Africa

Do protests in Hong Kong ever work?

Organisers say more than a million people – one seventh of Hong Kong’s population – took part in Sunday’s demonstration against a planned bill to allow extradition to mainland China.

It was one of Hong Kong’s largest ever protests, and the biggest since the former British colony was handed back to mainland China in 1997.

But Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam – who was elected by a mostly pro-Beijing panel of 1,200 people – has vowed to press ahead with plans to pass the law.

So do protests in Hong Kong – which has certain freedoms, but not full democracy – ever work?

And what are the odds of protesters succeeding this time?

Public protests play an important role in Hong Kong – as one local journalist has put it, for many demonstrators, protesting is “in their DNA”.

Since Hong Kongers have the right to protest, but cannot directly elect their government, many see taking to the streets as their way of forcing change – especially with issues they see as threatening the territory’s core values.

“It might be futile,” one of Sunday’s protesters, April Ho-Tsing, 27, told the BBC.

“But we have to act and show the Hong Kong government, the international press, other Hong Kongers – that we won’t just roll over and let the Chinese government walk all over us.”

And some protests have led to unexpected – and dramatic – wins in the past.

In 2003, an estimated 500,000 people took to the streets against a controversial national security bill known as Article 23 – and the government was eventually forced to shelve it.

But experts think protests are much less likely to work this time because the current leadership in Beijing is unlikely to compromise.

“One major change has been that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has pursued a much harder stance than his predecessor,” says Prof. Dixon Sing, a social scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

“The second related change has been that China’s economy has become much stronger than it was in 2003.”

Prof. Steve Tsang, Director of the China Institute at SOAS, agrees that “the odds are very much against the protesters in Hong Kong” this time. –BBC

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