For more than a year, Democrats in Hong Kong have threatened to disrupt Asia’s most important financial center with a sit-in protest if the central government in Beijing put onerous restrictions on a voting plan here. China’s Communist Party-controlled legislature did just that on Sunday, so now the democracy movement must decide how to carry out its threat, even while the defeat of its immediate demand seemed certain. Students and organizers will hold meetings in coming days to map out a plan of protracted protests, including student strikes, legislative obstruction and a sit-in in the city’s Central financial district, the tactic that gave name to the main grass-roots opposition group, Occupy Central. They said they expected to be arrested for blocking major thoroughfares in the heart of Hong Kong.
The movement will also have to confront difficult choices about how far to go. Much of the public in Hong Kong appears wary of confrontational actions that could damage the city’s reputation for order, but protests that are not disruptive might have little impact on international opinion and would be easier for the Chinese leadership and Hong Kong politicians to ignore.
Moreover, Beijing has left scant room for compromise: The Hong Kong legislature must now adopt a voting plan for the city’s leader based on Beijing’s directive or leave in place the current system in which the position is not popularly elected.
In the near future, the protests will achieve nothing, said Brian Fong Chi-hang, a political science scholar at the Hong Kong Institute of Education and a supporter of the democracy movement. “The most important challenge is that even if they succeed in mobilizing a large-scale Occupy Central movement in a peaceful and orderly manner, they will finally get nothing,” he said. “We cannot change anything.” But leaders of the movement expected to wage a protracted struggle nonetheless.