As Hong Kong students gathered to kick off a boycott of classes last month, setting the stage for a wave of protests, a very different meeting was taking place behind closed doors in Beijing.
There, Chinese President Xi Jinping assembled nearly 70 of Hong Kong’s wealthiest tycoons in the plush expanses of the Great Hall of the People, reportedly to drum home Beijing’s opposition to the “illegal” pro-democracy movement and rally the business community behind its version of carefully choreographed “democracy.”
It was, critics observed, the perfect illustration of how the Chinese government has ruled Hong Kong since the 1997 handover from British rule, attempting to impose its will by proxy through the territory’s business and political elite.
But it is a cozy model that is looking increasingly hard to maintain in the face of what many people see as Hong Kong’s political awakening. Further complicating matters are a series of economic factors behind the current protests — record income inequality, declining opportunities and a rise in property prices to stratospheric levels.
“The reason so many people are still assembling here is because in the past 30 years, these rich people, these people in power, have controlled our lives,” student leader Lester Shum told a crowd of thousands of pro-democracy protesters in central Hong Kong on Friday. “They stopped the progress of the Hong Kong people. Do you want to be stopped by them for the next 30 years? We are here to fight and to take back our future.”