For years, this seemed like a dream. The Umbrella movement, so named after the protesters' umbrellas in defense of the police pepper spray, changed Hong Kong forever.
Now, four years, eight months, and twelve days after the end of the Umbrella Movement, ongoing protests have passed their duration, massively surpassing them in terms of disruption and political turmoil – and show no signs of stopping.
The roots of the current unrest date back to the summer of five years ago, both in the radicalizing effect on a generation of young Hong Kong people and in the government's failure to do anything.
With the collapse of the protest movement in December 201
4, a cover was laid on the disruption, causing the underlying frustrations to boil and causing them to explode.
The Political Roots of the Current Unrest
The current protests – they have no agreed name, but the most biting is the "Hard Hat Revolution" for the yellow helmets that carry many protesters for protection against police weapons – started on the 9th June, when the organizers said more than one million people had participated in a protest march calling for the repeal of an extradition law with China.
The bill was eventually suspended after violent clashes between protesters and the police in the city's Legislative Branch on June 12 and an even bigger protest march the following weekend, with the largest ever participation in a protest in Hong Kong's history – but for many exposure was too little too late.
When the protests enter their twelfth week and overtake the duration of the Umbrella Movement, the complete withdrawal of the bill remains a key priority. However, the protesters have also broadened their demands to include the driving issue of the 2014 protests: Genuine universal suffrage in How the city chooses its leader.
When Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese control by the British in 1997, it switched from a governor elected by London to a local chief executive selected by an "election committee" and formally appointed by Beijing. According to the Hong Kong Constitution, the ultimate goal is that the city leader "be elected by universal suffrage to be appointed by a broad nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures" and the election of all members of the legislature – what is currently 50% democratically elected – "by universal suffrage".
In the more than two decades since 1997, reform has been slow. Carrie Lam, the current Managing Director, is the fourth person to hold this position, none of which has been elected by universal suffrage.
In 2007, China's supreme legislative body agreed that the competition that ultimately led to its appointment could be conducted by universal suffrage. The Hong Kong SAR can be implemented through the universal choice of all its members.
Seven years later, however, the Chinese leadership ruled out universal suffrage on the grounds that candidates could be elected by the public – but only after they were approved by a Beijing-dominated nomination committee, which most democratic activists and legislators rejected It was eventually defeated in the legislature of the city following a botched strike by pro-government legislatures.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers occupied parts of the city for 79 days, demanding that Beijing withdraw its decision and withdraw the election The use of tear gas in the early hours of the protests had backfired spectacularly and brought more people onto the streets, rendering the authorities largely incapacitated for action, and the Umbre The lla movement was gradually faltering when the police last became free engaged protesters in December 2014.
Hong Kong's wealth gap is a major cause of protests
Although the movement failed to achieve its main objectives, the protests' impact was massive , The parliamentary elections in 2016 brought back the youngest, most politically radical parliament the city had ever seen – although some legislators were later removed from office – and the protests will also generally speed up the end of the career of former chief executive CY Leung attributed.
Lam, Leung's former MP and current successor, refused to consider resuming political reforms after taking office in 2017, focusing instead on livelihoods and economic issues.
That was not necessarily a bad idea. Hong Kong is one of the world's most unequal cities. Housing prices and the cost of living are rising each year, while youth employment rates are stagnating and many young academics find it difficult to find work.
The inequality is related to the desire for more democracy, which is largely based on the insight that the city's leaders and legislature, in which around 50% of the seats are appointed by industry associations and other non-democratic groups , responding to the whims of Beijing and local elites rather than the general public.
"The government should take from the rich and give to the poor so they can live in Hong Kong," said Tse Lai-nam, a 26-year-old who participated in the recent protests, to CNN Month. "The government has never done anything to promote social mobility but has increased wealth inequalities and made it difficult for young people to buy a home."
Lams proposals to solve these problems have largely failed. Their most ambitious plan to build an artificial archipelago of 17 square kilometers and cost around $ 80 billion in Lantau met with criticism and protests from local residents, environmentalists and opposition legislators. In particular, many point out that the first group of houses built on the islands is unlikely to be available until 2032.
Further proposals to reduce pressure on poorer Hong Kong citizens have also fallen. Lam also met with indignation – and renewed criticism for not being able to reach it – when she defended plans to raise the retirement age for social benefits for the elderly, saying, "I'm over 60 years old, but I still work every day over 10 hours. "
Fewer than 50% of over-60s in the city are employed. Lam earns about $ 635,000 a year and does not pay for her own apartment. Hong Kong is by no means tied to cash, has $ 1.12 trillion in reserves, and has budget surpluses every year for the past ten years.
However, this has largely failed to translate into the kind of livelihood reforms and improvements that Lam made when he took office. Instead, their government has decided to distribute money – $ 510 last year for some 2.8 million people – who have been appreciated by their beneficiaries but have done little to solve the underlying issues.
Protesters change their tactics, officials are stuck in the past
In retrospect, a storm emerged. While Lam has failed to alleviate Hong Kong's yawning inequality, she has continued her predecessor's policy of fighting the leaders of the Umbrella movement and getting closer to China.
A controversial bill granting the Chinese authorities joint control over the city's new high-speed rail station sparked considerable unrest, as did plans to pass a Chinese law banning the insult to the Chinese national anthem and flag.
Several umbrella leaders, including Joshua Wong and Benny Tai, were detained under Lams administration and some more radical pro-democracy activists could not stand for election.
On the other side of the border, the situation worsened further as Chinese President Xi Jinping secured lifelong power and opposed dissent. Millions of Muslims have been reportedly detained in reeducation camps in the far west of Xinjiang and numerous activists have been arrested or disappeared.
All this tension and anger was a tinder box waiting to be lit by the extradition law. When the government did not respond to a major protest march on June 9 and carried out a second reading of the bill days later, it exploded. Lam's attempts to get the ghost back in the bottle have been unsuccessful as the protests have outdone it.
Unlike the government, demonstrators learned from 2014. Instead of strenuous, lengthy employment, where people have to camp for weeks on the street, they are vulnerable to police, counter-protesters and the often miserable weather in Hong Kong instead Bruce Lee's slogan "to be water". In recent months, a series of protests, demonstrations and strikes have taken place that have evolved with the reaction of the police and the government and have affected the neighborhoods, some of which have never experienced a major protest before.
"If this were a cast on the streets every day, it would not have taken nearly as long," Wong told CNN this week.
Another important change concerns the fealty of the protests. While this has its problems – especially the inability to de-escalate in violent or out-of-control situations – the authorities have no obvious targets for arrest. Some have argued that this also means that the government can not negotiate with anyone. However, Wong and others have pointed out that out of five student leaders who met with Lam and other senior officials in 2014, three were later arrested.
After a rare tear gas released earlier this month, Lam pointed to a future reconciliation and said she would launch an "important information study" on the causes of the protest.
"I hope this is a very responsible response to efforts to better understand the events in Hong Kong," she said. "And above all, it's not just a matter of fact-setting the order of the facts, it's also going to give the government recommendations on how to move forward and avoid the recurrence of similar incidents."
For many Hong Kong citizens, the problems that plague the city were clear before the 2014 protests drew their attention to the world, and were even clearer afterward. That Lams government apparently still does not understand them or has any plan could mean that the current riots continue for another 79 days.