HK protests impressive but status confusing

HONG KONG, China. Eight days into the protests that have shut down entire neighbourhoods of the city, things are looking… ah… complicated.

The government has been adamant that it wants work and school to resume on Monday. The protesters have said that they are ready to talk, or ready to keep protesting, or not ready to talk unless new demands are met, or keen to get back to the streets en masse. It is really hard to tell.

In some ways, the Occupy Central movement (using the term to generically describe all the pro-democracy protesters) have been incredibly successful. For a week, the world has been focused on Hong Kong. The passivity and steadfastness won them respect wide respect.

In other ways, however, the protests are destined to fail. The protesters are disorganised and lack leadership. Their demands have shifted through the week, at times focusing more on hot button issues like tear gas or physical confrontation than on the original goal of universal suffrage.

Eight days into a successful protest, and one day before Hong Kong is supposed to get back to business, it is unclear whether the protesters will start talking to the government. It is also unclear whether the government will talk to the protesters or which protesters are realistically empowered and trusted to speak for the entire group and, when they do speak, it is unclear if they will focus on democracy or on their concerns about police activity or on their desire to see Chief Executive C.Y. Leung step down.

And, even if the protesters do get a conversation going with the Hong Kong government and even if they are clear on their own goals, it is far from certain that Beijing will pay much – or any – attention to whatever comes out of the talks. And without Beijing coming on board, the Hong Kong government and the protesters can talk until they are blue in the face but nothing will happen.

And here is the Achilles heel of this whole movement. As successful as it has been, without someone in Beijing granting some concessions or at least getting into the conversation, this whole movement may end up being little more than an expensive tantrum.

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