July 02, 2004

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Yesterday was 34.6 degrees Centigrade (about 93 Fahrenheit), humidity was 90% and the pollution index was 114, the level where they advise those with respiratory problems to stay indoors. Nevertheless several hundred thousand people turned up to march. The estimates vary wildly. The cops are saying around 200,000, other 350,000 while the organisers are claiming as many as 530,000. Personally the true number seemed to be somewhere in the middle, perhaps as much as the 300,000 originally targeted. However it seems the media tends to accept the organisers' estimates as truth so I expect the 530,000 figure to become accepted as the true number. Some are already saying this could become a new Hong Kong tourist draw...if the Mainland would let people come and visit.

There are follow up articles everywhere, including:

WaPo: HK Residents Push for Democracy
AP: HK Stages Massive Democracy March
CSM: HK reasserts its 'people power'
AFP: Defiant call for democracy as hundreds of thousands march through Hong Kong
Reuters: Hundreds of Thousands March in Hong Kong*

Most impressive was Xinhua's coverage. Despite expectations they actually reported the event...in a manner.

A demonstration took place at the Victoria Park in Hong Kong Thursday afternoon, as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government and local people celebrated the 7th anniversary of the establishment of the HKSAR. On Thursday morning, over 3,000 people attended the national flag and the regional flag raising ceremony to celebrate the festival. The Hong Kong Garrison of the People's Liberation Army opened its barracks in Stanley to the pubic. More than 43,000 Hong Kong people, including kids and the elderly in their 70s, visited the camps...

Meanwhile, demonstrators gathered at the Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island at 2:30 p.m. to hold a protest. They marched into the streets and caused traffic jams.

The Chinese central government has made various efforts to maintain Hong Kong's stability and prosperity, including signing the closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) with Hong Kong and opening to the public the barracks of the Hong Kong Garrison of the People's Liberation Army.

In addition, the central government allowed the banks of Hong Kong to run Renminbi service and eased the restrictions on the mainland travelers to Hong Kong. It also promoted to establish the Pan-Pearl River Delta cooperation framework, which was signed by Hong Kong, Macao and eight provincial areas of the mainland earlier last month.

All these moves received welcome and support by Hong Kong residents.

That's impressive reporting for China's media, let me tell you. Sure they forgot to mention the number of people that turned out or the true reason for the march, but this is significant progress. They also reported on Tung's response, parroting Beijing's oft-repeated lines but helpfully mentioning that these 200,000 ingrates also "A total of 102 public bus and minibus routes suspended operation for hours because of the rally."Damn inconsiderate. Xinhua even has some photos, albeit of the morning's official ceremony and patriotic school kids.

The Economist covers the CCP's better political preparations for the march this time and notes the comparative success of China's carrot-and-stick approach to Hong Kong. It ends with the following provocative but good question:

After recent setbacks for its policies in Hong Kong—including a disastrous performance by its sympathisers in district elections last November—the Beijing leadership has stepped up its efforts to keep an eye on the territory's politics. A Hong Kong research institute was set up late last year in Beijing. Its well-connected director, Zhu Yucheng, has warned that, if the dispute over democratic reform continues, Hong Kong's social stability and economic revival could be jeopardised. He is right. But whose fault would that be?

My $0.02

The marches themselves have achieved nothing. Beijing's decisions have been made and, as always, are irreversible. I am surprised that Xinhua and others in China covered the event at all. As I've noted previously Beijing was much better prepared this time, getting the decisions made early and then offering the olive branch to take the sting out. That so many chose to march demonstrates the Hong Kong's populace is politically active and will continue to maintain pressure on Beijing. Attention will now swing to September's LegCo elections, where democrats are expected to beat Government and pro-Beijing parties in the geographical seats and even in some functional seats.

For the CCP they are trying something new. Last time they faced such a public and open protest they rolled tanks through the middle of them. This time that is not an option. They are developing new political and other tools instead to achieve their aims. This includes the intimidation of the media and key political figures as well as offering concessions on minor points. But a party isn't in power for 60 years without knowing most of the tricks in the game of politics.

In the end there are two significant factors at play. Firstly the CCP has the sense to realise that Hong Kong is different. Despite their best wishes to the contrary, China needs Hong Kong as much as Hong Kong needs China. HK represents a potential (albeit discredited) model for eventual re-unification with Taiwan. HK is by far the richest city in China and has massive resources and reserves. It is a truly world city with first world law, infrastructure, financial markets, transport links and contacts. It is the city that Shanghai aspires to be. The world is watching and China knows it, hence the kid-glove approach to Hong Kong. Historically Guandong (Canton) has been a difficult province for the powers of Northern China to deal with and comprehend. Hong Kong is maintaining that tradition.

However the second point is they key result of the march: that it happened at all. Hong Kong, for all its faults, remains relatively politically free compared to the Mainland. That 300,000 people can freely walk through the streets in a peaceful march without fear of reprisals is a solid endorsement that HK's democratic foundations exist. The fight for universal suffrage is another part of this battle. But Hong Kong can be proud of its show of force and people power and that it may, in a small way, be an example for the eventual opening up of all China.

That is the key lesson of yesterday's march. That there was a march at all.

* I always had thought 'hundreds and thousands' as those tiny little coloured sugar bits that get sprinkled on chocolate freckles and fairy bread. Yumm, fairy bread. If they had been marching, instead of people, I would have been out there for sure.

posted by Simon on 07.02.04 at 10:17 AM in the


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530,000, not 300,000
Excerpt: More than half a million protestors marched yesterday in the heat and humidity and pollution. And people say that Hong Kongers aren’t political. From the Times: Huge Rally in Hong Kong Calls for Democratic Elections. In something of a minor mirac...
Weblog: Frankenstein
Tracked: July 2, 2004 07:14 PM

Hey, did you hear about the 12.6 million people who marched on Washington yesterday?
Excerpt: Neither did I and this is a good thing because 12.6 million people didn't march on Washington yesterday and if you heard about it that would mean that the press was doing a worse job than usual at making stuff up. They did march in Hong Kong though and...
Weblog: Snooze Button Dreams
Tracked: July 2, 2004 09:34 PM


Your $0.02 is worth at least $0.08.

posted by: Jane on 07.02.04 at 02:16 PM [permalink]

I'd give a dime. An HK dime. hehe

Seriously though - good write up!

posted by: Jim on 07.02.04 at 09:39 PM [permalink]

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