Thousands of Hong Kong college students are skipping classes this week to join a civil disobedience campaign to protest the Chinese communist government’s refusal to allow free elections for the semi-autonomous city.
After a march and three days of large rallies, student leaders threaten to surround government buildings Thursday if Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying refuses to meet with them to discuss China’s controversial plans for the 2017 election for his position. High school students have been invited to join the strike Friday.
In August, the central government disappointed many of Hong Kong’s 7.2 million residents by barring an open choice of candidates for the election. Instead, it is permitting only candidates hand-picked by a Beijing-friendly committee to run for Hong Kong’s top governing post.
“We must fight back, democracy now,” shouted student leader Lester Shum during a march Wednesday, as students took their protest to the city’s commercial center for the first time. “Hong Kong is my home ground, (Beijing) is not representing me,” he said, according to Reuters.
Another campaign group has vowed to occupy central district, Hong Kong’s financial heart, possibly starting Oct. 1, China’s National Day.
Similar political protests in mainland China could result in detention and imprisonment. In Hong Kong, the former British colony returned to Beijing’s control in 1997, a “one country, two systems” arrangement preserves civil liberties that aren’t present in the rest of China.
A University of Hong Kong survey of 1,000 city residents released Tuesday, found more than half have “no confidence” in “one country, two systems,” the lowest level of confidence since the university began tracking the issue in 1993.
China’s electoral decision “completely shut down the hope of democracy, so people feel the need to do something different,” said Chen Yun-chung, a cultural studies professor at Lingnan University. He helped co-ordinate this week’s “teach-in” by 108 university teachers, at a harbor front park, to deepen striking students’ “political awakening”.
“There is a lot of frustration in this city right now. Some are cynical — ‘it’s impossible to go out against the communists and the NPC’,” China’s rubber-stamp parliament, Chen said. But the “stronger, more repressive tactics by Beijing make many moderates ready to take a step further, and these are average Hong Kong people, not the usual suspects,” he said.