Current unrest in Hong Kong raises fears of more political conflicts to come

Current unrest in Hong Kong raises fears of more political conflicts to come
Protesters clash with police at Hong Kong’s official representative office in Taipei, September 29, 2014.

Above the sea of black-clad youth massing on the roads of Admiralty, Hong Kong's famous glass and steel skyscrapers soar, as indomitable as ever.

While some of their offices and shops were empty yesterday - some companies asked their staff to work from home - expectations are that Hong Kong's well-oiled economy will be able to manage the impact of the protests, and continue to chug along.

The worry, rather, is the increasing political conflicts that seem inevitable, even after the current situation passes.

Beijing is likely to see Hong Kong as a delinquent child, and will punish it by exerting tighter control than ever, say analysts.

This sets it on a collision course with a generation of young Hong Kongers that surprised some the past weekend with their passion and stamina in protesting against the establishment.

"A new factor has appeared in the Hong Kong political equation - and that's people who can stand up to intimidation and be counted," says Hong Kong-based China watcher Willy Lam.

On what the two trends mean for Hong Kong's future, he acknowledges: "It sounds like a recipe for disaster."

Adds analyst Johnny Lau: "There will be more conflicts. Governance will become harder."

This is a scenario that Beijing is aware of, he believes.

Indeed, if it did not in the past, it should have realised by now that its hardline approach towards Hong Kong by leaving little room for discussion in its decision on the city's constitutional reform had added fuel to the situation.

But, Mr Lau says: "To Beijing, it is not a problem.

"Hong Kong still has some economic value to Beijing. But it is just not as important as before."

Just as sobering is what the events over the weekend mean for many Hong Kongers - for both protesters and non-protesters.

One thing that emerges from numerous interviews is a belief that the clashes on Sunday between police and protesters were a visceral representation of the "failure" of the "one country, two systems" policy which guarantees Hong Kong a "high degree of autonomy".

Says Ms Kathy Kwan, 25, a band manager: "We need more independence from Beijing; a government that really listens to us and understands what we are talking about."

In particular, there is deep disillusionment with the Hong Kong government and what many decry as "heavy-handed" tactics by the police, such as the use of tear gas.

Law postgraduate student Ada Lee, 30, who is not participating in the student movement, says that she had originally blamed "radical democrats", including the Occupy Central organisers, for playing a game of brinkmanship with Beijing, and pushing the matter to "such a situation".

"But after the government used tear gas on the students, my heart broke."

Restoring the trust will clearly be an uphill task for the government - one among many.

This article was first published on September 30, 2014.
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