HK heading toward a violent climax?

The past weekend’s protests in Hong Kong marked the tenth since they began. There are seven more to go until China celebrates the 70thanniversary of its modern era. The question on many minds at the moment is whether the protests will fizzle out gradually once university classes get under way, or whether National Day will be spent cleaning blood off the city’s streets.

The signs do not look good for a non-violent conclusion to the current protests, unlike what happened in the Occupy Central movement five years ago. Today, the airport is besieged by protesters wearing eye patches in solidarity with a young woman who was struck by a police beanbag-bullet yesterday. Their anger is mounting. So is that of the pro-government camp. The police are generally taking more heavy-handed action against protesters, and the protesters appear to be ramping up their use of bricks and petrol bombs.

It is hard sometimes to believe that Hong Kong has come to the point where families of police huddle inside fortified staff-housing compounds, while protesters armed with cardboard shields stand defiantly against officers of the Special Tactical Unit. The city’s MTR is no longer any kind of refuge, as tear gas was used in stations with abandon yesterday.

It’s increasingly a game of one-upmanship. Police will soon start deploying special vehicles fitted with sound and water cannons, which can pierce eardrums and break limbs.

Fortunately, it seems highly unlikely that live rounds will ever be used in this confrontation. This is not the United States: guns of any kind are outlawed. However, there many other weapons that could come out if this crisis continues to escalate.

Despite apparent attempts by Beijing to get the pro-establishment camp into line, there doesn’t yet seem to be movement toward formulating a political solution to the crisis. This is probably because, even if one side takes a common negotiating position, it’s hard to see with whom they might be able to engage on the other side – or whether there is any room left for negotiation at all. “Restore Hong Kong” seems to be the chant that drowns out all others now. 

The situation at the airport is deteriorating fast. Keep an eye on for details.

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