A tone-deaf government in Beijing misses the point, reports Asia Sentinel
It was a coincidence but a symbolic one. On the day that Hong Kong’s police launched repeated volleys of tear gas onto pro-democracy demonstrators in the heart of the city, Chinese President Xi Jinping was reported to be calling on all Chinese to embrace the spirit of Mao Zedong and protect the position of the Communist Party.
Hong Kong’s police have in the past mostly been viewed as relatively tolerant towards demonstrators, reflecting the fact that these are ordinary policemen from ordinary homes who likely reflect the majority view in wanting political progress for Hong Kong and the maintenance of liberty, but not violence.
But on this occasion, doubtless at the behest of Chief Executive CY Leung, himself under orders from Beijing, they came well prepared for offensive action to clear the streets of those they claimed were disrupting public order and assembling illegally. Helmets, batons and huge amounts of pepper spray aimed directly at demonstrators’ faces were deemed insufficient, hence the resort to large quantities of tear gas.
In the background stood other police armed with guns that threatened the use of rubber bullets.
So strong was the police response to what had been a peaceful occupation of public space – albeit one deemed illegal – that some of the leaders advised withdrawal rather than face injury in the face of police tactics.
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