chinese currency due to the trade war between the US and China.
That the events of the past few weeks will cripple the Hong Kong economy does not seem to have propelled the Chinese to loosen up on a country that has had traditions of liberalism with a few parallels in the world. Repression comes naturally to the Chinese government and the memories of Tiananmen square demonstrators who were mowed down for pro-democracy protests in 1989 come haunting the Hong Kong protesters. Unless the Chinese government which remote controls Hong Kong climbs down somewhat and sees reason, the protests will snowball further and the emotional chord that binds the two countries would be irreparably severed. This is the time for Chinese president Xi Jinping to show statesmanship.