No winner in HK as endgame unfolds

No winner in HK as endgame unfolds
A policeman clashing with pro-democracy protesters in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Dec 1. The highly respected Hong Kong police force has lost some of the public’s trust and support as a result of actions taken during the last 11 weeks of demonstrations.

The end seems nigh.

The original Occupy Central founders have surrendered. The main protest site at Admiralty will be cleared today.

And the student-led protest movement is clearly floundering, with a series of missteps including a botched siege of government buildings, an aborted hunger strike and long overstaying their welcome on the roads they have occupied the past 11 weeks.

Most importantly, as temperatures in Hong Kong drop, sending a chill through the flimsy tents pitched on the roads of Admiralty and Causeway Bay, public support - vital oxygen for any civic movement - has fast plummeted.

At this point, Beijing and the Hong Kong government might be tempted to congratulate themselves on their strategy of waiting out the protest and letting it self-implode.

And to some extent, they did succeed - without the initial much-feared scenario of People's Liberation Army (PLA) tanks rolling through the streets of Hong Kong and with, so far, relatively measured responses from the local police force.

But the authorities are no winner in this saga.

Long after the tents and banners are packed away, they will be remembered for a lack of political leadership in resolving Hong Kong's worst political crisis since the 1997 handover.

Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers had flooded major roads in the city in the days after Sept 28, spurred by clashes between the police and protesters clamouring for greater freedom to elect their chief executive.

This followed a decision by China's legislature to lay down strict rules that effectively preclude any candidate it does not approve of from running for election.

After one round of talks between the Hong Kong government and the students in early October, which saw the latter intransigent in holding fast to their demands, the former appeared to have decided that lofty disdain is the best way to deal with the youthful, perhaps misplaced, idealism of the protesters.

There was no indication that any real further effort was made by the adults to reach out to the students, whether it was in the form of more dialogue to try to engage them and narrow the chasm between the two sides, or even any show of empathy that could have helped the protesters find a way to retreat earlier with some dignity.

Instead, the government resorted to using the private sector, the courts and the police to force a resolution to a political problem. Today, court bailiffs, "assisted" by the police, will be clearing the main protest site in Admiralty, after a bus company obtained an injunction from the High Court.

This was successfully carried out in Mong Kok last month, after violent clashes between protesters and police, and it will most likely be successful in Admiralty and Causeway Bay.

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