China Ink

What will he do?

Hong Kong’s CY Leung faces a crisis

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying looks on in between video cameras during a news conference in Hong Kong

The reaction to the use of tear gas on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters?

The state media is deeply displeased at the scenes in Hong Kong. “Photos of Hong Kong police being forced to disperse demonstrators with tear gas have been widely circulated online across the world,” the Global Times noted. “These activists are jeopardising the global image of Hong Kong, and presenting the world with the turbulent face of the city.” The China Daily was also upset, blaming an “illegal assembly” for the clashes on Hong Kong’s streets.

Ming Pao Daily, one of the more moderate newspapers in Hong Kong, reckons that both sides are to blame: “It seems more persuasive to say the police’s attempt to quell the demonstration with tear gas resulted from interactions. Had the police managed to keep demonstrators at bay by setting up barriers, police officers on duty might not have been ordered to use pepper spray. Had demonstrators been deterred with pepper spray, tear gas fumes might not have been seen.”

The New York Times calls the use of tear gas “heavy-handed”, while The Economist points out that an image of a lone protester holding his umbrella aloft in a cloud of tear gas recalls memories of brutal crackdowns in China in the past.

Meanwhile, the Guardian quoted the UK foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, as saying that the British government was against the use of CS gas – a type of tear gas – against the protesters. The newspaper also reported that Chemring, the British company that sells tear gas to the Hong Kong authorities, will review its sales policy after the canisters were fired at unarmed protesters on Sunday.

What are the ramifications?

Xinhua said that Beijing is “fully confident” that Hong Kong’s government could handle the “illegal” democracy movement, while Li Shenming, deputy director of the National People’s Congress Internal and Judicial Affairs Committee, argued that Hong Kong’s people are not ready for democracy. In an op-ed published in the People’s Daily, Li wrote: “In today’s China, engaging in an election system of one-man-one-vote is bound to quickly lead to turmoil, unrest and even a situation of civil war.”

The Hong Kong Economic Journal reckons that while President Xi Jinping hasn’t made a public statement about the ongoing protests, he will be paying close attention to events. “The Occupy Central protest becoming the spark that set the prairie on fire is the last thing Beijing wants to see. If things are not handled properly, it could really threaten the regime.”

The Financial Times says Beijing faces “a choice between repression and a humiliating climbdown”. The Wall Street Journal sees it is a “turning point” in the city’s quest for democracy. “For years the people of Hong Kong avoided direct conflict with Beijing in the hope that Chinese authorities might be persuaded to grant them self-government. Now they realise that their only chance for democracy is to demand it,” it declares.

While CNN reckons the road ahead isn’t going to be easy, it also thinks the demonstrators are having a potentially significant impact. “Xi and the Communist Party are unlikely to shift from the short-term tactic of censorship and suppression… But they (the protesters) are carving out a space for civil and political participation throughout Greater China.”

Bad for the economy?

The stock market in Hong Kong continued to fall on Tuesday, losing another 1.3% after falling 1.9% on Monday. The situation was especially grim for Hong Kong retailers, given that the October 1 National Day holiday is one of the main shopping weeks in Hong Kong and the protests threatened to keep tourists away. On Tuesday, Australia, Italy, Singapore and the US issued travel alerts for Hong Kong too. As the Hong Kong Commercial Daily says: “The Occupy Central movement seriously hurts Hong Kong’s economy and the longer it drags out, the more damage it wrecks.” Oriental Daily News concurs, saying that whatever the outcome, the movement is “a fight with no winners”.

The South China Morning Post agrees that the protest has affected local shops worst, reporting too that Beijing had suspended travel visas for group tourists from the mainland, while the Wall Street Journal said that retailers specialising in jewellery and cosmetics – which are both heavily taxed in China – were hardest hit by the protests. Shares of jewellery chains Luk Fook and Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group both fell this week. A series of luxury goods labels also closed their stores near the demonstration sites in Central and Causeway Bay, both of which are prime Hong Kong shopping areas (see Talking Point).

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