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  December 8, 2014

Hong Kong Police Shut Down The "Umbrella Revolution" (1/2)

CY Leung expects "furious resistance" from Occupy Central as police carry out order to shutdown Admiralty Square, police tactics has become increasingly heavy- handed, says Sean Starrs, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the City University of Hong Kong.
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Sean Starrs is assistant professor of international relations in the Department of Asian and International Studies at City University of Hong Kong and research affiliate at the Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, under the supervision of Noam Chomsky. He is the author of "American Economic Power Hasn't Declined - It Globalized! Summoning the Data and Taking Globalization Seriously" in International Studies Quarterly and "The Chimera of Global Convergence" in New Left Review. He received his PhD in June 2014 at York University, Toronto, under the supervision of Leo Panitch.


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The Hong Kong protests which began as protest to challenge the nominations process for the electoral candidates that would rule Hong Kong is today continuing in various forms, some in the form of hunger strikes.

Now joining us from Dunedin, New Zealand, to discuss the developments to date is Sean Starrs. Sean is a assistant professor of international relations at City University of Hong Kong and research affiliate for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Thank you so much for joining us, Sean.

SEAN STARRS, ASSIST. PROF., CITY UNIV. OF HONG KONG: Well, thank you for having me again.

PERIES: So, Sean, bring us up to date with what's going on with the Hong Kong revolution, known as the Umbrella Revolution?

STARRS: There's been many twists and turns over the past month or so, but clearly, since the last week of November, the police have become increasingly heavy-handed in their tactics in trying to remove the sites. So the last week [of November (?)], over a few days, they successfully removed the Mong Kok occupation, which was across the harbor in Kowloon, one of the most densely populated and mainly working-class areas in the world. So that site has now been removed, although the occupation has kind of evolved to what they call occupy shopping. So there's--every night there's 1,000 police officers, today, [stationed (?)] in Mong Kok, but occupiers now go down there and are trying to disturb the normal shopping there by unfolding clothes and so on in the retail stores.

And so also there is a hunger strike that started on December 1. Joshua Wan, the leader of Scholarism, one of the main groups, he lasted 108 hours [incompr.] lasted 120 hours, and Gloria Cheng is still on hunger strike right now. So there are five members of Scholarism.

And then another group started another hunger strike, what they call hunger relay. So members fast for 28 hours, and then they change. Twenty-eight, of course, is in reference to September 28, when the Hong Kong police used tear gas 87 times--unprecedented amount of tear gas and Hong Kong.

And so on November 30, Sunday, the Hong Kong Federation of Students tried to escalate--in the aftermath of the removal of the Mong Kok occupations, they tried to escalate and surround the government buildings. But the police used some of the most heavy-handed tactics so far--batons, pepper sprays. And they brought out a water gun [inaud.] first time.

So there's a lot of internal divisions now in the movement, different groups. The Hong Kong Federation of Students keep changing their mind on whether they should pull back from Admiralty or not. Admiralty is the main occupation area.

And the latest is C. Y. Leung, he said on Sunday that he's expecting, quote, furious resistance, unquote, this Thursday as the police plan to [incompr.] Admiralty sites. And Joshua Wong, head of Scholarism, he has recommended people to make homemade shields to protect protect themselves from the batons. So this could really come to a head this Thursday.

PERIES: So, Sean, one of the major concerns that Occupy Central or Umbrella Revolution has is the nominations to the electoral process. Has this issue been addressed at all by Beijing or the administration in Hong Kong?

STARRS: Not at all. The Beijing or the Hong Kong government has given zero leeway on [this] point. But, actually--so over--in the second month--so we're now in day 72. Over the second month, numbers on the streets have been dwindling more and more. And this has kind of been a mixed blessing. This has meant that the radicals on the streets have now a larger voice. So I think over the past month they've been able to change the discourse.

So originally, of course, the main point of the protest was to try to get universal suffrage. But over the past month, they've been able to change, or certain elements in the occupation have been able to change the discourse to make the issue of inequality, and [Indian (?)] class consciousness more and more almost equally as important as universal suffrage. I hear, certainly, the issue of inequality, but even class [consciousness (?)].

PERIES: So, Sean, one of the more important points being made by this group, and you earlier, is this is not just about universal suffrage, it's much more than that. Tell me or describe how that has transformed and has gotten broader.

STARRS: It's definitely gotten broader. Because a lot of the people on the streets, the number of people have dwindled, a lot of the moderates have sort of got home. And it's difficult to sleep on the streets for two months.

The radicals have a disproportionately greater voice now. And so they have been able to change the discourse from universal suffrage to, increasingly, to inequality, the oligopolistic control of the tycoons. And also they've been able to delegitimize the Beijing government, even, which is also new. So I mean, originally the [target of the occupation] was solely the Hong Kong government. And, in fact, they explicitly said that they are not trying to challenge the authority of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. But now that it's--the CCP in Beijing, the [Central People's Government (?)], is increasingly becoming their primary target as it's become clear over the past two months that the Hong Kong government are simply puppets of Beijing.

PERIES: Now, one of the things that I read is that this nominations committee for the candidates is really about 1,200 people strong. It's a fairly large committee, one can almost assume or think of it in terms of a party conference, and a party then nominates the candidates. What's wrong with this process?

STARRS: Well, first of all, most of the 1,200 members are business people, and certainly most of them are pro-Beijing. Also, Beijing still reserves the right to veto the candidates that the 1,200 member chooses. So they'll choose two to three candidates, and Beijing has the right to vet them.

PERIES: And is this the--how are the 1,200 members chosen?

STARRS: Well, that's--I'm not sure. That's a complicated process. There's local district elections, and Beijing also has a hand in it. But I'm not entirely sure, to be honest.

PERIES: Alright. Sean, describe for us more how this movement is growing. It's--despite the government's effort to shut it down using force, the movement itself is gaining momentum, and it's also diversifying in terms of the kind of issues they are speaking about. Describe what that is like. And how is the movement growing?

STARRS: I wouldn't say growing if we're talking about sheer numbers, because certainly even though there are an estimated 1,600 tents still in Admiralty, the numbers of people actually sleeping overnight is a definitely dwindling. But it's evolving. So there are new groups being formed.

This protest is still evolving and developing as new groups are still being formed. So at the end of November, there was a group of high school students. The call themselves Childea, so a combination of children and ideas. And they organized a very successful protest that got a lot of media attention on Sunday, November 30. They walked around the Legislative Council nine times barefoot, and every 28 [steps, they would] and pray, which signifies September 28, the day with the Hong Kong police fired tear gas 87 times. And they're trying to politicize further high school students.

And then there's the hunger strike. So five students from Scholarism went on hunger strike. One is still fasting. And another group is forming a relay strike. Like,even journalists are filing complaints against police brutality, against the Independent Police Complaints Commission. And so there's really a lot of things going on in Hong Kong. It's not just the occupation anymore. Even a Cantopop star, Denise Ho, is filing a complaint against police brutality.

PERIES: I know one of the early efforts of the administration and the police was to try to isolate the movement and section it off so that it's not disrupting the center of economic activity in Hong Kong. Are they being successful?

STARRS: Yes, especially since the end of November. So they have successfully cleared the occupations in all of Mong Kok. And another [inaud.] clear a little part of the occupation in Admiralty around /ˈsɪdɪk/ building. That was successful. And just yesterday, depending on the time difference, two days ago, they cleared part, about 1/5 or so of the occupation--no, less than one-fifth. Sorry. They cleared part of the occupation in Admiralty as well. And C. Y. Leung is saying that this Thursday they're going to [clear] the whole thing.

PERIES: And what are they doing to prepare for that?

STARRS: Well, so they're bringing 3,000 police officers down on Thursday. C. Y. Leung has said they're psychologically preparing for, quote-unquote, furious resistance. And on the other side, Joshua Wong, a leader of Scholarism, has recommended that people bring homemade shields [and] batons, because the Hong Kong police over the last past two to three weeks have increasingly been beating protesters with batons.

PERIES: Right. So, Sean, thank you so much for giving us this update, and we're going to continue our discussion in the form of an analysis piece in the next segment.


PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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