HONG KONG: Hong Kong students on Monday (Sep 22) began a week-long boycott of classes, the start of what democracy activists say will be a wider campaign of civil disobedience against China’s refusal to grant the city full universal suffrage.
Democracy leaders are currently locked in a showdown with the mainland authorities after the former British colony’s hopes for full and unfettered democracy were dashed by Beijing’s plans to vet nominees who want to stand as its next leader. A coalition of pro-democracy groups in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, led by Occupy Central, have labelled the restrictions a “fake democracy”. They have vowed a series of actions including a blockade of the Central financial district.
The city’s vocal student community on Monday became the first wing of that coalition to move from protests to direct action - starting a week of class boycotts designed to capture the public’s imagination and bolster the pro-democracy fight. Around a thousand students from different universities, many waving the flags of their faculties and sporting yellow ribbons, stopped going to classes in the morning and instead gathered on the leafy campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"I don’t think the Chinese government is trying to protect our rights so now we are coming out to fight for our basic needs," 20-year-old architecture student Wu Tsz-wing told AFP. "The boycott of classes can totally raise the awareness of Hong Kong society," added 19-year-old student Leanne Lo. "They will think about what they can do for Hong Kong’s future elections and justice," the second-year social work student said.
Arika Ho, a second-year Hong Kong University journalism student, added: “I want this place (Hong Kong) to be a better place so I want to stand up and join with others collectively to force some changes.”
The Chinese University of Hong Kong has become a regular gathering point for student protesters agitating for greater democratic freedoms in the city. The campus boasts a replica of the “Goddess of Democracy” statue which students rallied around during the 1989 Tiananmen protests in Beijing that were brutally crushed by the state.
The Hong Kong strike could breathe new life into the democracy campaign, which recently lost some steam after its senior leaders conceded that Beijing was highly unlikely to change its mind whatever they do. But student leaders admit much will depend on how many young people they persuade to ditch classes. The student agitation comes a week after more than 1,500 activists marched through Hong Kong’s streets carrying huge sheets of black cloth and banners demanding genuine universal suffrage.
That marked the first sizeable protest since China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) ruled in late August that candidates for the 2017 chief executive polls will be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee - and just two or three approved nominees will be allowed to stand. The students can point to their success in 2012, when they were at the forefront of protests against plans by the Hong Kong government to institute a “national education” curriculum seen as pro-China. The government eventually backed down.
But in Beijing, the rhetoric in official media has remained unrelenting against any concessions to the Hong Kong democracy movement, which some in the Communist regime see as an insidious threat to their rule of the country as a whole.