Since the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China, the city has operated under a “one country, two systems” formula, allowing a limited democracy. In August, the Chinese government announced plans to vet candidates in Hong Kong’s 2017 elections, virtually assuring only pro-Beijing politicians would be on the ballots. Student groups and pro-democracy supporters have taken to the streets in recent days to protest the limitations and to demand universal suffrage. These demonstrators have occupied Hong Kong’s Central District. The protests have shut down banks, businesses, and schools and show no sign of letting up. The protests are one of the largest politicalchallenges to Beijing since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Chinese officials have scolded protesters and warned against any foreign interference.
Residents in Macau are rumored to be preparing their own to protest starting Wednesday. Taiwan, meanwhile, saw days of unrest this spring after Beijing attempted to tie the nation closer to China’s central economy. This weekend, hundreds took to the streets of Taiwan again in support of those in Hong Kong.
But this weekend may be just a prelude to the unrest to come. On Wednesday, October 1st, China will celebrate its 65th National Day, commemorating the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the beginning one of China’s two “Golden Weeks,” where workers are given time off work and travel to see friends and family. But with unrest brewing in Hong Kong, a day off could mean more protesters.
“The authorities in Beijing are anxious about what will happen, ” said Masato Hasegawa, a visiting professor of history at NYU.
“It’s a national holiday and more people will gather.”
“If there’s a possibility for Beijing to make changes and revisions, those changes will come very gradually and behind the scenes,” says Hasegawa.
“I think it’s unlikely to see a public announcement.”
Which means comes October 1, many people won’t be working and the political situation will remain unresolved.
Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist and director of the Early Warning Project, which analyzes the risk of mass killings, said the current situation is at a delicate tipping point.
“There’s a sequence of points where things can turn one way or the other. Will people show up? Once they show up, will more people show up in response? Then you start getting into the state reacting.”
With Beijing backed into a corner, Ulfelder says the Chinese government is forced with a choice.
“Do they offer concessions or respond aggressively? If China responds aggressively, now that the protests have gotten this big, they’re going have to get really aggressive.”
For Ulfelder, he believes the Chinese government can either try to wait the crowd out—”let the local guys have their say”—and hope the movement peters out, or it can get tough. But he says it’s very unlikely the crowds will go away before October 1st.
Professor Hasegawa, however, points out that Hong Kong has a long and unique history of peaceful demonstrations. Chinese officials have allowed citizens within Hong Kong to commemorate June 4th, the day of the Tienanmen Square massacre, since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997—something that is still not allowed within mainland China.
Hasegawa adds that he hears from colleagues and friends within Hong Kong that the photos coming out of Hong Kong of violent clashes between protesters and police can be deceiving.
“What I’ve heard from them that these demonstrations are largely peaceful and have a great sense of order within the protesters,” he says.
“And those instances of clashes seem to be the exception at this point to the largely peaceful nature of the demonstrations.”